O’Reilly Stewart welcomes Judgment that refuses to suspend the Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry
A former staff member of Muckamore Abbey Hospital, who is facing criminal proceedings in respect of their time at the hospital, sought to have the Muckamore Abbey Hospital Public Inquiry suspended. The Applicant, who is contesting the charges, alleged their right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights will be jeopardised by commentary previously published in the media and by review by the Inquiry. The Applicant’s representatives wrote to the Minister for Health on this basis and asked the Minister to suspend the Inquiry until the criminal proceedings concluded.
The Minister refused to suspend the Inquiry on the basis that, firstly, the decision to commence the Inquiry was made in full knowledge that there were criminal proceedings running in parallel. Secondly, that the following measures were implemented by the Inquiry – redaction of personal details, anonymity, staff identification and restrictions on viewing CCTV footage.
The Applicant challenged the Minister’s decision not to suspend the Inquiry and commenced Judicial Review proceedings to have the decision overturned.
On 15th September 2022 Mr Justice Colton dismissed the application and the following observations, among others, were made –
- The Court did not consider the Applicant’s Article 6 right to a fair trial had been breached. The Applicant “has not yet been returned for trial in the Crown Court. No trial date has been set. No jury has been empanelled. The Applicant’s fears are speculative and not sufficient to establish a breach of Article 6.”
- On the impact of prejudicial publicity, the Court outlined a range of case law addressing this issue. However, it noted that all of the reported cases involved actual trials which had already commenced. Therefore, in this case the Court was being asked to speculate on what reporting may occur in the future and whether that would impact any trial in the future. Consequently, the Court emphasised that neither the Respondent nor the Court were in a position to make this assessment as it was entirely speculative. Whilst the Court acknowledged some of the social media commentary has been “typically toxic” from a tiny minority of the population, there is nothing to suggest there has been a hostile media campaign concerning the Applicant.
- The Court stated that the Applicant is entitled to and should expect a fair trial – rights which are fully protected by the criminal process. A jury is presumed impartial unless there is evidence to the contrary. Fairness of a criminal trial can only be judged at the time and by the trial judge.
- Fettering or surrendering of discretion – the Applicant submitted that the Respondent placed undue reliance on and deference to the Chair of the Inquiry’s views. This argument was dismissed by Mr Justice Colton, stating it could not be said that the decision taken in this case was anything other than the Respondent’s.
- Per the Inquiries Act 2005, the Respondent has the discretion to suspend a public inquiry where there are ongoing investigations or civil or criminal proceedings. It was held that the Respondent’s decision not to suspend the inquiry was a rational and balanced one.
- Any fair reading of the Respondent’s communication with the Applicant clearly identified the reasons for his decision.
- The Respondent had applied the correct test in making his decision.
O’Reilly Stewart welcomes this Judgment on behalf of our clients associated with the Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry. The Inquiry can now continue its role in examining the circumstances surrounding Muckamore from 1999 to 2021, to form its report and submit same to the Minister for Health in due course. The Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry is due to resume on 20th September 2022.
To find a summary of the judgment, click on the link below: