Call for non-jury trials in gang crime

GARDA bosses want controversial gangland legislation to be expanded so that other serious crimes can be heard in the non-jury Special Criminal Court.

The staff body representing superintendents said the discovery recently of personal details of jury members in the home of a close associate of an accused meant it would become “more and more difficult” to get people to serve on juries.

The Association of Garda Superintendents (AGS) also called for all people arrested to be fingerprinted, in line with the proposed law on DNA samples.

Addressing Justice Minister Dermot Ahern at the AGS conference, association president Supt Jim Smith said serious criminals would “stop at nothing” to intimidate witnesses and jury members.

“Recently in a major so called gangland trial some personal details of potential jury members were discovered in the home of an associate of the accused.

“This is an alarming development and we urge you minister to give consideration to holding certain selected cases of serious and so-called gangland crime in the Special Criminal Court to ensure security for all concerned.

“There are precedents of trials having collapsed due to witness and jury intimidation and it will become more and more difficult to select juries if they believe their personal information could be compromised.”

He said only lawyers should be allowed to be given details of jury members.

Under controversial legislation brought in last year, certain organised crime cases are automatically sent to the three-judge Special Criminal Court, unless otherwise decided by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

But the legislation only relates to certain gangland crimes and the AGS wants this to be expanded to other serious crimes, including armed robbery.

Supt Smith pointed out that in London last month, in a non-jury trial, a judge convicted four men of robbery. This followed three aborted jury trials.

The president also called for changes to the law to allow for the taking of fingerprints from all people arrested in relation to a crime.

He praised the Criminal Justice (DNA) Bill 2010, which provided for the taking of DNA samples and a new DNA database.

He said this represented “a major step forward in the fight against serious crime”.

Supt Smith said the AGS welcomed the recent pay agreement in Croke Park. But he pointed out that there were 16 vacant superintendent positions.

The president said superintendents were required to carry out an “increasing number” of investigations on behalf of the Garda Ombudsman. He said superintendents were now investigating over half of such complaints.

“This is significantly diverting superintendents from our core policing function,” he said.

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