Private Notice Question. - Establishment of Special Court.

Tuesday, 30 May 1972

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 261 No. 4

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Dr. Thornley: Information on David Thornley  Zoom on David Thornley  asked the Minister for Justice if he will make a statement on the proclamation last Friday introducing three-member judicial tribunals under the Offences Against the State Act.

Minister for Justice (Mr. O'Malley): Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  To keep the record right, may I say that it is not a judicial tribunal. It is a court of law expressly provided for in the Constitution. An official statement has already been made by the Taoiseach on behalf of the Government and the Government do not see any need to add to it at the present time.

Dr. Thornley: Information on David Thornley  Zoom on David Thornley  Is the Minister aware that section 38, Part V, of this Act permits him to introduce an almost unlimited number of such courts. Can he tell the House precisely, or roughly, the number of such courts he has in mind?

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  I have one court in mind at present. If it were to happen that more courts than one became necessary at some future date the Government would consider the question of introducing more than one but I do not envisage that arising.

Dr. Thornley: Information on David Thornley  Zoom on David Thornley  Arising out of the Minister's reply, is the Minister aware that section 39 permits him to appoint as members of such courts just about anyone, from a judge of High Court [600] standing to a barrister of seven years' standing? Can the Minister give an assurance now that the people appointed to such court, or courts, will be of seniority of rank in the Judiciary? Is the Minister further aware that, under section 41, these courts are empowered to make their own rules of procedure which permit them to exclude the public and the press and will he give an assurance that the operations of such court, or courts, will be held in public?

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  So far as the constitution of the court is concerned, the three judges who will serve are Mr. Justice Griffin of the High Court, Judge Conroy of the Circuit Court and the President of the District Court, Justice O'Flynn. As I understand the section, the matter of procedure is a matter for the court itself, subject to the fact that the ordinary laws of evidence will and must apply.

Dr. Thornley: Information on David Thornley  Zoom on David Thornley  One last supplementary.The Minister refers to the ordinary laws of evidence. He has in the past intimated that he may be thinking of changing the laws of evidence. Can he give the House any guidance now as to what is in his mind because we had the Prisons Act on Tuesday and we got this proclamation on Friday and are we going to find now that the rules of evidence will, in addition, be changed?

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  If they are changed, it will be a matter for this House and Seanad Éireann to change them. It would not be a matter for me.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney  Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney  May I ask the Minister whether, in fact, the decisions of the three-man court are required to be unanimous? Secondly, is there any appeal from the decisions of the three-man court and, if there is such an appeal, to what other court?

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  As I understand the particular section, the decision of the court need not be unanimous. Two judges must be agreed, but the existence of a minority opinion shall not be disclosed and only one judgment will be given. There is a right of appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal on [601] exactly the same basis as that in the case of a person convicted in the Central Criminal Court.

Dr. Thornley: Information on David Thornley  Zoom on David Thornley  Subject to certification.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  No. The defendant has the right in any event to apply for a certificate of leave to appeal.

Mr. B. Lenihan: Information on Patrick J. Lenihan  Zoom on Patrick J. Lenihan  That is the ordinary procedure.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney  Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney  Is it a fact that as of now there is a backlog of cases to be heard in the ordinary courts and will the sitting of three judges in this court not further worsen the position? Has the Minister any answer to this backlog?

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  No. If anything, I would imagine that the setting up of this particular court will help to get rid of any backlog there is because the ordinary Central Criminal Court and the Circuit Criminal Court will sit simultaneously with this court and that should have the effect of cutting down considerably on whatever backlog there is.


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