PD Bill puts onus on accused to give answers


FAILURE by an accused person to answer questions may be taken as evidence of guilt under a new crime Bill published today by the Progressive Democrats.

The Bill also seeks changes in the bail laws, calls for the establishment of a prisons service separate from the Department of Justice, and requires the Director of Public Prosecutions to be obliged to appear before Dail committees. The proposed legislation is to be debated in private members' time in the Dail tomorrow.

It represents the most significant change in the laws which the State relies on in the fight against crime", said the party's justice spokeswoman, Ms Liz O'Donnell TD.

Under the "right to silence" provision, an accused person could be questioned for up to four hours by a district judge prior to a trial. The accused would be told that he or she is "not obliged to answer any question but that a court of trial may draw any inference that is warranted from any answer given or from any failure to give an answer, including an inference of guilt".

The Bill also provides that when an accused person offers something in his or her defence in court, the court can be told if the person mentioned this fact when originally questioned by gardai. Until the proposed legislation, the court would be allowed to see an earlier failure to mention the fact as evidence against the accused.

Asked whether such measures were unfair to someone who chose silence because they were inarticulate or nervous under questioning, Ms O'Donnell said the court would have discretion - over whether the inferences would be made.

The right to silence was, however, being "abused" by experienced and sophisticated criminals, she said. "It particularly annoys investigating gardai".

The Bill provides for changes to the bail laws whereby the bail sum could be lost if the accused commits an indictable offence while on bail. The Bill would also require the DPP to point out to a court that a person had committed an offence while on bail.

A "unified prosecutions service" would be set up under the legislation to combine the activities of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Chief State Solicitor, under the DPP's direction. The DPP would be required to submit an annual report to the Oireachtas and could be required to give evidence before an Oireachtas committee on prosecution policy.

The proposed legislation would also require the Minister for Justice to publish the names of prisoners given early release, and to maintain a Prisoners' Temporary Release Register, which could be inspected by the public.