President moves to have crime bill assessed

NEW criminal and defamation legalisation faces months of delay following President Mary McAleese’s decision to refer two justice bills to the Council of State.

The council will convene next Wednesday at Áras an Uachtaráin where the constitutionality of both the Defamation Bill 2006 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 will be discussed.

Mrs McAleese will then decide whether either bill should be tested by the Supreme Court, which would have up to 60 days to consider the matter.

If the court deems a bill to be in accordance with the Constitution, the legislation cannot be challenged further on constitutional grounds.

However, no decision would be expected prior to September and the conclusion of the legal holidays.

Yesterday, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said that in the case of the criminal legalisation, which expands the role of the Special Criminal Court to dealing with gangland crime and allows for “opinion evidence” from gardaí in court, the country could not afford to wait three months for it to become law.

Labour justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said he had warned that the proposed legalisation might breech the constitution.

“One of the reasons my party opposed the bill was the manner it was railroaded through the Oireachtas. We said that the Criminal Justice Bill needed to be considered in a committee stage over the summer but Mr Ahern said he couldn’t wait that long, now it looks like he’ll have to wait that long anyway.”

Mr Ahern’s attempts to “rush through” the legalisation had as much to do with internal Fianna Fáil politics and attempts to be seen as “a hard man” as concern with good governance, he added.

Irish Council for Civil Liberties director Mark Kelly said part’s of Mr Ahern’s “gangland bill of measures... have no place in our law”.

Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan said there was “a real danger that Mr Ahern’s decision to rush the laws through the Dáil may deprive citizens of tough gangland legislation”.

In the case of the Defamation Bill controversy surrounds a clause creating a crime of blasphemy.

The 22 members of the Council of State include the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, the Chief Justice, former president Mary Robinson and all former taoisigh as well as seven presidential appointees. The council has only convened four times during Mrs McAleese’s 12 years in office.

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