Wednesday 28 September 2016

Second court to be opened for terrorism trial backlog

Diarmaid MacDermott

Published 29/10/2015 | 02:30

Frances Fitzgerald: 'The coming into existence of a second Special Criminal Court confirms this Government’s commitment to ensure that those who commit serious crimes affecting the security of the State or certain organised crime offences will be brought swiftly to justice'
Frances Fitzgerald: 'The coming into existence of a second Special Criminal Court confirms this Government’s commitment to ensure that those who commit serious crimes affecting the security of the State or certain organised crime offences will be brought swiftly to justice'

The decision to establish a second Special Criminal Court will present the criminal justice system with a number of practical problems, according to legal sources.

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Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald last night confirmed the establishment of the second court. She said: "I have been concerned at the backlog of cases in the Special Criminal Court, with delays of almost two years in cases coming to trial.

"The coming into existence of a second Special Criminal Court confirms this Government's commitment to ensure that those who commit serious crimes affecting the security of the State or certain organised crime offences will be brought swiftly to justice."

While the Government has appointed seven extra judges to the court, there will be a need for extra resources for the gardaí, the prosecution service and the Courts Service.

At the moment, the earliest available trial date in the Special Criminal is June 2017.

One problem will be the location of a second court. The Special Criminal Court currently sits in Court 11 at the Criminal Courts of Justice in Parkgate Street. It moved there in 2010 from the Green Street courthouse where it had sat since it was set up in May 1972.

Court 11 is a special designed court with extra security measures in place because of the nature of the trials heard there.

Other courts in the CCJ complex would have to be redesigned to meet the security needs of the anti-terrorist and organised-crime court.

One possibility is that the new court would be situated at Cloverhill, where there already exists a secure courthouse within the prison complex.

But there are other problems associated with the establishment of a second Special Criminal Court, apart from the physical location.

One legal source said: "The DPP's office is already stretched meeting the current demands of the existing court and extra resources would most likely have to be allocated.

"There would also have to be extra garda resources to prepare files and books of evidence."

The court currently has 35 people before it and has fixed 19 trials that will take up the rest of this year, all of next year and the first four months of 2017.

One trial scheduled for October, 2016 is that of Donal Billings, a Co Longford man charged with possession of an improvised explosive device on the eve of the first visit to the Republic by Britain's Queen Elizabeth in May, 2011.

His trial is scheduled to start over five and-a-half years after the alleged offences.

There have been several lengthy high-profile trials at the court in recent years which have lasted longer than had been expected and have caused knock-on delays in the court's schedule.

Wayne Dundon and Nathan Killeen were jailed for life by the court in July 2014 after a 29-day trial when they were convicted of the murder of Limerick businessman Roy Collins.

The Special Criminal Court was set up in May 1972 to deal with the spillover into the Republic of the northern troubles since 1969.

The court is comprised of three judges who sit without a jury. It normally sits four days a week from Tuesday to Friday but emergency sittings can be held at any time for people to be charged with offences.

Irish Independent

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