Last night there was a vote on the Offences against the State Act, which would renew the legislation that allows the special criminal court, a juryless court, to continue. Fine Gael claim that the Special Criminal Court is a “vital part of our justice system” and those who oppose it “support murderers”.
However, I would argue, those who oppose it, respect democracy, the constitution and International Human Rights law. Where is the infamous Attorney General now, who claims that everything is “unconstitutional”? Article 38.1 of our constitution guarantees us the right to a fair trial.
The UN Human Rights Committee has repeatedly identified the Special Criminal Court as being in violation of Ireland’s legal obligations under International human rights treaties and has called for its abolition.
The Irish Council of Civil Liberties stated that “a right to a fair trial is the cornerstone of a just and fair society”.
Opposing the Special Criminal Court is not the same as letting these criminals go free, we are requesting that they be tried in a court that has a jury, proper legal representation and no “secret eviden
It appears that sometimes solicitors are denied access to the “secret evidence”.
“Secret evidence” was used to continually imprison Marian Price, who was actually released on bail in May 2011 but was returned to prison the same day, the court did not decide this but a separate procedure involving a government minister and a commission that can rely on secret evidence, led to this decision.
In 2019, for the first time, two men accused of IRA membership were acquitted as the Special Criminal Court ruled “belief evidence” to be inadmissible. However, it will not form some sort of precedent, this was just a rare occasion.
With the increase of technology and the fact that most ordinary trials took place via zoom during the Covid19 pandemic, isn’t it time we started rethinking the undemocratic Special Criminal Court? There have been claims of jury intimidation, but Irish Times Crime Correspondent, Conor Gallagher, has claimed that he has “never come across any evidence of this”. There are ways to hide juries’ identity and faces to ensure a fair trial, but I don’t believe the State has ever attempted to find alternatives.
At last nights vote, only 7 voted against, Sinn Féin walked out of the voting chamber, the Social Democrats abstained and everyone else voted for. Sinn Féin who usually vote against as they have had friends, family, party members and comrades tried in the special criminal court and diplock courts in the North, claimed that this was them abstaining.
Will a Sinn Féin government abolish the Special Criminal Court? It is very unclear given their new position of abstaining. It’s time the current government need to move away from their usual criticism of Sinn Féin and the IRA and realise that there is legitimate criticism of the special criminal court especially as we call ourselves a democracy, not everyone has a special relationship with somebody in the IRA or a gangland criminal, justice is about fairness, therefore everyone deserves a fair trial.