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Jury-less courts can end up doing harm to justice

Published 23/02/2016

Ann Travers (Write Back, February 18) understandably regards Sinn Fein's attitude to the judiciary and the Special Criminal Court in Dublin as insulting. Ms Travers has, indeed, suffered greatly as a consequence of attempts to kill her father, who was a member of the judiciary.

However, I am of the view that jury-less special courts can create more problems than they are believed to solve.

Does Ms Travers not acknowledge it was the flagrant disregard for civil liberties and civil rights in the North - and, by association, Britain - that was the embryo for what emerged in 1968? Who can evaluate the poison generated by the rulings of Widgery, Lord Denning and others? In the Irish State we are lucky as our constitution, which zealously guards citizens' rights, is highly valued and robustly defended by the Supreme Court.

One respected member of the judiciary - the late Cearbhall O Dalaigh - felt obliged to stand down as President of Ireland due to ad hominem attacks for exercising his power to refer suspect legislation back to the Supreme Court for adjudication. This was a case of putting political principle before political expediency.

After the setting up of the jury-less Special Criminal Court, it was inevitable policing standards would drop. The behaviour and attitudes of courts are a determining factor in the behaviour of both police and politicians.

It was seen that, if the courts were taking shortcuts to get convictions, then the police could do the same. The Garda 'heavy gang' emerged shortly after the Special Criminal Court was established and quickly became embroiled in claims of ill-treatment of suspects in custody.

Nicky Kelly, convicted in the Special Criminal Court of the 1976 Sallins train robbery, was a victim of an appalling miscarriage of justice. Surely the primary function of our judicial system should be to dispense justice, not to dispense with justice?

TOM COOPER

Dublin

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