Criminal lawyers


THERE IS no doubt that there is a problem about gangland violence in this State. There was another grim reminder of the scale of the problem facing our law enforcement machinery last Saturday night with the gunning down of Wayne Doherty in west Dublin. This ruthless attack mirrors the murder of Shane Geoghegan and shows that the problem of gun crime and the danger it poses to innocent people is not confined to Limerick.

It is practically a daily or nightly occurrence in some part of this State. Even with the deployment of extra policing, the climate of fear and intimidation exists in many communities and our existing criminal code seems inadequate.

This is the context in which the letter sent to this newspaper by 133 lawyers who are directly involved in both prosecuting and defending those accused of crime raises serious questions about the appropriateness of the response proposed by the Government in the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill.

Among their concerns is that allowing a conviction on the uncorroborated opinion of a garda may be unconstitutional; that it marks a departure from the principle of jury trial not thought necessary by countries who are faced with the threat of international terrorism; that it permits secret detention hearings; and that many of the issues raised by the Government in promoting the Bill have been addressed in previous legislation.

The signatories to this letter include many lawyers who act as counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions in seeking to convict those accused of committing serious crimes. They are in daily contact with the victims of crime, who frequently also have to appear in court as witnesses for the prosecution. As they state in their letter, they see at first hand the effect of crime, particularly violent crime, on individuals and communities. They also have a close-up view of the criminal justice system with all its strengths and failings. It is significant that so many prosecutors do not appear to think this Bill, if it becomes law, will make their task easier.

The signatories also warn of the impact this “impetuous legislating” might have on respect for the rule of law. It is an unusual, but not an unprecedented, step for practising lawyers to air their views in the public interest on pending legislation. They call for the Bill to be withdrawn to allow a short consultation period for reasoned debate. It would have been helpful, and more useful, if these practitioners had offered their alternative to deal with a serious problem.