Dismissal Denied: Army Officer Convicted of Sexual Assault to Appeal Military Court’s Ruling

“Soldier Seeks to Overturn Conviction and Sentence for Sexual Assault in Military Court”
Dismissal Denied: Army Officer Convicted of Sexual Assault to Appeal Military Court's Ruling

An officer in the Irish Defence Forces is seeking to appeal his conviction and sentence for sexual assault. The officer, who has not been named for legal reasons, was found guilty by a military court martial of sexually assaulting a female non-commissioned officer at McKee Barracks in Dublin on June 25, 2020. The officer was also found guilty of assaulting the same NCO on the same date by moving towards her in a manner which led her to apprehend that she was going to be assaulted. The officer has lodged an appeal against his conviction and his dismissal from the Defence Forces.

The trial lasted six weeks and was heard before a general court martial. The military board, which acted as the jury, consisted of seven senior-ranking Defence Forces personnel. Evidence presented during the trial revealed that the officer had moved his open palms up and down the victim’s back while saying “come on, come on” while they were in the officer’s mess. The incident occurred during a 30-minute period before midnight following a barbeque organised by the military’s Joint Task Force which provided assistance to the health authorities in combating the spread of Covid-19.

The officer, who has over 15 years of experience in the Defence Forces, was also found guilty of five separate charges, including an assault on each of the two female NCOs and two counts of drunkenness contrary to the Defence Act 1954. However, he was cleared of three other charges of sexual assault involving his two female colleagues and a separate charge of assaulting one of them. During the trial, the Director of Military Prosecutions withdrew four other alleged breaches of the Defence Act 1954, while the judge also directed the acquittal of the officer on three other charges including one of sexual assault.

Sentencing the officer to dismissal from the Defence Forces, Military Judge Colonel Michael Campion said the serious nature of the offending was “incompatible with continued service” and represented “an egregious breach of the ethos of [military] service.” The judge also remarked that the defendant’s sentence was “a high price to pay for a one-off lapse” but that his conduct was “entirely unacceptable.” The officer was also sentenced to six months in custody as well as a series of fines ranging from 10-14 days’ pay. The judge suspended the period of incarceration and reduced the fines to nil because of the severe financial impact which the officer will suffer because of his dismissal from the Defence Forces.

The appeal by the officer is expected to be heard before the end of the year by the Court of Appeal, which is the appellate court for general court martials. Lawyers for the defendant are expected to highlight another case where an army instructor was convicted of sexual assault on a female recruit during a first-aid demonstration. The instructor was fined a loss of pay equivalent to €2,690 as well as forfeiting seniority in his rank for a period of 10 years as punishment. The legal representative of the Director of Military Prosecutions claimed it was “unprecedented” that someone convicted of a sexual assault by a court martial could continue in the service of the Defence Forces.

The incident at McKee Barracks has raised concerns about the culture and leadership within the Defence Forces. An independent report ordered by the Department of Defence found that the decision to hold the barbeque lacked judgement and was the result of “significant leadership failings.” The report also found that the event did not conform with Covid legislation that was in place at the time in relation to social gatherings. The Defence Forces have since introduced new measures to address the issues raised by the report.

The case highlights the need for the Defence Forces to take a zero-tolerance approach to sexual assault and harassment. The officer’s appeal will be closely watched by those who are committed to ensuring that the Defence Forces are a safe and inclusive environment for all members.