DPP v Dunne: Court to review the law on causation and duress in murder conviction

This coming Wednesday, 21st of October, the Court will hear argument in DPP v Dunne. This is a case I mentioned last December, after O’Donnell J, sitting in the Court of Criminal Appeal, certified two questions as points of law of exceptional public importance for determination by the Supreme Court (here).

(i) Where the date of death alleged in an indictment for murder occurs at a point of time removed from the incident and actions alleged against the accused and after the intervention (itself lawful) of a third party, may the accused be convicted of murder?
(ii) May duress be raised as a defence (whether full or partial) to a charge of murder?

Background

In July 2007, Dunne shot his friend Ian Kenny at close range with a sawn-off shotgun. Dunne claims he committed that act under the duress of threats against himself and his family. Kenny’s injuries were to the shoulder and head. He did not die immediately; but he did not recover consciousness afterwards. He died two years later from pneumonia caused by his permanent vegetative state which was caused by the gun shot.

In 2012, Dunne was convicted of the murder of Ian Kenny. The trial judge refused to allow the jury to consider the defence of duress. The CCA refused his appeal to that conviction. However, Dunne requested that the points of law raised be certified as being of exceptional public importance. O’Donnell J, determined that, given the circumstances of the case, the issue of causation should be certified. And although the law regarding duress as a defence against a murder charge is clear, and there is a question whether that could be changed by the Court rather than by legislation, he also held that it is a point of law of sufficient public importance that it should be certified for the Court’s consideration.

A five judge panel, consisting of Hardiman J, McKechnie J, Dunne J, Charleton J and O’Malley J, will begin the hearing in the Supreme Court at 11 o’clock on Wednesday. The case is not listed for any more than one day.

O’Donnell J may have already answered the question regarding duress. And s 38 of the Criminal Justice Act 1999 (here) abolished the year and a day rule regarding causation. But Dunne obviously raised arguments which warrant consideration by the Court.

This would likely be a great case for law students and aspiring lawyers to sit in on: top counsel arguing the finer points of criminal law before a panel some of the most senior members of our judiciary.

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