Justice Minister publishes new warrant legislation

New legislation to close a legal loophole that saw several prisoners have their convictions quashed has been published.

Justice Minister publishes new warrant legislation

New legislation to close a legal loophole that saw several prisoners have their convictions quashed has been published.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter called on politicians to quickly pass a Bill to replace the controversial Section 29 warrant which was deemed unconstitutional.

A number of trials have collapsed and several convictions overturned since the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the warrant used by gardaí was unsafe.

Mr Shatter called on TDs and Senators to co-operate with its speedy passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas to ensure it is enacted before the summer recess.

"It is essential that Garda investigations into terrorist activities are not hampered by an inability to act in urgent circumstances," he said.

"The Government and I have moved swiftly to replace the impugned provision with a constitutionally-robust one which seeks to ensure that the proper balance is struck between the preservation of the security of the State and the constitutional protection afforded to an individual's dwelling."

The current Section 29 warrant was introduced in 1976 to allow senior gardaí, not below the rank of superintendent, to authorise an emergency search without recourse to an independent judge.

But it was legally challenged on grounds it should not have been issued by a Garda superintendent involved in the case but by an independent authority, such as a judge or a peace commissioner.

Mr Shatter said under the new Criminal Justice (Search Warrants) Bill 2012 a superintendent is limited to authorising a warrant in urgent and immediate cases.

Such superintendent-issued warrants will be of short duration and may only be authorised by a superintendent who is independent of the investigation, he added.

The Bill also makes some amendments to the search powers that apply in relation to investigations into suspected drug offences.

However Mr Shatter remains powerless to stop previous convictions being appealed through the courts.

Senior gardaí are also working with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to determine how many cases may be appealed and how to deal with them.

The Department of Justice said the new Bill will be confined to future Garda investigations.

"There is no retrospective legislative action open to the minister to deal with existing cases where the use of Section 29 may be at issue," the Department of Justice said.

"It is not possible for legislation to make something constitutional which the Supreme Court has declared to be unconstitutional."

The Section 29 warrant was initially challenged in the Supreme Court by Ali Charaf Damache.

The 45-year-old Algerian, of John Colwyn House, High Street, Waterford, was arrested following an international investigation into an alleged conspiracy to murder Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks for his drawing of the prophet Muhammad.

Cork-based financier Ted Cunningham - the first man convicted in connection with the Northern Bank robbery - was released from Limerick Prison last month when the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed his conviction because of the warrant. A retrial was ordered.

Retrials were also ordered for Jason Kavanagh, Mark Farrelly and Christopher Corcoran, who were convicted of tiger kidnapping the family of a cash-in-transit driver in March 2005 and stealing €2.28m from him and his employer, Securicor, in 2005.

The men were found guilty after a landmark 66-day trial in 2009.

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