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Judges may have break cut short by bill queries

SUPREME Court judges, like their junior colleagues, enjoy a two-month summer break from the courts.

The legal term ends next Friday, but their lordships' vacation will be cut short if President Mary McAleese refers either the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill or the Defamation Bill to the Supreme Court for a constitutional health check.

Under an Article 26 Reference, where a planned law or any of its provisions are tested to see if they are unconstitutional, the Supreme Court must hear a case and hand down judgment within 60 days of a referral by the president.

The guillotined Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 is controversial as it allows for the greater use of non-jury trials in suspected gangland criminal cases.

The Defamation Bill will introduce an overhaul of Ireland's libel and slander laws. Controversially, however, it renews the offence of blasphemy.

The Council of State is one of the more quirky innovations of the 1937 Constitution.

It seems strange that the Chief Justice and High Court President sit on the Council as they may be called upon to consider any bill referred to the Supreme Court.

Curious too that members of the Cabinet and the Attorney General, who advised the Government that the bills were constitutional, should now be sitting on an advisory body to ascertain if an Article 26 reference is required. However, the Council of State has never been challenged in the courts.

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