3/29/2007

McDowell, Minister for injustice

McDowell's new Criminal law bill is nothing short of draconian. He has been in rush to push it through the Oireachtas, so much so that 140 barristers wrote to him expressing concerns at the way such an important bill was being introduced.



Added to that the strength of feeling amongst the opposition and the fact that the law society have asked that the bill be pulled.

The Irish Human Rights Commission has expressed concern about the Criminal Justice Bill, claiming that some of its provisions could lead to serious injustice.

The legislation was subject to 156 amendments today, which due to the time allotted only amounted to 90 seconds per amendment.

Anyone who reads this blog often will know that I take a hard stance on Criminal Justice, I am not a "liberal" in any sense of the word but what he is talking about doing would place the interests of justice outside the law.

He is proposing to restrict the right to silence and greater use of mandatory sentences amongst other things.

It includes a proposal to allow up to seven days detention and for a court to draw inferences from failure to mention facts during questioning.

This restriction on the right to silence is similar to Britain and allows the court to draw adverse inferences similar to Section 34 of PACE.

This is an unacceptable attack upon the right to silence and distorts the evidential burdern as it currently stands.

On sentencing, the Bill makes it clear that mandatory sentences should apply in all but the most exceptional cases.

Mandatory sentences are not a good idea as the judiciary need a certain element of discretion to ensure that there is no injustice inflicted when sentencing.

Every case is different and this slap dash approach by McDowell is ill thought out and reactionary in the extreme.

It's an attempt by McDowell to appeal to populist opinion, which as a Barrister he should know is not a wise move as public opinion is a fickle mistress.

The law needs continuity, clarity and justice at its heart, not reactionary right wing extremism.

The presumption of innocence is the cornerstone of any criminal justice system and McDowell's bill is an attack upon that presumption.

Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD described the Bill as an assault on civil liberties.

“Many of the provisions within the Bill are ill-thought out, irresponsible and destined to failure”,

“While I would have no problem with stiff sentences for serious drug dealers, mandatory sentencing has never been proven anywhere in the world to work as a deterrent to serious crime.

In fact they have proven to be expensive failures in other jurisdictions. Mandatory sentencing takes away the discretion of judges who have listened to the case and studied the evidence before them."

“International evidence shows that it is in fact the fear of being caught that acts as the most affective deterrent to criminals."

"Therefore we need to see a radical retargeting of Garda resources into the fight against crime. The redeployment of Special Branch detectives to criminal detectives and the introduction of a civilianised traffic corps would free up many fully trained Gardaí to be redeployed in crime fighting. This coupled with the use of existing laws and sanctions would prove far more effective in the fight against crime than McDowell’s gimmicks."

“This legislation is just another in a long line of legislative gimmicks proposed by this minister who has more interest in making headlines than he has in tackling crime"

We do need a crackdown on crime but what we do not need is for McDowell to throw the baby out with the bath water.

There is a very real risk for miscarriages of justice under these proposed changes.

They will effect the golden thread that runs through our criminal justice system, namely that a person is innocent until proven guilty!

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