A leading criminal barrister has said the creation of a second non-jury court was a “reasonable response” to tackling the 20-month waiting list at the existing Special Criminal Court.
But Michael O’Higgins, SC, said he hoped it would not become a “permanent feature” and said the necessity of a second court had to be kept under “constant review”.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said the Special Criminal Court was already in “violation of Ireland’s international legal obligations” and strongly objected to a second non-jury court.
The Special Criminal Court was set up in 1972 to deal with cases involving the IRA, and has been expanded to take organised-crime cases.
On Wednesday night, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald announced the creation of a second Special Criminal Court, saying she was “concerned at the backlog of cases”.
Ms Fitzgerald said the decision would ensure serious crimes that affect the security of the State, or certain organised-crime offences, “will be brought swiftly to justice”.
Responding, Mr O’Higgins said: “You could say 20 months is a fairly significant lead-in time for trial and the setting up of a second court is a reasonable response, but one hopes it does not become a permanent feature.”
He said it was “disappointing” that, after a full IRA ceasefire in 1997 and at a time of “much less paramilitary activity”, that there were so many cases before the courts.
The delay might not be due to an increase in new cases: with 14 news cases in 2013, nine in 2014 and nine, to date, in 2015.
Much of the delay might have been caused by two lengthy cases in 2014, which took up 21 weeks of court time. This had a knock-on effect to the listing of other trials. There are 26 cases awaiting trial.
ICCL director Mark Kelly said the Special Criminal Court was created as an extraordinary court for extraordinary times.
“No reasonable person could, today, claim that there is a public emergency threatening the life of the nation.”
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