Belfast Telegraph

New search power laws to be drafted

New legislation over search powers given to gardai are being drafted after a court ruled previous search warrants were unconstitutional.

The first man convicted in relation to the Northern Bank robbery - financier Ted Cunningham - is expected to be among the criminals to challenge their detention under the old law.

Trials against at least three other men have also collapsed after the Supreme Court ruled searches could no longer be carried out under Section 29 of the Offences Against the State Act.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said the Government has approved the drafting of the Criminal Justice (Search Powers) Bill as a priority.

The controversial section 29 warrant was introduced in 1976 to allow senior gardai - not below the rank of superintendent - to authorise an emergency search without recourse to an independent judge.

It was challenged by Ali Charaf Damache, who was arrested following an international probe in to an alleged conspiracy to murder Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks over his drawing of the prophet Muhammad.

The 45-year-old Algerian, of John Colwyn House, High Street, Waterford, argued the warrant for his arrest in Ireland should have not have been issued by a Garda superintendent but by an independent authority, such as a judge or a peace commissioner.

Mr Shatter said the new proposals will ensure that the operational requirements of the Garda Siochana are met and that all decisions authorising the search of any place, including a dwelling, are taken by persons who are independent of the investigation.

Cunningham was jailed for 10 years in April 2009 for laundering more than £3 million from the notorious Northern Bank robbery.

The 63-year-old financial adviser, from Farran in Co Cork, was also found guilty of nine counts linked to a dirty money racket which moved cash from Belfast to Cork. He is due to appeal his conviction at Dublin's Court of Criminal Appeal on Monday, April 16.

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