herald

Monday 19 August 2019

Man jailed for rape of woman lost on a night out has his conviction quashed

Egyptian Mohamed Okda (33) will now face a retrial
Egyptian Mohamed Okda (33) will now face a retrial

A man jailed for raping a woman he met after she became lost on a night out in Dublin has had his conviction quashed on appeal.

Egyptian Mohamed Okda (33), formerly of Coolfin, Rathdowney, Co Laois, had pleaded not guilty to two counts of raping the woman and one count of sexual assault at a flat in Dublin city centre in February, 2014.

He was unanimously found guilty on all counts by a jury after a seven-day trial and jailed for 11 years with the final year suspended by Mr Justice Michael Moriarty in October 2017.

Failure

The Court of Appeal quashed Okda's conviction yesterday and ordered a retrial because of the trial judge's failure to instruct the jury at all on the presumption of innocence.

Mr Justice John Edwards, giving judgment in the Court of Appeal, said that although both sides referred to the presumption of innocence in closing speeches, the trial judge "unfortunately" omitted to do so.

Mr Justice Edwards said it was "almost inconceivable" that one of the most experienced criminal trial judges on the bench at that time would simply forget to give the jury several important instructions.

He said the trial judge proceeded directly into his charge of the jury, or instructions to them, following "succinct" closing speeches by both the prosecution and defence. He went a certain distance before sending the jury home at lunch, stating that he did not want the jury to hear "three long speeches" in one sitting.

Mr Justice Edwards said the "well-intentioned decision to break his instructions overnight and resume the next morning "may have had the unintended consequence of causing" everyone in the courtroom "to lose focus".

They may have been "under the mistaken impression after the overnight break that the judge had covered more ground on the previous day than he had in fact done".

Unsafe

Mr Justice Edwards said the failure to instruct the jury at all on the presumption of innocence was a "fatal flaw" that rendered Okda's trial unsatisfactory and conviction unsafe.

He said failure to instruct a jury on the presumption of innocence happened in a 2003 trial that led to a successful appeal.

In that case, the late Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman said the failure to instruct the jury on the presumption of innocence risked "understating its importance and perhaps relegating it to the status of a mere technical rule".

Mr Justice Edwards, sitting with Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice Brian McGovern, ordered a retrial. Okda was remanded in custody to appear before the Central Criminal Court on Monday.

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