Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has recommended extending legislation to allow non-jury courts to be used for trials relating to organised crime, despite the fact that it has not been used once since it was introduced eight years ago.
Ms Fitzgerald has proposed that Section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 should be continued for a further 12 months up to the end of June 2018.
The Special Criminal Court has still to deal with a single conviction of organised crime. However, gardaí believe Section 8 will be needed in the future if any senior criminals involved in the ongoing Kinahan-Hutch gangland feud are brought to trial.
The legislation has been criticised by a number of groups including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties which described Section 8 as “draconian”.
The act was brought in by a Fianna Fáil-led government amid concerns that the ordinary courts were inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice in case relating to gangland crime.
It followed the murder of Limerick businessman Roy Collins by one of the city’s notorious criminal gangs in 2009.
“The provisions in Section 8 are expressly aimed at ensuring the integrity of the criminal justice system and protecting it from being subverted by criminal groups,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
She claimed it removed the possibility of jurors being intimidated during the trial process.
Ms Fitzgerald said 33 arrests had been made under the act over the past 12 months and a total of 311 arrests since the legislation was enacted.
Although no cases have proceeded to trial at the Special Criminal Court, Ms Fitzgerald said 14 individuals who were originally detained under Section 8 were subsequently convicted of other criminal offences including robbery, possession of firearms, and the unauthorised taking and handling of stolen property.
Nóirín O’Sullivan, the Garda Commissioner, said the legislation had proven an effective tool in tackling organised criminal groups including those involved in burglaries, cash-in-transit robberies and so-called tiger kidnappings.
Ms O’Sullivan said Section 8 greatly assisted in the investigation of criminal acts being planned and committed by organised criminal gangs in the Republic.
Based on the view of senior gardaí, Ms Fitzgerald said she concluded the legislation should continue to operate for a further 12 months when it will be reviewed again.
Both the Dáil and the Seanad are required to pass a resolution for the continuation of the legislative powers.
Section 8 allows the DPP to direct that an accused should not be sent forward for trial at the Special Criminal Court.
A small number of convictions secured to date under Section 8 have all been obtained in the ordinary courts.
Offences under the legislation include directing the activities of a criminal organisation which can carry a penalty of up to life imprisonment upon conviction.
Other offences include membership of a criminal gang and committing an offence for a criminal organisation which carry maximum jail terms of 15 years.
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