A high-level review into Irish terrorism and gangland laws – and the continued use of the non-jury Special Criminal Court – has provided an interim report to the Minister for Justice.
The interim review does not contain any provisional recommendations but outlines three phases of research the group has commissioned.
The review of the Offences Against the State Acts (OASA) 1939-1998 was announced by the then minister for justice Helen McEntee last February. The group was established on foot of a commitment given during the Oireachtas debates in 2020 on the renewal of certain provisions of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998.
The group began its work in March and, in accordance with its terms of reference, submitted an interim report to the minister before the end of June.
The terms of reference of the review group include consideration of the following:
- The current threat posed by domestic/international terrorism and organised crime;
- The duty to deliver a fair and effective criminal justice system to ensure the protection of communities and the security of the State;
- Ireland's obligations in relation to Constitutional and ECHR rights and international law.
The group is chaired by Mr Justice Michael Peart, former judge of the Court of Appeal and has five other members.
In a short five-page interim report, Mr Justice Peart (retired) said a three-phase research plan was under way:
- First phase (conducted between mid April to end of May) was an examination of judicial, legislative and policy developments since the last review of the OASA in 2002 (Hederman Report);
- Second phase (end of May to mid June), tasked with examining what other provisions exist to deal with subversive and organised crime if the OASA were no longer in place;
- Third phase (mid June to mid August) will be an analysis of international developments, including European laws and courts and UN bodies and resolutions The report said the first phase of research was a “substantial and important body of work” by the researchers.
It examined the following under the OASA: offences; belief evidence and informer privilege; powers of arrest and detention; inferences from silence; property orders; witness immunity and the Special Criminal Court.
The second phase will involve an examination of the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005; the Criminal Justice Act 2007 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009.
The report said the group would also examine the current threat posed by domestic/international terrorism and organised crime and would consult with relevant sections in the gardaí and the Defence Forces.
It said the “timely provision” of relevant information would “be crucial” to its work.
The group has also sought submissions from interested parties. It will also consult with the gardaí, the Office of the DPP, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the UN Human Rights Commissioner.
The group hopes to conduct internal discussions on a range of topics in November and December, noting the nature of the review involved an examination of “a series of complex, inter-related provisions”.
Mr Justice Peart said they would endeavour to send its completed report to the minister by the end of April 2022.
Publishing the interim report, Justice Minister Heather Humphreys said: “I am pleased to receive this interim report from the independent review group. The Offences Against the State Acts form the main body of counter-terrorism legislation in Ireland and it is important that the legislation is subject to scrutiny and review.
“I am grateful to the members of the group for their work, to date and look forward to their final report which will receive careful consideration by my department.”