Warrant problem to be solved

The Government has moved to close off a legal loophole which threatened to wreck prosecutions against dissident republicans and other alleged criminals.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said legislation is being drafted to give new search powers to gardaí, following a ruling this month that previous search warrants were unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court ruling last month had meant cases involving Section 29 search warrants — in which senior Garda officers investigating subversive and organised crime had the power to sign warrants and search homes — could no longer go ahead.

It is understood at least three cases were thrown out as a result of the ruling, while Mr Shatter’s department had called “urgent negotiations” with the gardaí and Attorney General to deal with the fallout.

The first case to collapse as a result of the Supreme Court ruling was Ali Charaf Damache, who was living in Waterford when he was arrested as a suspect in an alleged conspiracy to murder Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks over his drawing of the prophet Muhammad.

Yesterday, Mr Shatter said the Government has approved the drafting of the Criminal Justice (Search Powers) Bill as a priority and would address the implications of the judgment in the Ali Charaf Damache case delivered on Feb 23.

He said: “It is essential that the implications of the Supreme Court judgment be addressed as a priority; the Garda Síochána must be in a position to take action to safeguard the public if circumstances of urgency arise, for example, relating to suspected offences involving firearms and explosives.

“The proposals will ensure that the operational requirements of the Garda Síochána are met and that all decisions authorising the search of any place including a dwelling are taken by persons who are independent of the investigation.”

A department spokesman said it is hoped the legislation would be enacted before the end of July.

There had been fears people recently convicted in cases in which a Section 29 warrant was used could app-eal, while gardaí had exp-ressed fears for future cases.

“Nearly all our activity in anti-terrorism work involves Section 29,” a Garda source had said. “Without that there is a serious operational hindrance in nearly every single case.”


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