asked the Taoiseach if he will state in respect of the recent case in the Central Criminal Court of the People versus Chapman and Town the circumstances leading up to the plea of guilty in one of the 24 charges preferred and to the entering of a nolle prosequi in respect of the remaining charges.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Central Criminal Court Proceedings.
asked the Taoiseach whether he will say who was responsible for withdrawing 23 of the 24 charges preferred in the Central Criminal Court on November 11th against Walter Chapman, Managing Director of Messrs L. Jordan and Co., Ltd., Ennis, and Ted Town, another director of that company; whether he is aware that Messrs. Chapman and Town were charged originally with conspiracy, fraudulent conversion and the uttering of forged documents, and whether on the acceptance from the accused men of a plea of guilty on one count only no objection was taken on behalf of the State, and, if so, why.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 3 together.
The case of the People v. Chapman and Town was fully opened by State Counsel before the court and jury on the 6th November. The charges included two counts of conspiracy, five counts of fraudulent conversion, one of attempted fraudulent conversion, nine counts of uttering forged documents and six of falsification of books. These counts were, of course, interrelated, and on behalf of the State it was charged that they all implied either fraud or deceit. The evidence of the secretary to the company, including his cross-examination, was given to the court. Copies of the depositions of all the witnesses were, in accordance with the usual practice, available for the trial judge.
At the conclusion of the second day's hearing the judge sent for both the counsel for the prosecution and for the defence and informed them of certain views he had then arrived at on the statement of the case by the State counsel and on the evidence and cross-examination of the secretary to the company, and which he subsequently announced in open court. The judge's views and his recommendations were communicated to the Attorney-General by counsel that same evening, following which the Attorney got into touch with the judge. The judge informed him that he had come to the conclusion that even if the accused were convicted on all counts, he did not consider the case one for imprisonment but for the imposition of a money penalty. As a result of his discussion with the judge, and having regard to the great weight and authority which must always be attached to the views of the judge in charge of a case, the Attorney-General agreed to have the case dealt with on the acceptance of a plea of guilty to one of the charges, which meant not proceeding with the other outstanding charges. It was in these circumstances that the accused persons pleaded guilty to uttering a forged invoice with intent to deceive and the plea was accepted by the trial judge, whose view of the entire case can be summarised by the following extract from his judgment. Addressing the accused he said:—
"The only factor in your favour is that while irregularities and falsification of invoices were illegal, the element of fraud as between the two companies is not, in my judgment, sufficient to justify my sending you to prison."
It is clear from this that the judge was taking the entire facts of the case into consideration although he was ruling on one count only.
I should, perhaps, add that some months previously, when the case was listed for hearing before the then presiding judge at Green Street, it was proposed on two occasions that the Attorney-General should agree to the acceptance of a similar plea to that which was ultimately accepted by the judge, and, on the case as it appeared to him at that stage, he declined to accede to these applications and decided that the trial should proceed and be dealt with in open court by a judge and jury in the ordinary way.
Is the Taoiseach aware of the fact that there is grave public concern arising out of the circumstances in which the State found it necessary to prefer 24 charges against the defendants in this case; that the public are in no way assured by the termination of this trial and the ease and willingness with which the Attorney-General consented to the withdrawal of 23 out of the 24 charges which presumably had been deliberately framed against the accused? Is the Taoiseach further aware that, as a result of the weak and vacillating attitude apparently taken by the Attorney-General in this case, the secretary of the company who was available as a State witness and who reported the admitted irregularities in this firm, has lost his employment? If that is the type of reciprocity which has been dealt out to the secretary of the company by the two defendants, apparently in consideration of the Attorney-General weakly agreeing to withdraw 23 of the charges which were deliberately framed against the defendants, does the Taoiseach consider that that type of trial and that type of result are calculated to inspire public confidence?
I am aware, of course, that the public took a very great interest in this case. But it is not right to suggest that there was anything weak or vacillating about the Attorney-General. I have here a full report of what has happened and, in my opinion, the Attorney-General behaved very properly. When a case comes to court it is in the hands of the judge, and there was nothing done in this particular case that is not in accordance with practice.
Will the Taoiseach say whether the State proposes to do anything to ensure fair treatment for the secretary of the company, whose public-spirited action was commended by the judge, and whose action brought to the notice of the Government the fact that, according to the charges formulated by the Attorney-General, these two defendants were conspiring to deprive the State of £11,000 in revenue?
There is no query about the secretary in either question.
Is the Taoiseach not aware that it is an unusual thing for a judge in a case of this kind to send for counsel before he delivers his judgment?
I am informed that there was nothing unusual in the case at all. It seems to me that when the judge is seized of a case like that it is out of the hands of the Attorney-General; it is in the hands of the judge, and, so far as I am aware of the practice, there was nothing unusual in what was done. Suppose a trial like that were to last for a large number of days at considerable expense and, at the end of it, the judge were to say: "Very well, my opinion is the opinion I was able to form after hearing the case for a day or two and all the costs could have been saved if my advice were taken"? The judge finally is the person in charge of the case once it comes into open court.
How did the Attorney-General justify the preparation of 24 charges against these defendants and then weakly consent to the withdrawal of 23 charges? Surely there ought to be some consideration given to the preparation of charges if you can prepare 24 charges in that light-handed fashion and then, as if it means nothing to the prestige of the State or the prestige of the Attorney-General, withdraw 23 of them.
The Deputy ought to know well enough that various charges are put forward, sometimes alternative charges, in accordance with the evidence. I say there was nothing weak in the action taken by the Attorney-General. He has to recognise and everybody has to recognise that when a case comes before a judge it is in his hands—the case, as a whole, not one particular count—and the extract which I have read indicates that the case as a whole was before the judge. Then, dealing with the case as a whole, he asked the counsel to see him and gave them at an early stage in the case what he thought would be his ultimate view. The only point then was whether to continue the trial over a number of days and, at the end of it, possibly be told by the judge in charge: "I was able to give you at an early stage in this case, from my examination of the evidence, what was likely to be my final opinion. Nevertheless, you insisted, notwithstanding the fact that I am in charge, on continuing this case and wasting money and time for ten days." We have to remember that when a judge is seized of a case it is in his hands.
Where you have a 100 per cent. tariff there are queer "goings-on."
Will the Taoiseach say whether any effort was made by the Attorney-General to secure from the defendants or their counsel a guarantee of immunity from revenge in respect of the secretary, who brought the matter under the notice of the Government?
That is a separate question.
The Taoiseach states that there was nothing unusual in the procedure in the court. May we take it then that that standard will apply to future cases without even calling on the defendants, or hearing the defence?
We are not trying the case here. We have not got the evidence and all the material in front of us. We have to rely on our judges. We cannot have it both ways. This House is very insistent that the rights and privileges of judges should be respected, and that they should be put in a position of independence. We are not, and even individuals who may have read the case are not in a position to know all the facts. Otherwise there would be no need for the courts at all. We established courts in order that the full facts of a case should be investigated, and we put judges in charge of the courts with liberty and responsibility to deal with cases. Everything done by the Attorney-General in this case was done as the result of the suggestion of the judge who was trying the case in open court.
Is it not a fact that the judge sent for the counsel on both sides before he heard the defence and before the defendants were cross-examined?
As I told you, this case was going on for two days. All the depositions were available to the judge and he had heard the examination and cross-examination of the secretary. So far as it was possible for the Attorney-General, all the facts were put in front of the judge at the time. It does happen, as anybody who has been investigating anything knows, that at a certain stage you are able to form an opinion, an opinion from which you are not likely to be changed by anything that may happen subsequently. You are able to form a definite opinion and apparently the judge formed an opinion here that the case as a whole was one in which he was not going to imprison the accused, that he was going instead to inflict a money fine.
The other day a man was imprisoned for stealing three geese in Clare.
But he was not a tariff racketeer.