Republican News · Thursday 18 January 2001

[An Phoblacht]

Lawlor - good decision, bad law

BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN

It is easy to be flippant about the jailing of Liam Lawlor, who begins the first phase of a possible three-month prison sentence this week. Throughout the Beef, McCracken, Moriarty and Flood Tribunals we wondered as we heard of irregularities, bad practices, deception, evasion and fraud whether anyone would ever be punished.

Now that Lawlor spends a week incarcerated many will no doubt rest easy thinking either at least we got one or here's to many more following him through the gates of Mountjoy. If only life were that simple. There are a range of issues why the Lawlor jailing is a troublesome judgment.

The first is that if any of the allegations against Lawlor are upheld, one week or even three months is a very short time to spend in prison. The second problem is that Lawlor was not even jailed on account of any of the allegations of why he managed to amass over 4 million in any of his 18 bank accounts. He was jailed because of his refusal to co-operate with the Flood Tribunal. In some sense, Lawlor was jailed because he exercised his right to silence.

Mind you, in Lawlor's case he didn't stay silent. He just indulged in what Justice Smyth described in his judgment as ``blatant defiance'' of the tribunal. Lawlor ignored 275 written requests for information.

Again, most people would argue that it serves Lawlor right. It is clear that in both the ongoing tribunals serious wrongs have been done, but it does not follo, that the civil rights of anybody should be undermined in the longer term because of a short-term need to produce results.

What if a future government decided to hold tribunals on issues other than payments to politicians and political abuse of the planning process? There has been little analysis of the amount of power given to one judge in a tribunal or the absence of a jury in the tribunal process.

In fact, it has never been clear in any tribunal, other than the production of a report, what is the extent of the power of the tribunal.

Yes we need corrupt politicians in jail for long sentences, but we shouldn't sacrifice basic civil rights in order to get them there.


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