Wednesday 26 October 2016

Special Criminal Court is needed to protect public

Published 08/02/2016 | 02:30

The Special Criminal Court. Photo: Collins
The Special Criminal Court. Photo: Collins

Democrats who support the rule of law would far prefer that we did not need the Special Criminal Court (SCC). But the bitter experience of past decades shows we need it to fight against the intimidation of juries and the terrorising of witnesses.

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Trial by jury is the cornerstone of our justice system and setting it aside requires careful thought and some checks and balances.

We use the SCC when the ordinary courts are deemed inadequate to secure the administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order. The Court's current manifestation has been with us since 1972, a dark time in Irish history when a vortex of violence caused horror and heartbreak and also threatened the democratic institutions of this State.

Since that time the SCC has sat - without a jury - but with three judges, usually one from the High, Circuit and District Courts. Its rulings can be, and frequently are, reviewed by the Court of Appeal.

The SCC has served us well in the fight against terrorist and subversive crime. In July 1976 subversives set off an explosion at the court building on Green Street in Dublin, an event which of itself spoke volumes about the need for it.

More recently, the SCC has been used for cases involving so-called organised crime where the Director of Public Prosecutions deems the ordinary courts not adequate to deal with such cases. Here again, the issue has been about the intimidation of jurors and witnesses.

And the good people of Limerick have reason to be grateful for its effectiveness in smashing some of the most vicious criminal gangs in the State's history. Last Friday's daylight murder in Dublin is a terrible reminder that the authorities need the SCC among the devices required to defend every citizen's liberty and security. We look forward to the day the SCC is not required - but right now we badly need it.

Irish Independent

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