IRD suicide accuser back in court

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 13:50 03/09/2012

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A man who believes the IRD is trying to force people to commit suicide has been ordered back to court over allegations he owes $800,000 in taxes.

Michael John Dougherty had initially appeared in the Auckland District Court on 74 counts of filing false goods and service tax returns, however, the trial was abandoned after Judge Anne Kiernan ruled he was unfit to stand trial.

A Court of Appeal ruling today said Dougherty is generally a capable person of average or better intelligence, but suffers from a delusional disorder when it comes to the IRD.

"He considers not only that he is being persecuted by the Department, but that the Commissioner of Inland Revenue persecutes many people within the community with the aim of forcing them to commit suicide," the appeal ruling reads.

The appeal court says Doughty understands the charge.

"The sole issue is whether, because of his delusion about the Inland Revenue Department, he can adequately instruct counsel, and consequently conduct a defence."

The initial trial got underway in August last year before Judge Christopher Field and a jury but on the second day Dougherty's lawyer questioned his client's fitness. Judge Field declared a mistrial and sent it to Judge Kiernan for a ruling on his mental state.

Reports from two psychiatrists were called for.

Dr Krishna Pillai found Dougherty "totally preoccupied with the perceived injustice of the allegations". Along with Dr Olivera Djokovic, both agreed he suffered from a delusional disorder.

"Dr Phillai considered the beliefs to be at the eccentric end of the scale, and at the limits of normal belief systems, but not bizarre," the appeal court said.

After Judge Kiernan's ruling the Attorney General appealed.

After reviewing precedent and the law, the appeal judges said they found no statutory intention to move away from the principle "that fitness to plead does not include an inquiry into whether the accused will act in his or her best interests".

The court says Dougherty would not be the first or the last defendant to run a defence that he is being picked on.
"He is a man who understands what is happening, knows and understands the charges, and is able to tell his counsel what defence he wants to run."

The court also pointed out that having a person declared unfit to stand trial exposes them to other jeopardy.

The appeal court accepted the Attorney General's point that the two psychiatrists believed he could stand trial.

"Mr Dougherty had been able to explain his intended plea, identify other options, and explain why he considered those options were not appropriate," the ruling said.

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He was also able to explain to Pillai the consequences of conducting his defence the way he wanted to.

"Given these factors we consider there is presently no evidential basis that could support a finding of unfitness to stand trial."

The appeal judges sent the matter back to the district court where Dougherty's fitness to stand trial will be reconsidered.

- Auckland Now

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