Majella and Judge Carney

It is a difficult situation and still highly emotive. If you missed it, Judge Paul Carney, who presided over the trial and sentencing of Wayne O’Donoghue for the killing of Robert Holohan, criticised Robert’s mother for making unscripted comments in her victim impact statement.

These included that semen was allegedly found on her child’s body — information which did not form part of the prosecution case and was not mentioned during the trial (disclaimer: I reported on it).

At a conference in UCC Judge Carney said:

[The] sentencing objective was totally frustrated by the unscripted addendum to the victim impact statement and the enthusiastic adoption of it by the tabloid press… by the time I got to my chambers the word ‘semen’ was already on the airwaves and the accused was being branded a paedophile killer, which he was not. The tabloids stirred up such hatred for the accused he has no future in this country.

It is fair for Ms Holohan to say she is upset and hurt by the judge’s comments, and by his admission she was suffering from “obsessive grief”. She also said: “I do not believe it is appropriate to censor victims as to what they can say so that it can be palatable for the judge or the offender.” 

I understand her logic but this is a very tricky situation. The way her comments were picked up by some elements of the press resulted in defamatory coverage and have ensured O’Donoghue has no future in Ireland. At the same time, Judge Carney last night spoke out against strict guidelines for victims’ statements.

He expressed reservations about “guidelines” offered by Mrs Justice Fidelma Macken in which she said victims could be held in contempt of court if they depart significantly from the victim impact statement submitted. He said he feared conferring “a right of censorship on killers and rapists over their victims”.

It’s all in the laps of the legal gods. They’re the experts, so one would imagine them capable of resolving the situation.

But Sarah Carey makes a good point:

Still no complaints about the DPP not prosecuting him for the cover-up. They were the ones who made a mess of the case.

This trial and sentencing will become the benchmark for future rulings. Its impact is far from completely fet just yet.

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