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Dearbhail McDonald: Instead of feting criminals, Adams should ask himself just why 'Slab' didn't get a jury trial


The High Court, Dublin

The High Court, Dublin

The High Court, Dublin

Gerry Adams is right: it's unprecedented for an income tax prosecution to be tried in the non-jury Special Criminal Court (SCC).

But Thomas 'Slab' Murphy is no ordinary citizen.

It's a travesty that we have one, but the SCC is used when the ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order.

The court tries 'scheduled', or subversive, crimes.

However, the DPP can also issue a certificate to try offences that are not scheduled if the opinion is formed that the ordinary courts aren't able to try the offence. The DPP does not give reasons for issuing such a certificate, although may have to do so now as a result of a legal challenge by Murphy. But we do have some insight into why he was refused a jury trial.

Four years ago, High Court judge Mr Justice Daniel Herbert refused a challenge to the constitutionality of the law that allows the DPP to issue non-jury trial certificates, after Murphy complained he did not know why the DPP issued a certificate in his case. Judge Herbert said it must reasonably be the case that a belief by the DPP that he was a member of, or had connections with, a proscribed organisation or was involved in organised crime would rationally be the first reason to suggest itself to the recipient of such a certificate. Given the nature of the certificate, another possible reason was a belief he had previously interfered with a jury, added the judge.

The matter was duly appealed to the Supreme Court, which said that the DPP's certificate indicated it was "highly likely" the reason why the DPP considered the ordinary courts inadequate "must relate to the connections of Mr Murphy with organisations which are prepared to interfere with the administration of justice".

Mr Justice Donal O'Donnell said that a statement of reasons to the effect the DPP believed the accused to be a member of, or associated with, an organisation prepared to interfere with the administration of justice - or even justifying the non-delivery of reasons by reference to national security - would be sufficient unless that the accused challenged the decision with sufficient information to undermine the DPP's decision. But Slab Murphy advanced not one fact to challenge the DPP's decision. So, without knowing why, we know full well why Slab Murphy was denied a jury trial - and yet he still enjoyed a trial in accordance with law.

Instead of feting criminals, Gerry Adams should ask himself and his party why Slab got no jury - and why national security still necessitates the retention of a non-jury court.

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