Rights group criticises several provisions


REACTION:THE IRISH Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has criticised several provisions of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill, describing them as disproportionate and unnecessary.

At a media briefing yesterday, commissioner Michael Farrell said that the section of the Bill which creates new “scheduled offences” in order to bring them before the non-jury Special Criminal Court strikes at the centuries-old right to trial by jury, without any data being produced on the existence of jury-tampering.

It would not solve the problem of the intimidation of witnesses, he said, who are identified in the Special Criminal Court in the same way as in ordinary courts. If there is a danger of jury intimidation, there are ways this can be dealt with by ensuring their anonymity, if necessary allowing them to hear cases from behind screens or via video-link.

He said the IHRC recognised the problem posed by organised crime, but questioned the haste with which this Bill was being rushed through the Oireachtas.

The president of the IHRC, Dr Maurice Manning, said: “ The UN Human Rights Committee has also criticised Ireland for the ongoing existence of the Special Criminal Court and also recommended that only exceptional cases should be heard by a body such as this.”

Mr Farrell said the IHRC was also concerned about the provisions on drawing inferences from a refusal to explain actions, and said that this should only apply where the accused has first been granted legal advice as a mandatory prerequisite.

Fine Gael’s spokesman on justice Charlie Flanagan said increased resources for the office of the DPP and An Garda Síochána was the way to tackle gangland activity.

The Labour Party warned that the Bill could be unconstitutional by abandoning the right to trial by jury. “There is no evidence that tampering with juries is an issue in our criminal justice system,” its spokesman, Pat Rabbitte, said.

“We have no evidence that the acquittal rate before jury trials is less effective than in the case of trials in the non-jury Special Criminal Court . . . The Labour Party would support the practice in the UK where the prosecution may apply for a non-jury trial in cases where evidence can be shown of a real and present danger of jury tampering,” he said.