The very existence of the Special Criminal Court has become an unexpected battleground in the election campaign. The court is used to try cases without a jury, where it’s believed that juries and witnesses could be at risk of intimidation.

It’s on the agenda because of the violent gun attack in the Regency Hotel in Dublin last weekend, where an audacious shooting was carried out by criminals dressed as Gardaí. One man was shot dead and two are being treated for gunshot wounds.

The debate around resources for dealing with such criminals has led to discussions around the Special Criminal Court.

Its supporters credit it with helping to end the worst of the gangland violence in Limerick by paving the way for successful prosecutions of some of the perpetrators. But critics, including Sinn Féin say that it is undemocratic. In fact, Sinn Féin says that it would get rid of the court altogether.

Some connect their public pronouncements on this with the recent case of Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy, the republican who was found guilty by the Special Criminal Court of tax evasion. While Mary Lou McDonald denied there is a link between the case and their position on the existence of the Special Criminal Court, she says that using it suspends a core value in terms of the administration of justice.

With Fine Gael announcing today that the second Special Criminal Court will be opened in April this year, we asked our Claire Byrne Live/ Amárach Research Panel what their views are on the court without a jury. The question we asked was: Should we retain or abolish the non-jury Special Criminal Court?

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The results show 60% would retain it, 16% voted to abolish it and 24% don’t know.

Perhaps the results show that law and order is an issue of perennial importance to voters and those who plan to reduce or alter stringent measures to prosecute those involved in serious crime may get short shrift from the electorate.

 

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