Sunday 25 February 2018

Two year wait for trial date in the Special Criminal Court

The non-jury Special Criminal Court sits in the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ)
The non-jury Special Criminal Court sits in the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ)

By Diarmaid Mac Dermott

There is a two year wait for a trial to be listed in the country's non-jury Special Criminal Court.

The Special Criminal Court this week fixed a trial date for April 2017, exactly two years from now. It was the first available date for a trial in the non jury court.

The court currently has 32 two 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.

These include the trial scheduled for next October of prominent Provisional republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy on tax offences dating back to 1996. Murphy has consistently denied that he was the Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA for many years.

Another 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 half years after the alleged offences.

Both Murphy and Billings have been on bail for several years awaiting trial and the Supreme Court criticised the delay in Murphy’s case while pointing out that much of the delay was caused by Murphy’s repeated challenges to his trial going ahead.

There have been several lengthy high profile trials at the court in recent years which have lasted longer than originally 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.

In January this year the trial of three men accused of the murder of dissident republican Peter Butterly in the car park of The Huntsman Inn, Gormanston, Co Meath collapsed after 55 days after an issue concerning disclosure was raised.

The court has ordered the retrial of the three men for January 2017 and the three men have been released on bail.

The  twenty one  day trial of seven Dublin men accused of dissident republican membership ended with their acquittal after a court ruling on evidence last month.

A legal issue that has yet to be determined by the Court of Appeal has also added to the build up of  delays in several cases involving charges of IRA membership.

The Court will hear an appeal by the State next June against a ruling by the Special Criminal Court in a recent trial that gardai cannot arrest suspects for IRA membership without a warrant if they have been previously arrested for  IRA membership.

The Special Criminal Court was set up in May 1972 to deal with the spill over into the Republic of the northern troubles which had exploded in 1969. The court is comprised of three judges who sit without a jury and the court 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.

The court handled hundreds of cases in the 1980’s and 1990’s and also dealt with trials arising from the activities of drug dealer John Gilligan.

Since 1998 the court has been dealing with dissident republicans and Limerick gangland figures.

The court was based at the Green Street courthouse in north Dublin from 1972 until 2010 when the new Criminal Courts of Justice complex at Parkgate St was opened, where it now sits.

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