Shatter set to draft Bill on issuing of search warrants


A NEW Bill making more judges available to issue search warrants and in emergencies allowing senior gardaí not linked to the investigation issue them will be drafted shortly by the Minister for Justice.

Alan Shatter said that the Government had approved the drafting of the Bill as a priority, following the striking down of section 29 (1) of the 1939 Offences Against the State Act by the Supreme Court last month.

Ali Charaf Damache was arrested arising out of an investigation into an alleged conspiracy to murder Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist who had depicted the prophet Mohammed with the body of a dog, prompting major unrest in Muslim countries.

On March 10th, 2010, the superintendent heading the investigation granted a search warrant for his house, which was searched the next day.

Mr Damache, his wife and child were present and he was arrested for conspiracy to murder. However, he was subsequently charged with a different offence, sending a threatening message by telephone.

The Supreme Court found that the section of the Act permitting the issuing of a search warrant by the superintendent investigating the matter was unconstitutional because the person issuing the warrant was not independent on matters relating to the investigation. Normally a search warrant is issued by a judge, but in cases of urgency may be issued by a senior Garda officer.

Giving the Supreme Court judgment, Mrs Justice Denham said: “For the process in obtaining a search warrant to be meaningful, it is necessary for the person authorising the search to be able to assess the conflicting interests of the State and the individual in an impartial manner.”

Under the Minister’s proposals, the impugned section will be replaced with a provision which will increase the availability of judges empowered to issue search warrants under the 1939 Act and permit a senior member of the Garda Síochána, who is independent of the investigation concerned, to issue a warrant in urgent circumstances where an application to a District Court judge is impracticable.

“It is essential that the implications of the Supreme Court judgment be addressed as a priority; the Garda Síochána must be in a position to take action to safeguard the public if circumstances of urgency arise, for example relating to suspected offences involving firearms and explosives,” Mr Shatter said.