Voters to get their say on juryless courts
Voters to get their say on juryless courts


The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has backed Sinn Fein’s position on abolishing the non-jury Special Criminal Court, and condemned the manipulation of the issue for short-term electoral gain.

The ICCL said it noted with regret the fact that the ‘gangland’ murder at the Regency Hotel in Dublin “was now being used by some electioneering politicians to buttress their claim that Ireland still needs an emergency court”.

It called on politicians to recognise the human rights obligation to abolish the juryless trials, which have been long condemned by republicans as ‘kangaroo courts’.

The deputy director of the organisation, Deirdre Duffy, said the issue of the court was “too serious to be part of party political posturing”.

“What is the state of emergency that justifies the court?” she asked.

The non-jury courts were set up in the 26 Counties in 1974 for the explicit purpose of ensuring that convictions of republicans were not derailed by public sympathy for the IRA’s armed campaign.

The three main conservative parties and the mainstream media have sought to make Sinn Fein’s long-standing opposition to the court a focus of the election campaign ahead of the election in two weeks time.

Long before this month’s gang violence, a controversy had arisen over Sinn Fein’s position when the court said it would hear charges of tax evasion against Louth man Thomas Murphy. Mr Murphy has been accused in the media of illicitly raising funds for the Provisional IRA through cross-border smuggling, but has been described by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams as a “good republican” who has supported the peace prcess.

However, Mr Murphy was demonised in the media as a mafioso-style figure and transposed onto Sinn Fein’s election campaign by rival politicians.

On Friday, it was announced that the court has postponed its sentencing of Murphy until election day, February 26th, fuelling allegations that the high-profile case is being used as a political weapon against Sinn Fein.

The conservative parties have struggled to explain Ireland’s unique need to remove the civil right to a jury trial. They have insisted the court is uniquely necessary in Ireland due to the potential intimidation of jurors.

“Ireland is a small country and everybody knows everybody in Ireland. People would be afraid,” said Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin.

He said Sinn Fein hated the Special Criminal Court because it was used to defeat the IRA, and that Sinn Fein members had been “put away” by the court.

Labour leader Joan Burton said Sinn Fein’s call to abolish the non-jury court showed its leader Gerry Adams did not understand the democratic underpinnings of the Irish State.

Calling on him to withdraw the manifesto pledge, Ms Burton said: “We live in a proud Republic, a good Republic.”

Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins said: “I think people are appalled and disgusted and I think it really shows them up for what they are and people are worried about it. They want kangaroo courts but they don’t want the Special Criminal Court.”

A senior lecturer in criminal law at the University of Edinburgh, Liz Campbell, said that there was nothing comparable to the Special Criminal Court in western democracies and that it was a “historical hangover”.

She said that in Scotland, where there has been considerable debate about measures to combat organised crime, there had been no debate about introducing non-jury courts.

Mr Adams responded to sustained criticism of his party’s position on the issue by saying that the controversy had been “hyped out of all proportions” by opponents seeking to damage his party’s election hopes.

The Sinn Fein leader said many other countries had bigger problems with organised crime than Ireland but said that it could tackle it without the need for a Special Criminal Court. He said the party believed that it was possible to protect jurors from intimidation, and that everybody was entitled to a jury of their peers.

“A non-jury court is a significant reduction in those rights and it is not just us who is saying this - it is the UN Commission on Human Rights, Irish Council of Civil Liberties, Amnesty International and politicians from other different political parties.”

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