Rights watchdog warns of ‘insufficent’ safeguards on belief evidence

Rights watchdog warns of 'insufficent' safeguards on belief evidence

Sinéad Gibney

There are insufficient safeguards around the use of Garda belief evidence in the Special Criminal Court, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has said.

The Commission has published written legal submissions to the Court of Criminal Appeal in exercise of its amicus curiae function in a significant case on the rights of accused persons and procedural safeguards required for a fair trial.

The case involves an appeal by the DPP following the acquittal by the Special Criminal Court of two men charged with IRA membership.

The submissions focus on key principles and rulings from the case law on belief evidence and how other jurisdictions have applied proportionality considerations where intelligence material is being used in prosecution.

The Special Criminal Court excluded the belief evidence of a Garda chief superintendent given pursuant to section 3(2) of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1972, following the refusal of the chief superintendent to provide information on the basis of his belief; and following the decision of the DPP that prosecuting counsel would not review the file of the Garda witness in order to assess if any disclosure of evidence could be made to the defence.

Appealing the ruling of the Special Criminal Court, the DPP contends that the trial court erroneously excluded compelling evidence, that is to say the belief evidence of the chief superintendent.

Chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney said: “The Commission’s central submission is that significant legal protections are required to ensure that belief evidence remains a proportionate measure to maintain the procedural safeguards required for a fair trial, and that an appropriate balance must be struck between the vital public interest in protecting Garda investigations and, on the other hand, the requirements of a fair trial under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.”

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