Noel Callan to get remission for garda murder

A man jailed for a policeman's murder in the Republic of Ireland in 1985 may soon be freed after a ruling by the Supreme Court in Dublin.

The court found that Noel Callan, formerly of Castleblayney, County Monaghan, is entitled to be considered for remission.

Callan had challenged the authorities' refusal to consider him for a reduction in time served.

He claimed this had been applied to others convicted of capital murder.

Sgt Patrick Morrissey was shot dead in 1985 by Michael McHugh, a co-accused of Callan at Rathbrist, County Louth following an armed robbery.

Both Callan and McHugh were sentenced to death for murder, but the Irish president commuted their sentences to 40 years in prison.

His lawyers argued that several other criminals jailed for capital murder had their death sentences commuted to 40 years and had later been freed or given temporary release before the end of their sentences.

On Thursday, the supreme court ruled he was entitled to be considered for remission for good behaviour.

If granted normal remission, Callan could be freed by 2016.

'Unwarranted unfairness'

But the court also ruled Callan, described as a "model prisoner", was eligible for the higher remission of one third.

The judge described as a "nonsense" various arguments advanced by the state to support its claims Callan was not entitled to remission.

The state had initially argued he was not entitled to remission on the grounds that the president's decision was made on the understanding the full 40 years would be served "without remission".

On the third day of the hearing, the state altered its case after a file was produced by a public servant in the department of the prime minister, which contained the actual advice of the government to the president on Callan's case.

It said his sentence should be commuted to 40 years penal servitude, but made no reference to remission.

The state then accepted the president's decision did not impose any conditions in relation to remission, but then argued Callan was not serving a "sentence" but rather a "commutation" which, it argued, placed him outside the prison rules.

Callan's barrister, argued the state was effectively contending Callan was being held under "some new and alien" form of detention, a unique "commutation" process, rather than a "sentence" and that constituted huge and unwarranted unfairness.

The state had argued that when a sentence is commuted the right to statutory remission is lost.

A central issue in the case was whether Callan has the status of a prisoner who has been "sentenced".

The supreme court granted a declaration he is a person who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment exceeding one month who is therefore eligible, by good conduct, to earn remission, including higher remission, under the relevant prison rules.

The court rejected the arguments Callan was serving "a commutation" rather than a sentence.