Prime Time - 5th July 2012 (Part 2)

Thursday 05 July 2012 15.43
Prime Time - 5th July 2012 (Part 2)

Barry Cummins blogs ahead of tonight's programme:

Just over four months ago, a major piece of criminal legislation was found to be unconstitutional. The ramifications have been far reaching, with many murder investigations and other serious criminal investigations being affected.
For 36 years, Gardaí had the power to issue their own search warrants. It was a simple process, if you were a Garda and believed you might find evidence relating to firearms or explosives in a particular place, you could go to your Superintendent and get him or her to sign what was called a Section 29 search warrant.
The power was first given to Gardaí in 1976 at the height of the Troubles. On tonight’s Prime Time former Justice Minister Gerry Collins recounts how the country was “in a state of near anarchy” when the Criminal Law Act of 1976 was introduced.
Speaking on tonight’s report, former head of the Garda Special Detective Unit and now barrister Peter Maguire recounts how in the early years, the Section 29 warrant was primarily used to tackle terrorism. As the years passed, and firearms became more available, the Section 29 warrants were also used to investigate non subversive crime.
The law stood firm for 36 years, but on 23 February last, a ruling of the Supreme Court changed all that.
The Court ruled that Section 29 search warrants were repugnant to the Constitution because the provision allowed for a senior Garda involved in an investigation to issue search warrants to his or her own detectives.
The Government is now bringing forward new legislation to deal with the ruling, but in the meantime the effects of the Supreme Court ruling are becoming more and more clear.
The Appeal Court has now established a principle that if you had an appeal ongoing at the time of the ruling on 23 February, you can now challenge any evidence which had been obtained under a Section 29 search warrant.
So far, five people have had their convictions overturned and retrials ordered, including Cork man Ted Cunningham who had pleaded not guilty but had been convicted of money laundering, in connection with the Northern Bank Raid of 2004.
Last Monday, a Dundalk man who had been convicted of IRA membership had his conviction overturned and separately a retrial is also now due in the case of three men who had been convicted of kidnapping a security worker and his family and stealing over 2 and a half million Euro.
There has also been an effect on some cases in which charges have been brought but no trial had yet begun. Among the cases where charges have been dropped is a Dublin man who was charged with a violent burglary where a couple were tied up in their home.
And then there is the effect on cases where no charges had yet been brought. These are cases where the DPP might have been contemplating charges but now has to reconsider in light of the Supreme Court ruling.
The full picture has yet to emerge of just how many cases might be affected by all this. But tonight we profile the effect so far and look towards the future. Just what happens when a major piece of legislation, long trusted and widely used, falls spectacularly?
Barry Cummins
Prime Time, 21:30, RTÉ 1