By MARK HENNESSY, Political Correspondent
Leading lawyers call for Bill on gangs to be withdrawn
LEADING CRIMINAL lawyers have called on the Government to immediately withdraw legislation to expand the use of the Special Criminal Court to tackle gangland crime.
In a letter to today’s Irish Times, the 133 defence and prosecution lawyers say
Describing themselves as “extremely concerned” about Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern’s plans, the senior and junior counsel and solicitors say Ireland will eventually “be shamed” by the legislation
“It is quite simply astounding that we as a society would jettison ancient rights and rules of evidence in such a manner and seemingly without regard to the effect such impetuous legislating might ultimately have on the respect for the rule of law in this country,” they say.
The lawyers who signed the letter include senior counsel Michael O’Higgins, Brendan Grehan, Paul McDermott, Maurice Gaffney, Patrick Gageby, Iseult O’Malley and Mary Ellen Ring, and solicitors Frank Buttimer, Michael Staines and Danny Hanohoe.
The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill passed its committee stage in the Dáil last night.
The Minister’s intention to abolish jury trial […] to let gardaí of any rank give opinion evidence about the existence of a gang, and not to require corroboration of such evidence are “the most pressing” reasons for “real and serious concern”, the lawyers say in their letter.
The right to jury trial is enshrined in the Constitution
“Opinion evidence from a garda must be understood as simply that – an opinion. No basis for such an opinion would be required by this Bill,” the letter states.
“No corroboration is required. A garda on the beat – who may base it on a person’s previous convictions or from evidence upon which he/she will claim privilege and therefore not have to divulge where it came from – will be able to give an opinion which could result in conviction and sentence for a serious crime.
“The Constitution will surely not permit this, but even if it does, Ireland is likely to find itself shamed before the international community”
The lawyers also say that the legislation has been introduced at short notice “without any research to support its desirability and without canvassing expert opinion or inviting contribution from interested parties on the issues”.
“It appears now that it will be passed without proper debate in the Dáil because such debate has been guillotined by the Government,” they add.
Powers under the legislation to hold secret detention hearings, which can be held without the person in custody, or his lawyers, “should be anathema to a system based on the rule of law” and are unnecessary, they argue.
Sentencing of Wexford Garda adjourned until October
Sentencing has been adjourned until October in the case of a Wexford Garda who faces up to five years in jail for falsely claiming she was attacked in a taxi on her way home from a night out in 2007.
Twenty-five-year-old Niamh O’Connor, with addresses in Rathnure in Enniscorthy and College Park Avenue in Ballinteer in Dublin, pleaded guilty this year to making the false statement at Donnybrook Garda Station.
Ms O’Connor said that, she wanted to pay the taxi driver back for giving her a dirty look.