23 June 2020
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), ahead of the mooted renewal of the Offences Against the State Act next week and the Dáil debate tomorrow, renews our call for repeal of the Act and with it the abolition of the non-jury Special Criminal Court.
There is no jury at the Special Criminal Court and it accepts secret evidence from gardaí. This is in violation of our right to a fair trial, our right to trial by jury and our right to equality before the law. ICCL has opposed both the Act and the Court since their introduction to deal with a terrorist threat in 1972. We continue to strongly oppose these emergency measures which have now become the norm in dealing with organised crime.
ICCL’s Executive Director, Liam Herrick, said:
“It’s untenable that in a democracy like ours, which prides itself on its human rights record abroad, a law and court like these can exist.
The State contends that it needs the Special in order to protect juries but it has never considered alternatives to abandoning jury trial.”
The protection of jury members is of deep concern to ICCL. But the State has never demonstrated, as required by human rights law, that alternatives to a non-jury trial are ineffective. There are a number of obvious options for protecting juries such as anonymising juries, the use of video link for juries, or granting special protections for juries.
Last year at the Special Criminal Court, Judge Tara Burns acquitted two men of IRA membership after the head of the Garda Special Detective Unit refused to disclose underlying evidence pertaining to “belief evidence” to the prosecution. This meant gardaí were seeking a conviction without disclosing evidence to the defendant’s legal team, the Court or the DPP. ICCL welcomed the Judge’s decision but the case revealed some concerning attitudes and practices at the Court.
ICCL is not alone in our opposition to the Special Criminal Court. Various UN human rights independent experts and the UN Human Rights Committee have repeatedly declared the State to be in violation of its human rights obligations because of the continued use of the Court beyond the emergency it was designed to address. Eminent Irish legal experts, Mr. Justice Hederman, Professor Dermot Walsh and Professor William Binchy have also called for abolition of the Court.
At its introduction in 1972, the Special Criminal Court was considered a radical and purely temporary departure from the norm. Forty years have passed since then. It’s time for its abolition.
Notes for editors:
Find ICCL’s latest position paper on the Special Criminal Court here: https://www.iccl.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/ICCL-Review-of-the-Special-Criminal-Court-2020.pdf
- Comments by the Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin: https://www.iccl.ie/news/un-expert-criticises-special-criminal-court/
- Link to the “Hederman Report”, the Report of the Committee to Review the Offences Against the State Acts 1939 -1998 and Related Matters – http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/hederman%20report.pdf/Files/hederman%20report.pdf
- Report of the Human Rights Committee criticising Ireland’s use of the SCC and calling for an end to its use from 2000: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=A%2F55%2F40%5BVOL.I%5D(SUPP)&Lang=en
- United Nations Human Rights Committee, ‘Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Ireland’, CCPR/C/IRL/CO/4 (19 August 2014) – http://docstore.ohchr.org/SelfServices/FilesHandler.ashx?enc=6QkG1d%2FPPRiCAqhKb7yhsieXFSudRZs%2FX1ZaMqUUOS9yIqPEMRvxx26PpQFtwrk%2BhtvbJ1frkLE%2BCPVCm6lW%2BYjfrz7jxiC9GMVvGkvu2UIuUfSqikQb9KMVoAoKkgSG
- Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, 26th February 2013, UN General Assembly, in which the Special Rapporteur says Ireland should aim for the end of the SCC jurisdiction https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session22/A-HRC-22-47-Add-3_en.pdf
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is Ireland’s oldest independent human rights monitoring organisation. We monitor, educate and campaign for all human rights for everyone.
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