Change in law means acquitted killers can face retrial
SUSPECTS acquitted of a serious offence by the courts will face a fresh trial if new evidence emerges.
The changes in the law, eliminating the rule of double jeopardy, came into operation yesterday after Justice Minister Dermot Ahern gave the go-ahead for the Criminal Procedure Act 2010.
Mr Ahern said the move marked a historic development in our criminal law system.
"This provides, for the first time, retrials following acquittals if new and compelling evidence emerges or where the first trial was tainted by an issue such as perjury or intimidation," he explained.
"There would also be provision for a retrial where the judge at the first trial erred in law by, for example, excluding certain evidence."
However, the legislation will not be retrospective and will apply only to serious crimes committed from yesterday.
The minister said the law change would be welcomed by most people, especially by victims who felt affronted and scandalised by the knowledge that guilty persons were not being convicted for their crimes.
"There can be no greater grief for a family than knowing in their hearts a guilty person has walked free and a person acquitted of murder can never face a retrial," the minister said.
He pointed out that retrials could only be held for serious offences and the courts made the final decision on whether a new trial was warranted. The law set high thresholds to be met by the Director of Public Prosecutions before an application could be made.
The act also reforms the law on victim impact statements and the range of offences where a statement can be made is being expanded from the existing offences causing physical injury to include those creating emotional stress such as harassment and stalking.
Mr Ahern said he was pleased the wider entitlements to impact statements made it easier for the families of deceased victims and for children and other vulnerable persons to make known their views.
The changes in the criminal procedure law have been introduced in tandem with the launch of a victims' charter, which has been written in plain English, is accessible to victims and to frontline staff in the criminal justice agencies.
The minister said the common-sense English in the charter should minimise confusion about what victims could expect and what was expected of the criminal justice system.
He said the emphasis was on getting information out to victims in ways they found useful.
The charter, in its web format, provides links to all of the agencies.