Juryless courts in Ireland a ‘historical hangover’

Nothing comparable to Special Criminal Court in US or British legal systems

 

Ireland is unusual for common-law jurisdictions in that it uses non-jury courts to try cases involving organised crime, according to an expert in the area.

There is “nothing comparable to the Special Criminal Court” in the US or the Scottish, English and Welsh legal systems, according to Dr Liz Campbell, a senior lecturer in criminal law and evidence at the University of Edinburgh.

Ireland’s use of juryless courts is a “historical hangover” associated with the Offences Against the State Act 1939 and probably would not be introduced if they were not already a practice here, she said.

In Scotland, where there has been considerable debate about measures to combat organised crime, there has been no debate about introducing non-jury courts.

Juror intimidation

Scotland has 15-member juries and can convict with an eight-seven vote, so it would be more difficult to secure someone’s release by intimidating jurors than might be the case in Ireland. In Ireland, cases mostly involve 12-member juries requiring a 10-two majority for conviction.

Scotland has measures for protecting witnesses and monitoring jurors where it is deemed appropriate.

Since 2003 there has been a measure in England and Wales that allows a judge to determine if a case should be heard without a jury, Dr Campbell, author of Organised Crime and the Law: a Comparative Analysis, said.

A two-part test has to be applied, concerning the likelihood of a jury being tampered with, and whether there are reasonable measures available to protect against tampering. “It is a very high threshold,” Dr Campbell said. “In practice, non-jury trials have been very rare.”

In the US, jurors have on occasion been selected from locations hundreds of miles away from trials to make tampering less likely.

Gotti trial

John Gotti

Non-jury courts in the UK have only one judge. The Special Criminal Court uses three.

Also, Dr Campbell said, the fact that the Special Criminal Court delivered written judgments made it easier for people convicted in such courts to mount an appeal.

In continental Europe, an inquisitorial system uses investigating magistrates and is not comparable with common-law jurisdictions.

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