End Ireland’s Special Criminal Court & Use Standard Courts to Ensure Fair Trials

Human Rights & Equality Commission Seeks Repeal of Offences Against the State Acts

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (the Commission) has recommended that the State abolish the Special Criminal Court, and declare that the ordinary courts are adequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order.

This step is necessary, the Commission says, due to the significant human rights and equality concerns associated the Special Criminal Court, and the Offences Against the State Act (OASA) which established it and govern its operation.

As Ireland’s National Human Rights Institution and National Equality Body, the Commission has made the recommendations to the Government’s Independent Review Group on the Offences Against the State Acts chaired by Mr Justice Michael Peart, which is reviewing the legislation. It has been nearly two decades since the publication in 2002 of the last comprehensive review, the report of the Hederman Committee.

The Commission focuses its recommendations on:

  • the existence of the Special Criminal Court (SCC);
  • parliamentary oversight of the legislation;
  • the discretion of the Director of Public Prosecution to refer cases to the SCC
  • the use of belief evidence and Inference drawing, in SCC cases.

In reviewing the implications of the SCC and the legislation on individuals’ human rights, the Commission sets out that “Abolition of the Special Criminal Court and the repeal of the OASA is the only viable solution to vindicate the rights of an accused to a fair trial.” The Commission also sets out its general concerns with security legislation.

The provisions of the OASA, and in particular the provisions providing for the establishment of the SCC, engage a number of fundamental rights protected under the Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003, European Union law and international human rights law. These rights include: the right to a trial by jury; the right to a fair trial; the right to equality before the courts; the right to equality before the law; the right to liberty; the right to disclosure; the right to cross examine; the right to silence and the privilege against self-incrimination.

Even in the light of these recommendations, should the Government decide not to abolish the SCC the Commission sets out significant immediate amendments which need to be made to the SCC’s operations, including a new Oireachtas oversight committee and the definition of what conditions should be met to allow for abolition and repeal.

Speaking today, Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney stated:

“The extension of the Special Criminal Court to tackle organised crime has seen it evolve into an institution that is far removed from the circumstances it was established to address in 1972.

 “Ireland’s criminal justice system is capable of effectively confronting the problem of organised crime without resorting to a parallel criminal justice system that deprives the accused of their right to trial by jury.

“The fundamental rights of individuals need to be carefully balanced against the rights of victims, national security concerns and the public interest in having an effective criminal justice system. Any restrictions or limitations of the rights of an individual must comply with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality.

“The use of the Special Criminal Court has led to two criminal justice systems in Ireland, and subsequently has compromised the fundamental right of equality before the law.”

ENDS/

For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / (087) 0697095

bdawson@ihrec.ie

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Editor’s Note

The full report from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is available at the following link:

https://www.ihrec.ie/app/uploads/2021/11/Submission-to-the-Independent-Review-Group-on-the-Offences-Against-the-State-Acts-FINAL.pdf

The Commission has published these legislative observations in line with its mandate to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in the State relating to the protection of human rights and equality, and to make recommendations to the Government to strengthen and uphold human rights and equality in the State.

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.

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