By Cormac Looney
Wednesday July 01 2009
Criminals will face life imprisonment for directing a gang under a new law -- to come into force by the end of the month.
The Criminal Justice Bill 2009 will allow any garda with the relevant experience to give evidence to the juryless Special Criminal Court about the activities of gangland criminals.
It will also introduce a series of penalties for specific offenses, including up to 10 years imprisonment for intimidating witnesses and up to 15 years for being a lower-ranking 'footsoldier' in a criminal outfit.
The measures -- the furthest-reaching anti-gang laws ever enacted in Ireland -- are expected to be passed by the Oireachtas on Friday week, and are likely to be signed into law by the end of July. They can then be used immediately against gangland criminals.
Under the proposed law, gangland criminals will be tried in the juryless Special Criminal Court, and will find it harder to get bail.
Courts will also be able to draw inferences from suspects' failure to answer questions relating to serious crime while in garda custody, and suspects can be detained for up to seven days.
Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern described the legislation as "groundbreaking". He said: "Clearly these people are prepared to murder people who will give evidence against them. There is witness and jury intimidation. The Government had to act."
The Irish Council of Civil Liberties has criticised the bill, which a council spokesman said "trampled on the rule of law" and was "reminiscent of a police state". The Labour party has also criticised the use of juryless trials.
- Cormac Looney