IHRC to appear before Supreme Court to raise human rights issues in Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 case

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) was today granted leave to appear before the Supreme Court as an amicus curiae or ‘friend of the court’ in a case which raises important issues about the extent to which aspects of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 respects human rights principles. The proceedings entitled J.B. v The Mental Health (Criminal Law) Review Board, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Ireland and The Attorney General concern the detention status of a person deemed to be "not guilty by virtue of insanity" by virtue of the enactment of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006.

The IHRC applied to the Supreme Court to seek liberty to appear in the proceedings before it on account of the particular human rights dimension to the case.

Welcoming the decision of the Supreme Court, the President of the IHRC, Dr. Maurice Manning, said "This is the tenth time the IHRC will appear before the Superior Courts as amicus curiae or ‘friend of the court’. The IHRC welcomes the decision of the Supreme Court today to permit it to appear in order to draw both constitutional and international human rights principles to the attention of the Court."

The IHRC considers that this case raises important issues about the extent to which the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 respects human rights standards. Mr Éamonn Mac Aodha, Chief Executive of the IHRC said "The IHRC’s submissions will address two important principles: The first concerning the circumstances in which a person originally convicted of murder but now deemed to be ‘not guilty by virtue of insanity’ can continue to be detained by the State and the second concerning the degree to which a statutory body, in assuming the State’s functions in taking decisions on the detention or non-detention of citizens, is bound by Constitutional and ECHR provisions."

The full text of the IHRC’s written submissions will be made available on the IHRC’s website www.ihrc.ie in due course.


For further information, please contact:

Fidelma Joyce

Irish Human Rights Commission

Tel: 01 8589601 Mobile: 087 783493

Notes to Editors

Under section 8(h) of the Human Rights Commission Act 2000, the IHRC may, at the discretion of the High Court or the Supreme Court, appear as amicus curiae in proceedings that involve or are concerned with the human rights of any person.

Section 2 of the Human Rights Commission Act, 2000 defines "human rights" to include those rights conferred on or guaranteed to persons under the Constitution and under any agreement, treaty or convention to which the State is a party.

The IHRC first appeared as amicus curiae before the Supreme Court in April 2005 in the case of Dublin City Council v Fennell which involved issues regarding the interpretation and effect of the European Convention on Human Rights Act. Since then it has been granted liberty to appear before the Supreme Court and High Court in nine cases. The current proceedings are the fourth time the IHRC will appear before the Supreme Court.

The IHRC was put on notice of these proceedings pursuant to section 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 which requires certain human rights cases to be notified to the Commission.

The IHRC’s Strategic Plan 2007-2011 Promoting and Protecting Human Rights in Ireland addresses highlights the importance of promoting a society that values inclusiveness and diversity through respect for human rights in its Goal 4 including in relation to those suffering from mental health problems.

Prior to the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006, the previous legislation was the Lunacy (Ireland) Act 1821 as subsequently amended by Section 2 of the Trial of Lunatics Act 1883. Section 2 of the 1883 Act provided that in cases tried with a jury the verdict should be "guilty of the act or omission charged against him but was insane at the time when he did the act or made the omission". Persons found guilty but insane were ordered to be detained until the pleasure of the Government was known. The Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 was aimed at bringing the law into line with the jurisprudence of the European Convention on Human Rights. By virtue of section 20(2) of this Act, the status of those persons previously deemed "guilty but insane" has now changed to that of "not guilty by reason of insanity". The Act also set up the Mental Health (Criminal Law) Review Board, an independent body which is responsible for reviewing, inter alia, the detention of those found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The Constitution sets out the following rights:

Article 34 Administration of Justice

1. Justice shall be administered in courts established by law by judges appointed in the manner provided by this Constitution, and, save in such special and limited cases as may be prescribed by law, shall be administered in public.

Article 38 Trial in due course of law

1. No person shall be tried on any criminal charge save in due course of law.

Article 40 Equality before the law; liberty save in accordance with law

1. All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law. This shall not be held to mean that the State shall not in its enactments have due regard to differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function.

…4. 1° No citizen shall be deprived of his personal liberty save in accordance with law.

The European Convention of Human Rights sets out the following rights:

Article 5 Right to liberty and security

1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law:

… (e) the lawful detention of persons for the prevention of the spreading of infectious diseases, of persons of unsound mind, alcoholics or drug addicts, or vagrants …

4. Everyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall be decided speedily by a court and his release ordered if the detention is not lawful.

Article 6 Right to a fair trial

1. In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. ..

2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

3. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:

a to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;

b to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence;

c to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;

d to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;

e to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.

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