Human Rights and Equality Commission Appears Before Supreme Court in Right to Silence Case

Commission Appears as Amicus Curiae

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has today appeared before the Supreme Court as amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’) in a significant case that is examining the right to silence when a person is questioned as part of a criminal investigation.

The case (Sweeney v. Minister for Justice, Ireland and the Attorney General) has been appealed directly from the High Court to the Supreme Court due to the important constitutional issues at question. The case explores the nature and extent of the right to silence, privilege against self-incrimination, and the offence of withholding information under section 9(1)(b) of the Offences Against the State Acts (“the OSA”).

The case relates to a man who was questioned, but not charged, in relation to a criminal investigation. When interviewed by Gardaí investigating the original case, he was cautioned that he had the right to remain silent, but he was not informed that his failure to respond to questioning could lead to a separate charge of withholding information from the Gardaí, as subsequently happened when he was charged under the OSA.

In the High Court in 2017 Ms. Justice Baker found section 9(1)(b) of the OSA to be unconstitutional. She held that the legislation “makes silence of itself an offence” and is “impermissibly vague and uncertain”. The State has appealed the High Court decision to the Supreme Court.

In its role as amicus curiae, the Commission makes available to the Supreme Court its expertise on the human rights issues under consideration.

The Commission’s legal submissions to the Supreme Court (published today) explore the nature of the right to silence, as well as the constitutional and human rights aspects of whether a genuine fear of self-incrimination is a reasonable excuse for failing to provide information when questioned as part of a criminal investigation.

In its submissions the Commission provides comparative examples from other jurisdictions, and argues that section 9(1)(b) of the OSA is unconstitutional, having regard to its vagueness and the lack of safeguards provided for under this legislation.

ENDS/

The Commission’s written submissions are available at the following link:

https://www.ihrec.ie/documents/24211/

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 amicus curiae function of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

The Commission’s functions under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 include that of applying for liberty to appear as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) before the superior courts in proceedings that involve, or are concerned with, the human rights or equality rights of any person.

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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