High Court: Recidivist criminal has no ground to challenge the legality of his sentence
A recidivist criminal serving a custodial sentence in the Midlands Prison for numerous offences applied to the High Court alleging that his committal warrants were not valid. Justice White found that the legislation upon which the prisoner made his submissions was not relevant, and that the prisoner was indeed being legally imprisoned.
Christopher Dunne made an application for writ of habeas corpus challenging the legality of his committal warrants, one of which was in relation to him threatening a member of the Gardaí with beheading as he was caught fleeing the scene of a burglary.
On 25th July 2014, Mr Dunne was sentenced at Naas Circuit Court to five years imprisonment for burglary, the final year of the sentence being suspended.
Subsequently, on 29th June 2015, Mr Dunne was sentenced on three separate bill numbers in the Criminal Courts of Justice:
(i) three years for theft and unlawful use of a mechanically propelled vehicle. The sentences were ordered to be served consecutively to the sentence imposed on 25th July 2014, at Naas Circuit Criminal Court.
(ii) three years imprisonment for possession of certain articles with intention that they be used in connection with other offences and no insurance.
(iii) three years and six months for criminal damage, and five years and six months for threatening to kill or cause serious harm to be served consecutively to the sentence imposed on 25th July 2014, in Naas Criminal Court with the final eighteen months of the sentence suspended.
High Court application
In his application to the High Court, Mr Dunne submitted:
(i) That the various Registrars who signed the committal warrants were not lawfully authorised to be nominated signatories as they are not nominated as such by the County Registrar nor was the person who nominated them named in the committal warrant.
(ii) That the seal of the court was absent from the committal warrants.
(iii) That the warrants were void, as a seal and signature of the County Registrar did not authenticate them.
(iv) That failure to cite the name of the County Registrar was not in compliance with section 56(2), (3) and (4) of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act 1961.
Firstly, Justice White considered Mr Dunne’s submissions in relation to the seal of the court.
Order 4, rule 1 of the Consolidated Circuit Court Rules states:
“4. The persons who may authenticate the impression of the Seal of the Court… are
(a) the County Registrar or
(b) such person or one of such persons as may for such a period as may be specified be nominated for that purpose by the County Registrar or
(c) where any business of the office of the Court in the county is specified in accordance with section 14 of the Court and Court Officers Act 2009, as business that shall be transacted in a combined court office established under that section, and for the purposes of such business:
(i) the combined court office manager appointed under section 19 of that Act for that combined court office; or
(ii) a member of the staff of the Courts Service employed in that combined court office under section 21 of the Courts and Court Officers Act 2009 as may, for such period as may be specified be nominated for that purpose by the combined court office manager concerned on behalf of the County Registrar.”
Justice White then considered sections 14, 19, and 21 of the Courts and Court Officers Act 2009.
Consequently, Justice White explained that the practice of the Circuit Criminal Court is that once an accused person has either been convicted after trial or sentence after pleading guilty is subject to the issue of a committal warrant in respect of each indictment.
The original warrant with the seal embossed is sent to the Governor of the Prison to which the accused is committed.
The relevant offices at Naas and Dublin are combined court offices and a member of staff of the Courts Service employed in that combined court office can be nominated by the combined court office manager to authenticate the seal of the court.
Contrary to Mr Dunne’s submission, section 56 of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act 1961, has no relevance as it relates to the continuance in office of a County Registrar, for one year after reaching the age of 65.
Accordingly, Justice White found that Mr Dunne was in legal detention serving a sentence of imprisonment imposed by the Circuit Criminal Court.