A chara, – Following the broadcast of RTÉ’s Crimes and Confessions on the Sallins train robbery, where innocent men spoke of their experience of being convicted at the Special Criminal Court, we wish to reiterate our opposition to the continued use of the court.
The court should be abolished because it violates the fair trial rights of everyone who lives in Ireland on a number of grounds.
The Director of Public Prosecutions’ power to refer cases to the court is far too broad and immensely difficult to challenge.
The DPP can refuse to give reasons on the vague grounds of “national security”.
This creates an arbitrariness and inequality in relation to which accused may be denied the right to a jury trial.
The right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers is fundamental in common law countries, such as Ireland, the UK and the US, but is not respected at the Special Criminal Court. Judges act as both judge and juror.
Where a risk of jury intimidation is identified, special alternative provisions for the protection of juries can be utilised. Such alternatives as anonymous, secret, or remote juries all operate in other jurisdictions and, in fact, these protections should be available across all courts in Ireland.
Other aspects of normal fair trial procedures are also severely weakened at the Special Criminal Court.
Gardaí can claim privilege and refuse to give important documents to the defence. This means legal professionals and the accused are often disadvantaged when preparing their defence.
Gardaí may present their owns opinions and beliefs as evidence. No person should ever be convicted based on the belief of another.
Our ordinary criminal justice courts demonstrate every day that they are well able to deal with serious crimes. The Special Criminal Court has no place in a legal system that champions the rule of law and democracy. It must be abolished.– Yours, etc,
for Civil Liberties,