Inquiry into Special Criminal Court to seek international views

Michael Peart-led review plans to have report on non-jury, judge-only court ready by April

International views on the State's Special Criminal Court are to be sought out by an inquiry led by a former Court of Appeal judge into the operation of the non-jury, judge-only court.

However, the review led by judge Michael Peart has decided not to make interim recommendations about the court, but now hopes to have its final report ready by April.

Updating on progress, the review said it would take European law into account, particularly rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and how they might impact on the Offences Against the State Acts 1939 to 1998.

The independent review group, chaired by former Court of Appeal judge Michael Peart, is charged with reviewing all aspects of the operation of the Acts. It began its work in March.


Its terms of reference highlight in particular the need to consider the current threat posed by domestic and international terrorism and organised crime; the duty to deliver a fair and effective criminal justice system; and Ireland’s obligations in relation to constitutional and ECHR rights.

Surveillance and privacy

Part of its analysis will take in case law relevant to the right to silence, the right to a jury trial, opinion evidence and matters regarding surveillance and privacy.

“The group will also consider any relevant commentaries by international bodies that have touched upon the continued existence of the Special Criminal Court,” it said.

The interim report notes that, due to the detailed examinations required of complex law, it would be inappropriate to make any interim recommendations but that it would try to have its work completed by April next year.

To date its researchers have completed the first phase and in June provided the group with a consolidated version of the Offences Against the State Acts and a summary of all amendments to, and major judgments relating to, the Acts delivered since August 2002.

This takes in various elements including powers of arrest and detention; inferences from silence; property orders; witness immunity; and the Special Criminal Court.

Subversive and organised crime

Its ongoing second phase will examine the domestic legislative context of legislation and consider what provisions would exist to deal with subversive and organised crime if the Acts did not exist. A third phase will examine relevant international issues.

The review will take into account the views of various bodies including An Garda Síochána, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the UN Human Rights Commissioner. It has also sought further submissions. A dedicated website setting out its work has been established.

The review group was established following a commitment given in the Oireachtas last year during a debate on the renewal of certain provisions of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998.

The Special Criminal Court 1 was established in 1972 largely to tackle the IRA at the height of the Troubles, though a second court was opened to deal with the threat posed by organised crime and the backlog of cases.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times