Opposition to the Government’s latest criminal justice legislative proposals continues to grow. The main opposition to the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 has been led by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Labour Party and Sinn Féin in the Oireachtas. These have now been joined by a wide range of lawyers, both prosecution and defence, including the Law Society. The Bill proposes dramatic changes to how the prosecution of gang-related crime is prosecuted, including abolishing jury trial and allowing opinion evidence.
IPRT in its work focuses on the measures taken to punish and sanction criminal offending. The issues raised by the Bill relate generally to the fair trial rights of the accused, issues that have been comprehensively addressed by the ICCL submission on the Bill which we broadly support and endorse. However, while these are matters which IPRT generally leaves to our colleagues in ICCL, we believe that the scale and cynicism of what is being proposed throws up some fundamental questions about how the State chooses to fight crime.
IPRT is committed to evidence-led policy in this area and to rational and considered debate on how to best address crime as a social problem. We believe in this approach because it is likely to lead to the best solutions for society at large. In this context, a Government which is cutting Garda resources is now proposing to solve a policing problem by removing the right to jury trial. It is clear to all observers that the biggest problems facing law enforcement are the policing problem of widespread availability of firearms and the policing problem of failing to bring to any form of trial the perpetrators of murder. Rather than take a multi-agency, evidence-led approach to combating serious crime - looking at issues such as drug policy, Garda intelligence and manpower and witness intimidation - the Government is guillotining a regressive and counter-productive Bill without even affording the Oireachtas an opportunity to analyse it.
The whole endeavour reinforces the sense that this is all about optics and nothing about a serious or considered approach to deal with a problem. IPRT supports the calls of these organisations for the Bill to be withdrawn and instead for the Minister to initiate a broad debate on to how to address these very real problems based on facts, evidence and garda intelligence.