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Concern over Criminal Justice Bill

Resource type: News

Sunday Business Post |

by Niamh Connolly

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a Geneva-based organisation headed by former president Mary Robinson, has raised serious concerns about the Criminal Justice Bill.

The legislation is due to pass its final stage in the Dail on Friday, but the ICJ has expressed doubts that it can be given proper consideration by politicians in the time allowed. The ICJ, which is made up of 60 international members, promotes the protection of human rights in the law.

Roisin Pillay, senior legal adviser with the ICJ in Europe, criticised the use of the non-jury Special Criminal Courts in the legislation.

“The Special Criminal Court was set up to deal with a special threat of terrorism, but it is becoming part of the wider legal system and ends up being used for purposes not related to terrorism,” Pillay said. “A parallel system of justice is worrying.

“One ofthe main concerns is the process for enacting the bill. It is being rushed through at such great speed, which is inappropriate when dealing with sensitive constitutional and human rights legislation. The function of the Oireachtas is to assess the implications of legislation. It would be difficult to perform that function properly in this type of schedule.”

The bill would see organised crime cases tried by judges without juries on grounds that “ordinary courts are inadequate for the effective administration of justice”, because of the potential intimidation of witnesses and jury members. “I can appreciate there may be real concerns about the intimidation of witnesses and juries, but this is not just a concern of the Irish system,” Pillay said. “The Special Criminal Courts were set up for different purposes.”

Mary Robinson

In a 2001 case, Kavanagh v Ireland, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations found that the reasons for using the Special Criminal Court must be justified.

“From what I can see ofthe bill, there will not be an obligation to justify why a case should go before the Special Criminal Court,” Pillay said.

A spokesman for Dermot Ahern, the Minister for Justice, said the Special Criminal Court would require corroborative evidence of the proof of a gang’s existence and that would be covered by the Surveillance Bill.

The Green Party’s six TDs are expected to vote with the government in support of the Criminal Justice Bill, despite a long-held position that the Special Criminal Court should be abandoned on human rights grounds.

Sources said Ciaran Cuffe, justice spokesman of the Green Party, had voiced concerns to Ahern about some provisions of the bill, but no significant changes were made. However, the party will not go on a “red alert” on the bill, the sources said.

Fine Gael is supporting the legislation, but the Labour Party will vote against it. Pat Rabbitte. Labour’s justice spokesman, said the right to jury trial was a constitutional right and was enshrined in international jurisprudence.

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