Expert report finds that Myles Joyce was wrongfully convicted in this well-known historic case
28 March 2018
Yesterday evening (Tuesday), the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, secured Government approval to recommend to President Higgins that he exercise his right to pardon, contained in Article 13.6 of the Constitution, to grant a posthumous Presidential Pardon to Mr. Myles Joyce, who was convicted of the Maamtrasna murders and executed in December 1882.
The granting of a Presidential Pardon is a right which should be offered only in the most deserving of circumstances. Considering the weight of evidence in this case pointing clearly to a wrongful conviction, Minister Flanagan and his Government colleagues have decided that recommending to the President the awarding of a posthumous Presidential Pardon to Myles Joyce is the correct course of action.
Minister Flanagan stated:
“The granting of a Presidential pardon is a rare occurrence and a very high bar must be reached for consideration to be given by Government to making a recommendation to the President.
“This case is very well known, particularly in the West of Ireland, and it is widely regarded as a clear cut case of wrongful conviction and an historic injustice. In reaching a decision on this matter, I have carefully considered the Attorney General’s legal advice and the expert report commissioned by the former Taoiseach.
“Myles Joyce is one individual but in coming to a decision on this matter, I was acutely conscious of the symbolism of this pardon and its importance for that reason.
“President Higgins has taken a deep personal interest in this case and he and I have discussed it many times. The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has conveyed the decision of Government to President Higgins.”
In August 1882, Myles Joyce was one of ten men from the local area who was arrested and charged with the murders of five members of the same family in Maamtrasna, on the Galway / Mayo border. Myles Joyce was one of three men hanged for the crimes. Shortly before their executions two of the men admitted separately that they themselves were in fact guilty but that Myles Joyce was innocent. This was deemed insufficient to postpone or revoke the execution and in December 1882, Myles Joyce hanged along with two others for the murders.
Since then, questions have arisen regarding the safety of his conviction. There have been serious doubts surrounding the reliability of much of the evidence used to convict Mr. Joyce.
Following legal advice from the Attorney General, the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, commissioned an expert review of the case from Dr. Niamh Howlin of the Sutherland School of Law, UCD. Dr Howlin's examination concluded that a number of factors, including witness statements and the processes and procedures around the trial, led her to form the opinion that Mr Joyce's conviction was unsafe.
Dr Howlin’s report states:
“There are two understandings of the term ‘wrongful conviction’. The first, which may be termed a lay interpretation, is the conviction of a factually innocent person. The legal interpretation focusses more on the procedures and processes which were used to secure a conviction – in other words, whether the investigation and prosecution of the alleged offence conformed to the legal norms such as the rules of evidence.
“In the case of Myles Joyce, it is possible to point to both the legal and lay interpretations and conclude that he was wrongfully convicted.
“[The] trial, conviction and execution of Myles Joyce were unfair by the standards of criminal justice at the time.”
Minister Flanagan thanked Dr. Niamh Howlin for her expert report and announced his intention to publish it.
Note to Editors:
- This is the second occasion that a posthumous Presidential Pardon will be awarded. The first posthumous Presidential Pardon was awarded by President Higgins to Mr. Harry Gleeson, on the advice of the former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD.
- The threshold to recommend a Presidential Pardon is high and since 1937 only four Presidential Pardons have been awarded.
- This is the first occasion that a recommendation to award a Presidential Pardon relates to a case prior to the foundation of the State.
- The expert report commissioned by the then Taoiseach in 2015 is available here: Report by Dr Niamh Howlin on Maamtrasna Murders