New law to allow second trial in killing and rape cases
NEW legislation is being introduced which will spell the end of the double jeopardy rule in murder, manslaughter and rape cases.
But it will only apply in exceptional circumstances, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern stressed yesterday.
Double jeopardy means that a person who has been acquitted of a crime cannot be charged again with that offence.
But a new law, described by Mr Ahern as "groundbreaking", will remove that right in certain cases.
The move is one of a series of measures launched by the Government to provide justice for victims of crime and Mr Ahern said the aim is to tilt the balance back towards the victims without interfering with the criminal justice system.
The law will enable cases to be re-opened where:
- Compelling evidence of guilt, such as the emergence of new DNA details or a confession, becomes available to the prosecution after an acquittal.
- The acquittal is due to an error in law by the judge.
- There is evidence that the acquittal was tainted by interference in the trial process, including intimidation of witnesses.
It is also intended to restrict unjustified or vexatious allegations during a trial against a dead or incapacitated victim or witness.
As reported yesterday in the Irish Independent, the families of victims will be given a statutory right to make an impact statement in homicide cases before sentence has been passed by the judge, rather than depending on the discretion of the court.
The judge, however, will have the power to ban the publication of the victim impact statement if it deviates from what was intended.
Many of the measures in the legislation had been recommended by the Balance in the Criminal Law Review group, chaired by senior counsel, Gerard Hogan.
Mr Ahern said he had already held initial discussions on the legal provisions with Attorney General Paul Gallagher.
Mr Ahern has accepted in full the recommendations from the Commission for the Support of the Victims of Crime and these will lead to the setting up of a new executive office within his department to co-ordinate the various services.
A crime consultative forum representing the interests of victims is being created to to liaise with the commission.
Mr Ahern said his bill, which will be published next spring, would not in any way try to weaken the presumption of innocence. But if there were circumstances where new evidence emerged to show that a person should not have been acquitted, it was fair and proper that a case should be re-opened.
He argued that if it was clear that a miscarriage of justice had taken place, in the light of advances in DNA technology, there was an onus on the State to try to ensure that justice prevailed. But the measures would not apply in cases where an accused had been acquitted on a legal technicality.
Fine Gael's justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan accused Mr Ahern of making a u-turn because he and his front bench colleague, Alan Shatter were about to introduce a bill on victims' rights.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said the changes would diminish the rights of the accused without improving life for victims of crime and claimed it was a fallacy that taking liberties from the accused could enhance the lives of victims.