It is currently unchallenged, in Ireland, that an accused person is entitled to access to the evidence, prior to trial, that the State intends to adduce against him/her at trial.
In Ireland, for many years, the procedure to secure that entitlement for the accused was set out in the Criminal Procedure Act 1967. That Act conferred a role on the District Court, in indictable cases, in deciding whether to send a person forward for trial to the Circuit Court or not; the District Justice had to be satisfied that there was a sufficient case to put the accused on trial before sending the accused forward.
The Book of Evidence, which the State was required to serve on the accused, was the main basis for the judgment to be made by the District Justice.
The Criminal Justice Act 1999 changed that position.
The obligation to serve the Book of Evidence persists, but the District Justice has lost his/her assessment role. That assessment now rests with the Circuit Court. The 1999 Act made provision in Section 9 for application to be made to the Circuit Court:
(1) At any time after the accused is sent forward for trial, the accused may apply to the trial court to dismiss one or more of the charges against the accused.
(2) Notice of an application under subsection (1) shall be given to the prosecutor not less than fourteen days before the date on which the application is due to be heard.
(3) The trial court may, in the interests of justice, determine that less than 14 days notice of an application under subsection (1) may be given to the prosecutor.
(4) If it appears to the trial court that there is not a sufficient case to put the accused on trial for any charge to which the application relates, the court shall dismiss the charge.
In Cruise v Judge OâDonnell the accused was charged with drugs offences. He was facing a minimum sentence of ten years on conviction. His lawyers believed the prosecution case was defective, in that the search warrant on foot of which the evidence against the accused was obtained was defective and invalid (and consequently the evidence located on foot of the warrant was unlawfully obtained and inadmissible). The accused applied to Court under Section 9 (1). The Notice to the prosecution did not refer to the basis for the application. The prosecution protested that they did not know on what basis the accused was making the application. The Court directed the accused to reveal to the prosecution the basis for the application in the Notice.
The accused applied to the High Court on Judicial Review to reverse this and lost.
The Director of Public Prosecutions opposed the propositions of the accused, arguing that the meaning of Section 9 did not allow the accused to make a case to strike out the charges against him before the Circuit Court judge, in the absence of the calling on for trial of the proceedings against the accused.
The accused appealed to the Supreme Court and won.
The Supreme Court confirmed that an accused person has no obligation to assist the prosecution. Furthermore there was nothing in the 1999 Act indicating the Oireachtas
intended such an obligation by requiring the accused to conform to âcase managementâ? directions of the Circuit Court Judge. As the Supreme Court acknowledged, many defences will consequently be canvassed in this application procedure in the future, without the need for the empanelling of a jury and/or the scheduling of witnesses and at much greater speed than if the accused was compelled to await the listing of the trial.