Irish Times: New dangerous bill sends us back to the dark ages *
By CAROL COULTER
Gangs Bill disproportionate and unnecessary, says rights group
THE IRISH Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has criticised several provisions of a new Bill aimed at organised criminal gangs, describing them as disproportionate and unnecessary.
The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill, was yesterday published by Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern and is expected to become law before the Oireachtas summer recess.
It includes a new offence of directing or controlling a criminal organisation and provides for organised crime offences to be tried in the Special Criminal Court. Organised crime offences will be “scheduled offences”, bringing them within the ambit of the Offences Against the State Act so that they will be tried in the non-jury Special Criminal Court.
Mr Ahern called the legislation “ground-breaking”.
However, at a media briefing yesterday, human rights commission member Michael Farrell said the section of the Bill which creates new “scheduled offences” struck at the centuries-old right to trial by jury
It would not solve the problem of the intimidation of witnesses who were identified in the Special Criminal Court in the same way as in ordinary courts, he said.
Mr Farrell said the commission recognised the problem posed by organised crime, but he questioned the haste with which this Bill was being rushed through.
Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties Mark Kelly said provisions such as “secret detention hearings and detention on the unsupported word of a single garda, trample upon the rule of law.”
The Bill introduces a new offence of “directing” the activities of a criminal organisation, which carries a sentence of up to life imprisonment. An actual crime does not have to be committed to invoke this offence.
It will also be possible to refuse bail to those suspected of involvement in a gang in certain circumstances. The Bill would also allow expert Garda opinion on the operations of criminal gangs to be admissible in evidence, including hearsay. There is also a provision that certain information supporting the application may be given in the absence of the suspect and his or her legal representative.
Fine Gael’s spokesman on justice Charlie Flanagan said increased resources for the office of the DPP and the Garda Síochána was the way to tackle gangland activity.
The Labour Party said the Bill could be unconstitutional by abandoning the right to trial by jury and the party opposed the Bill as it stood.
Strong criticism of gang crime legislation
There has been strong criticism of the new legislation - the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said the measures were akin to those of a police state.
The bill defines a criminal gang as a group of at least three people whose main purpose or activity is serious crime.
The new law states a gang does not need rules, membership or roles for those in it, any hierarchical or leadership structure or continuity of involvement.
Those who help criminal gangs also face up to 15 years in prison even if the gang never get to commit the crime they were helped with.