DPP v Wharrie: Not a mitigating factor that accused did not give false evidence at trial

Here, in answer to a case stated from the Court of Criminal Appeal, the Supreme Court held that:

it is not a correct principle of sentencing to treat as mitigation the fact that an accused person who is convicted following a trial did not give false evidence at his trial.

 

Background

In 2007 Perrie Wharrie and three accomplices were arrested in County Cork when their rib sunk as they attempted to bring 1.5 tonnes of cocaine ashore. One of the men pleaded guilty to offences under the Misuse of Drugs Acts. The three others were convicted before a judge and jury. At trial, Wharrie did not give evidence. His accomplices, however, gave evidence which the judge described at sentencing as an “insult to the intelligence of the jury”. The trial judge determined that it was a mitigating factor that Wharrie did not give false evidence, but sentenced him to 30 years imprisonment.

The Court of Criminal Appeal upheld the trial judge’s finding that it was a mitigating factor that Wharrie did not give false evidence. But it found that the trial judge did not give Wharrie credit for that. The Court of Criminal Appeal reduced Wharrie’s sentence to 22 years and allowed a further five years reduction in mitigation.

The DPP certified a question for appeal to the Supreme Court:

Is it a correct principle of sentencing to treat as mitigation the fact that an accused person who is convicted following a trial did not give evidence at his trial?

 

Supreme Court

Charleton J wrote the judgment for a five judge panel. Overruling the statements on mitigation by the trial judge and the Court of Criminal Appeal, he stated:

30. … An accused person is entitled to contest a case. While he or she may be given credit appropriate to an early admission of guilt, a plea of guilty, or, to a lesser extent, an approach to the trial process which saves time and money, no trial judge is entitled to aggravate the appropriate sentence because the accused gave perjured evidence in his own defence or in defence of others. Perjury is a separate crime and it is not a factor of aggravation of an existing offence. Finally, as a matter of principle, since perjury is a criminal offence as well as a grave moral wrong, it defies logic to conclude that failing to tell deliberate lies under oath or affirmation somehow mitigates the seriousness of an offence.

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