Several legal developments occurred in 2015, due to decisions made in Irish courts.
Some of these related to the handling of evidence, criminal damage offences as well as children and road traffic law.
The Director of Public Prosecutions Claire Loftus points to one decision in particular, as constituting a major shift in our legal landscape. It relates to the admissibility of evidence in a court of law.
In this case, the Supreme Court came up with a new test to be applied to the inclusion or exclusion of illegally obtained evidence, including evidence obtained in violation of constitutional rights.
According to the new test, evidence which is taken in deliberate and conscious violation of constitutional rights should still be excluded, except for in exceptional circumstances which are already considered in the existing legal theory.
“This is a very important decision for the prosecution of crime because over the preceding 25 years, there were many cases which were submitted to this office which were the subject of a decision not to prosecute because of the inadmissibility of crucial evidence due to the very strict exclusionary rule,” said Ms Loftus.
The DPP’s report also lists several cases last year where the constitutionality of a piece of our law was challenged.
In one case, JF v DPP and Other, the High Court dismissed the plaintiff’s constitutional challenge to the notification requirements contained in the Sex Offenders Act 2001. The court ruled the requirements placed on the plaintiff were not disproportionate because the purpose of the scheme is to protect the general public.
In relation to children in our legal system, there was one case included in the report which affects them.
In R R v DPP, the High Court held that the Circuit Court was still able to impose a sentence on a juvenile even though he had been remanded in custody for a period in excess of that provided for in section 100 of the Children Act 2001.
The High Court then noted the State had a special onus to deal with cases involving children as quickly as possible but that rare cases, such as this case, can occur, therefore allowing the court to go beyond the time limit set out in section 100.
In relation to our road traffic law, one decision regarding the inclusion of further evidence after the closure of the trial reflects a major development in the Irish legal environment.
In O’Keeffe v DPP, heard in the Court of Appeal, the appellant had previously been convicted of an offence of drink driving where a district judge had allowed a prosecution witness to be recalled to give evidence after the prosecution case had closed.
The Court of Appeal affirmed that a district court judge had the discretion to allow further evidence, on technical or procedural matter, even after the prosecution had closed their case.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved