This is Big News, well Done Peter Pringle

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Man who faced death penalty after he was wrongfully convicted for murder of two gardaí can continue damages claim – court

 18th May 2022

Aman who spent nearly 15 years in prison before his conviction for the murder of two gardaí was overturned can continue his claim for damages against the State, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Peter Pringle was convicted of the murders of gardaí John Morley and Henry Byrne during a bank robbery in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, in July 1980, and was initially sentenced to death.

He was released from prison after his convictions, deemed “unsafe”, were quashed in 1995.

The High Court had struck out a damage claim he brought over his conviction and incarceration on the grounds of an inordinate and inexcusable delay in progressing his claim.

On Wednesday, the three-judge Court of Appeal overturned that decision.

It said a key legal issue in the case which needed to be determined had not been addressed.

The appeal court sent the case back to the High Court for a fresh consideration.

Mr Pringle, who is based in Glenicmurrin, Co Galway, was sentenced to death in 1981 for the murder of the gardaí, a sentence later commuted to a 40-year jail sentence.

In his civil proceedings, Mr Pringle claims the State was negligent and breached his constitutional rights because crucial evidence was not disclosed to him prior to his trial before the Special Criminal Court where he was convicted of the murders.

After his death sentence was commuted, he served 14 years and 10 months in prison, before the then Court of Criminal Appeal in 1995 found his convictions to be unsafe and unsatisfactory.

Two other men were convicted of the murders and were released from prison in 2013.

In 2019, the High Court, following an application by the State, dismissed Mr Pringle’s damages action, which originated in the 1990s, on the grounds that he was responsible for an inordinate and inexcusable delay.

The State successfully argued that it would be prejudiced by the fact that many relevant witnesses would not be available due to death and untraceability.

Mr Pringle appealed that decision to the appeal court.

In a judgment on behalf of the appeal court, Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh said the case was not straightforward and there was “a difficult and key legal issue at the heart of the application”.

The question raised was whether the State would be legally entitled to use evidence with a view to establishing Mr Pringle’s involvement in the events in 1980, that were the subject of the criminal trial and in respect of which his conviction was overturned.

Mr Pringle, she said, maintains that the presumption of innocence prevents the State from doing so; while the State maintains that it does not, she said.

This in turn is “highly relevant” to the prejudice alleged by the State, because it contends that it requires a large pool of witnesses to defend itself and that many of those witnesses are no longer available by reason of the appellant’s delay, the judge said.

This dispute as to the proper parameters of the damages claim had rendered the exercise of adjudicating upon this appeal considerably more complex than first thought, the judge said.

The Court of Appeal accepted the High Court’s finding that Mr Pringle was responsible for inordinate and inexcusable delay in progressing his proceedings.

However, the judge said that is subject to a key legal issue. That is the precise scope of the issues in the case having regard to the presumption of innocence and the extent to which it may or may not limit the State in terms of how they present their defence to the appellant’s claim.

This issue was not squarely before the High Court or the Court of Appeal, she said.

It was something of considerable complexity and the court did not consider it appropriate to rule upon it, given the way it arose.

The appeal court could not rule definitively on this issue, the judge said, adding that the court was hampered in assessing the degree of prejudice claimed.

Given the degree of uncertainty surrounding these key matters, together with the serious and unique nature of the case, the Court of Appeal did not consider that the balance of justice was to dismiss the proceedings now.

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