Minister: New laws will help Gardaí tackle gang crime head on

GARDAÍ will be able to tackle gang crime “head on” Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said after controversial laws allowing for trial without jury were signed into law.

President Mary McAleese decided not to refer the Criminal Justice Amendment Bill to the Supreme Court after a meeting with the Council of State on Wednesday night.

She held talks for over three hours with the former major office holders and experts who advise her on key constitutional matters.

Opposition parties and civil liberties groups expressed concern over the constitutionality of the bill’s provision for trial without jury of suspected gangland members in the Special Criminal Court.

There was further controversy when 130 lawyers wrote a public letter demanding the bill be withdrawn, claiming Ireland would be shamed by it in the eyes of the international community.

Mrs McAleese also agreed to sign another piece of legislation introducing a crime of blasphemous libel into law. The amendment to the Defamation Bill, which reforms the State’s libel laws, provoked an outcry when it was passed in the Dáil before it rose for the summer.

It was the fourth time in her 12 years in office that the President has called in the Council of State.

Yesterday Mr Ahern welcomed the enactment of both laws. He said the new crime laws will help gardaí to tackle gangs “head on” “Make no mistake: the fight against the activities of these gangs is going to be long and has to be waged relentlessly,” Mr Ahern said.

“I know that the gardaí are determined to use these provisions to the full. These measures represent very important changes in our criminal law in favour of ordinary law-abiding people.”

Mr Ahern said the new defamation laws are in the best interest of the public: “Modernisation of our defamation law is nowcomplete on the enactment of the bill. I believe the legislation in what is acomplex area strikes the right balance.”

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said the Criminal Justice Bill 2009 remains riddled with legal pitfalls.

“Any attempt to invoke some of its more contentious provisions, such as secret detention hearings, or the use of uncorroborated Garda evidence to establish facts central to a prosecution, is bound to provoke further legal challenges to its constitutionality,” said ICCL director Mark Kelly.

“The ICCL regrets that the statute book now includes yet another deeply flawed criminal justice law, which does nothing to improve life for the victims of gangland crime,” he said.

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