New Appeal: Must a valid committal order record that the judge considered the option of community service?

In this determination, Maguire v Governor of Mountjoy Prison, the Supreme Court granted Maguire (and others) leave to appeal from the Court of Appeal on two issues: “the obligations of a judge of the Circuit Court dealing with a District Court appeal in a criminal case where the appellant does not appear, and the question whether a valid committal warrant must record consideration by the judge of the option of community service”.

 

Background

Maguire is one of five plaintiffs in joined cases being appealed from the Court of Appeal. What the cases have in common is that the plaintiffs were sentenced at district court level to terms of imprisonment of less than 12 months. They each lodged appeals to the Circuit Court. But none of the plaintiffs turned up to court on the dates of their appeals. In each case, the Circuit Court struck out the appeal and affirmed the order of the District Court.

The plaintiffs appealed separately to the High Court. They argued that their committal orders were invalid as the orders did not record that the Circuit Court judges gave consideration to substituting the term of imprisonment imposed for community service. The plaintiffs relied on s 3 of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011, which provides:

3. Section 3 of the Principal Act is amended:-

(a) by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (1):-
(1)(a) Where a court by or before which an offender stands convicted, is of opinion that the appropriate sentence in respect of the offence of which the offender is convicted would but for this Act, be one of imprisonment for a period of 12 months or less, the court shall, as an alternative to that sentence, consider whether to make an order (in this Act referred to as a ‘community service order’) in respect of the offender and the court may, if satisfied in relation to the offender, that the provisions of section 4 have been complied with, make a community service order in accordance with this section.

The High Court dismissed four of the appeals and allowed one, Brennan, distinguishing the case on facts (the order stated that an appeal was heard). All four unsuccessful appellants lodged appeals to the Court of Appeal. The Governor of Castlerea Prison appealed the decision in Brennan.

The Court of Appeal (here) dismissed the four appeals, and allowed the appeal in Brennan. Mahon J stated that it must be presumed that judges of the District Court and Circuit Court are aware of their obligations to consider community service instead of prison without the need to openly articulate or record that they have done so [55].

 

Supreme Court

Applications for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court were lodged in the five cases. Granting leave, the Court determined that the issues raised by these cases meet the constitutional threshold of having general public importance.

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