Non-jury court to be renewed, regardless of review’s findings
4th April 2021
The non-jury Special Criminal Court (SCC) will be renewed for another year, regardless of an upcoming review into its operation, acting Justice Minister Heather Humphreys says.
The court must be extended by votes in the Dáil and Seanad each year. It comes under the Offences Against the State Act, the anti-terrorism and organised crime legislation.
Justice Minister Helen McEntee, who is currently on maternity leave, appointed an expert group to review the Offences Against the State Act. A commitment to undertake the review was part of the Programme for Government and was demanded by the Green Party.
The emergency powers are controversial as they override normal civil rights. An interim report, taking account of current threats posed by terrorism and organised crime, is due in the next month. However, Ms Humphreys says she will be renewing the legislation this summer.
“I can assure you, as Minister for Justice, that I will be proposing in June that the Offences Against the State Act should be renewed,” said Ms Humphreys.
“I am very conscious that it has served the State well in trying to combat organised crime, tackling subversives, anti-democratic and criminal offences.
“I am very conscious there is a review taking place. It’s almost 20 years since the last review and Helen [McEntee] has appointed six experts in that field. I look forward to hearing what their findings are.
“I don’t want to undermine what they are doing in any shape or form. But what I do want to say is it has served this country well,” she told the Irish Independent.
The minister says she respects those who are critical of the court but it is necessary.
“We live in a world where we don’t want to see jurors intimidated in any shape or form,” she said. “The Special Criminal Court ensures there is no intimidation. There are many different forms of intimidation in the world in which we live in now.”
Sinn Féin usually opposes the renewal of the court and the Offences Against the State Act, although the party did abstain last year for the first time since entering the Dáil in 1997. The party’s original objection arose from the court being used to prosecute members of the Provisional IRA.
The requirement to renew the SCC became a factor in the formation of the new Coalition last summer.
As talks on a new government dragged on, officials warned that key sections of the Offences Against the State Act would lapse at the end of June 2020. The Department of Justice did a scoping exercise on proposals to review the legislation.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan called for a review of the SCC in the run-up to the general election, saying his party had concerns about the operation of the juryless court.