Non-jury court exposed by wrongful convictions

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A Dublin man has called for an end to the Special Criminal Court after describing his ordeal of being falsely jailed for IRA membership as “horrific”.

Robert O’Leary has vowed not to allow his case “to be swept under the carpet” by the political establishment after his appeal against the conviction by the non-jury court went unopposed by prosecutors.

The infamous court of three judges has long been used by the 26 County political establishment to fast-track the imprisonment of republicans.

Special ‘emergency’ legislation to underpin it is renewed annually at the Dublin parliament, despite being denounced by human rights groups.

Mr O’Leary, a used car salesman in Dublin, was originally arrested after a car he sold was used by in an attack by the New IRA. He was jailed for three years following a trial in October 2020 in which he was found guilty by judges of being an IRA member.

The conviction, however, was quashed last week after it emerged Mr O’Leary’s lawyers weren’t told by the prosecution that the chief trial witness against their client was a convicted drug dealer.

The President of the Court of Appeal called for an investigation after he was told the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was not opposing Mr O’Leary’s appeal against the conviction.

He adjourned the case to give the DPP time to decide whether Mr O’Leary should face a retrial, but this week the DPP told the court that the case had been abandoned and Mr O’Leary “was free to go”.

Speaking outside court, Mr O’Leary said there had been no evidence against him and “the case should never have come to court”.

“I was locked up for a year and a half for a crime I did not commit,” he said.

“The impact this has had on my family, my business, has been horrific. I sold a car legally. When did that become a crime?”

Mr O’Leary added that it was “not the end of the matter” as far as he was concerned.

“This won’t be swept under the carpet,” he said. “If ever there was a case which highlighted that there shouldn’t be a Special Criminal Court, it is mine.”

But it was not the only wrongful conviction by the Special Criminal Court to be overturned this month.

On February 10, the the Supreme Court also overturned the conviction by the non-jury court in 2017 of Dublin man Vincent Banks, also on charges of being an IRA member.

The court ruled that evidence given by the prosecution at the trial had been weak, and that the arrest had not been lawful. Mr Banks had been sentenced to five years in prison.

It had been claimed by the Gardaí that Mr Banks was an IRA Volunteer, again on the basis that a vehicle used in an IRA attack had been purchased by Mr Banks.

The Supreme Court admitted that the ‘belief evidence’ of a senior Garda, who named Banks as an IRA member, ‘had not reached the necessary standard’.

It said that the evidence before the court was “not sufficiently strong to prove the offence of membership beyond reasonable doubt” and quashed the conviction.

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