President signs gang crime and defamation Bills

 

TOUGH NEW measures to tackle gangland crime and legislation updating defamation laws have entered force, following the decision of President Mary McAleese to sign them into law.

The President signed the Defamation Bill 2006 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009, following three hours of advice from the Council of State on Wednesday night.

All bar three of the 22-strong group were present for the meeting in Áras an Uachtaráin called by Mrs McAleese before she decided whether to sign them into law, or refer one, or both to the Supreme Court.

Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern welcomed the President’s decision: “Make no mistake: the fight against the activities of these gangs is going to be long and has to be waged relentlessly.

“But I am satisfied that the ability of the gardaí to tackle the gangs head-on has been greatly improved by these measures. I know that the gardaí are determined to use these provisions to the full. These measures represent very important changes in our criminal law in favour of ordinary law-abiding people,” said the Minister, who has said that the Attorney General, Paul Gallagher has advised that both laws are constitutional.

On the defamation legislation, Mr Ahern said modernisation of the law is “now complete”; adding that he believed the legislation struck the right balance “in what is a complex area”.

Noting the President’s decision on the Criminal Justice Act, Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan said: “It will be challenged anyway. I don’t take issue with the decision, or the advice given by the Council of State. “But I still believe that there are important sections in this legislation that will be challenged before the Supreme Court,” said Mr Flanagan, adding that he believed that blasphemy provisions in the Defamation Act “are an act of folly”.

The advice given by members of the Council of State, which includes former president, Mary Robinson and surviving taoisigh, to the President is never revealed. Under Article 26 of the Constitution, the President may, after consultations with the Council of State, send any Bill to the highest court for a ruling on whether all or parts of it are “repugnant” to the Constitution.

The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009, which allows for the greater use of non-jury trials in suspected gangland criminal cases, was passed by the Dáil earlier this month.

The Defamation Bill updates Ireland’s defamation law, aims to encourage quicker apologies from publishers and renews the offence of blasphemy provided for under 1960s legislation.

More than 130 lawyers wrote a public letter to The Irish Times demanding that the Criminal Justice Bill be withdrawn, claiming Ireland would be shamed by it in the eyes of the world.

The council’s membership includes Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, Chief Justice John Murray and president of the High Court Richard Johnson. It also includes Attorney General Paul Gallagher, Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Senator Pat Moylan. Former president Mary Robinson and former taoisigh Liam Cosgrave, Garret FitzGerald, Albert Reynolds, John Bruton and Bertie Ahern, along with former chief justices Thomas Finlay and Ronan Keane.