A conviction has only been secured in less than a quarter of the more than 300 cases of witness and juror intimidation in which proceedings were initiated over the last 10 years.
The intimidation of a witness or juror is an offence under Section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act. It specifies the offence as “harming, threatening or menacing or in an other way intimidating or putting in fear another person who is assisting in the investigation of an offence by the Garda Síochána, with the intention of causing the investigation or course of justice to be obstructed, perverted or interfered with”.
The offence is punishable on indictment by a fine or up to 15 years in jail.
Between 2003 and Jul 16, 2013, there have been 315 proceedings initiated under the legislation, but just 72 convictions have been secured.
Nonetheless, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said gardaí rigorously enforce the law relating to witness intimidation and protection.
“In circumstances where the Senior Investigation Officer in a case has identified a witness who is crucial to the case and the evidence to be preferred is not available elsewhere, and there is a serious threat to the life of the witness or his/her family an application can be made, with the consent of the witness, to have him/her included in the Witness Security Programme,” he said.
“Where a threat to or intimidation of a witness or a potential witness arises during the course of criminal proceedings, the matter may be addressed through the trial judge, who has discretion to revoke bail or place other sanctions on the accused/suspect.”
Witness intimidation has become especially prevalent among gangs in Limerick. In 2011, Brian Collopy was jailed for eight years for trying to intimidate a former associate, William Moran, by making a gun signal with his hand and telling him: “Willie, you are going to get it.” That conviction was later reduced by two years by the Court of Criminal Appeal.
Piaras Kelly of Advocates for Victims of Homicide said: “It is disappointing to see such a low conviction rate in cases of witness and juror intimidation. Every effort should be made to pursue and prosecute those who would seek to undermine our justice system.”
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