NI: Northern Ireland murder and arson convict loses appeal against conviction

Louis Maguire has lost his appeal against his conviction for murder and arson with intent to endanger life, after arguing that he had not received a fair trial, due in part to being unrepresented for a large part of the trial.

Mr Maguire was found guilty in 2006 of the murder of Mr David Barnes, and of an arson attack on Mr Barnes’ mother.

Both the murder and the arson attack were found to be part of a vendetta Mr Maguire had embarked on in response to Mr Barnes’ alleged relationship with Mr Maguire’s wife.

Mr Maguire had submitted a number of grounds of appeal against his conviction, which he argued amounted to a breach of his fair trial rights.

These included the fact that the judge had allowed the trial to continue after Mr Maguire’s counsel withdrew, leaving him unrepresented for the majority of the trial.

It was further alleged that the judge’s admission of evidence relating to Mr Maguire’s previous conduct and convictions had such an adverse effect on the fairness of the trial that it ought not to have been admitted, and that the applicant’s bad character had been unnecessarily accentuated.

Allegations were also made that the judge had allowed the trial to continue despite appearance of bias, that Mr Maguire had been denied an identity parade in relation to a previous incident, that the judge had erred in his directions to the jury, and should have discharged the jury as the Crown’s opening was misleading and inaccurate.

Further, despite a Crown witness who was involved in the investigation of the case being suspected of criminality, this was not disclosed, and the witness was allowed to give evidence.

Finally, Mr Maguire alleged that he had been prejudiced by the press coverage of the trial.

In relation to the allegations surrounding Mr Maguire’s lack of representation, the Court of Appeal found it necessary to receive affidavits and hear oral evidence from Mr Maguire and his legal team.

Varying accounts emerged of the circumstances surrounding Mr Maguire’s dismissal of his counsel and resulting loss of representation.

Girvan LJ, Stephens J and Horner J outlined the relevant legal principles, including the “absolute” right to a fair trial as outlined in Randall v R 1 WLR 2237, as well as the right to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of a defence and the right to legal representation as contained within Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

They also considered a number of cases which outlined the importance of allowing defendants opportunities to secure or replace legal representation, including Robinson v R 1 AC 956, andDunkley v R 1 AC 419, Mitchell v R 1 WLR 1679.

R v Ulcay 1 Cr App R 27 was also cited as demonstrating “that the defendant is not entitled to manipulate the legal aid system” and that if counsel are dismissed for improper motives, then the court is not bound to ensure a change of representation.

The judges found that the “outcome of the individual case cannot be determined simply by finding that a defendant was unrepresented or simply by finding that his lack of representation was caused by the failure of counsel to represent him. What is called for in each case is a careful scrutiny of the actions of the defendant, the legal representatives and the trial judge”.

In relation to the actions of the defendant, the judges found that Mr Maguire was a very “determined, intelligent, shrewd, cynical and manipulative individual” who was willing and able to manipulate his legal rights when it served his purposes.

In relation to the actions of the legal representatives, it was found that the lawyers had failed to keep a proper record of the discussions which led to the withdrawal of Mr Maguire’s representation. This amounted to a serious breach of duty on their part.

The judges found that Mr Maguire’s counsel had done little to defuse his allegations of a form of judicial conspiracy against him, had led him to believe that he could no longer be properly represented, and had suggested that Mr Maguire might be better off representing himself.

As a result, they found that his counsel had not acted in a proper and acceptable professional manner, with main responsibility being placed on Mr Maguire’s senior counsel Mr Donaldson, who “sought to bring about a release of counsel from the case in such a way as to throw the blame for that on the court and the prosecution”.

However, the judges noted that the actions of Mr Maguire’s counsel did not necessarily mean Mr Maguire had been denied a fair trial.

Instead, it must be determined whether he had “by his own actions manipulated the trial process in such a way that, absent other procedural and evidential unfairness, he cannot complain of unfairness arising from the fact that his counsel withdrew from the case and that he represented himself”.

It was noted that the judge had repeatedly asked Mr Maguire whether it was his decision to be unrepresented, and whether he would like to seek alternative representation. There could be no suggestion that the judge was forcing Mr Maguire to proceed unrepresented.

Rather, the “withdrawal of counsel and the decision by the applicant to represent himself represented the outcome of a joint strategy emerging from their joint view that there was no chance of an acquittal on the evidence and in the light of the rulings”.

The judges then considered the other grounds of appeal.

Citing DPP v P 2 AC 447, R v Nabi NICA 11 and R v Venn EWCA Crim. 236 Potter LJ, they found that evidence demonstrating Mr Maguire’s history of pursuing campaigns of intimidation and harassment had probative value.

Similarly, the admission of evidence relating to prior convictions were of probative value, as they demonstrated that Mr Maguire had previously accessed fire arms, and was “ready, willing and able to carry out extreme acts of intimidatory violence when it suited his own criminal purposes”. Such evidence was correctly admitted under article 6(1)(b) and (d) of the Criminal Justice (Evidence) (Northern Ireland) Order 2004.

The judges also found that the trial judge’s statement that Mr Maguire was “a man with a serious criminal record”, and reminder that one police officer had felt the need to give evidence with his back to Mr Maguire were not prejudicial to Mr Maguire, but were statements of fact.

The judges then considered alleged prejudicial press coverage. While noting cases such as R v McCann Criminal Appeal Reports 239and R v Taylor 98 Criminal Appeal Reports 361 which have found that inaccurate and unfair press coverage may make it necessary to discharge the jury and direct a fresh trial, this was not the situation in the current case.

The judge had directed the jury in a way that clearly highlighted the inaccuracies contained within the media, and following R v Murray-Lacy (29 September 1996), they found that a jury should not be discharged unless there is a high degree of need.

Indeed, all grounds of appeal in relation to the judge’s alleged duty to discharge the jury were dismissed, as the judge was held to have exercised their discretion correctly.

In relation to the identity parade, it was noted that the witness had made clear she would have been unable to identify anyone, and therefore there was no need to have such a parade.

Finally, the judges considered the wider attack on the conduct of the trial. While the judges noted that most issues had already been considered and dismissed, it was necessary to consider the issue of a Crown witness being the subject of an investigation for dishonesty.

While it was acknowledged that had this been known, Mr Maguire would have had material with which to cross-examine the witness as to his credibility and honesty, strong evidence had been shown to the jury demonstrating the witness’s dishonesty, and the judge had directed the jury in an “exemplary fashion”.

Thus, while there had been an irregularity in the trial, it did not amount to the verdict being unsafe. Indeed, the judges found that “there was a case on which a jury would have been fully entitled to find the applicant guilty on both counts”.

Concluding, the judges noted Randal v R 1 WLR 2237, which notes that the right to a fair trial is one to be enjoyed by the guilty as well as the innocent. There was a point where “departure from good practice is so prejudicial or irremediable that an appellate court will have no alternative but to condemn the trial as unfair and quash a conviction as unsafe however strong the grounds for believing the defendant to be guilty”.

However, that point had not been reached in the current case, and the appeal was therefore dismissed.

  • by Rachel Killean for Irish Legal News
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