Archive for August, 2009

Vacancy at the Irish Refugee Council

August 31, 2009 Leave a comment

TheIRC Irish Refugee Council (IRC) is currently recruiting for the post of Chief Executive.

Further information is available from the IRC website and closing date for applications is September 03 2009.

Proposed Changes to the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme

August 31, 2009 2 comments

DJELRIn the last week, Irish newspapers (Irish Times (here, here, here and here) and Irish Independent, here) have reported on potential cuts to the scheme of criminal legal aid. The rationale for these cuts is to curb the escalating costs of criminal legal aid. The proposed plan, under a new Criminal Legal Aid Bill, aims to allow Gardaí have access to a defendant’s Personal Public Service Number to ensure that he or she does not have the means to employ his or her own solicitor. The Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) have stated that any changes to the criminal legal aid scheme should preserve the right to “real and effective justice”. FLAC have warned the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D. that changes should not lead to an ineffective and bureaucratic administration of the scheme of criminal legal aid.  The main opposition party in Dáil Eireann (the Irish lower house of parliament), Fine Gael, have welcomed the move. Writing in the Irish Times, the legal affairs editor, Carol Coulter, has warned that the savings achieved will “not produce a pot of gold”. Ms. Coulter notes that the vast majority of recipients’ of criminal legal aid are social welfare claimants, and the introduction of new means tests within this sphere may in fact lead to delays in the administration of justice.

EcTHR 2Questions do arise as to the extent to which it may interfere with a right to a fair trial. Article 6(3)(c) of the European Convention on Human Rights provides that a person who does not have sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, should be provided with such assistance “when the interests of justice so require”. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has decided that in criminal cases a defendant must not be placed at a substantial disadvantage vis-a-vis his/her opponent (Dombo Beheer v Netherlands, para. 33).

The new proposals may also result in the delay of criminal trials, given that judicial reviews of a District Court judge’s decision to not grant legal aid may be brought by the defendant. The ECtHR will assess whether the delay is reasonable having regard to the complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicant and the relevant State authorities and the importance of what was at stake for the applicant in the litigation (see, Barry v Ireland, para. 36). It is therefore not beyond the realms of possibility that due to protracted litigation relating to the right of a defendant to be granted criminal aid, breaches of Article 6(3)(c) could not be ruled out. In relation to delay, (although not dealing in any respects with the right to criminal legal aid), the Irish Supreme Court in McFarlane v Director of Public Prosecutions [2008] IESC 7 (05 March 2008) held that there was no violation of Article 6 ECHR, where a delay of six years and four months in attempts to start the prosecution.  The defendant had taken judicial review proceedings in an attempt to prevent the prosecution. Mr. Justice Kearns noted that there was no blameworthy prosecutorial or systemic delay in the case.

It remains to be seen whether this proposal will become law, and whether this will result in delays in the prosecution of alleged offences.

Crisis in criminal justice: invoking The Wire

August 31, 2009 Leave a comment

Heated hyperbole in the context of crime and criminal justice all too often leads to rushed, unnecessary and repressive legislation. Debate about justice policy is depicted as involving the polarities of crime control and due process (as if respecting the latter ineluctably leads to inefficiency and undue leniency), and the demands of crime control are given weight and justified by reference to dramatic and particularly heinous crimes. In this sense, exaggeration of the crime problem and stressing the failures of the criminal justice system are commonplace in political circles.

Such invocation of crisis was most recently illustrated by the UK Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, when he compared parts of Manchester to the streets of Baltimore (as depicted in TV series The Wire), despite the latter city having a homicide rate many times in excess of any area in the UK. Although TDs have yet to cotton on to such contemporary TV references, similar tactics have been used in Ireland to justify legislation including the Criminal Justice Acts 2006 and 2007, the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 and the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. It has been alleged that Ireland is “more akin to downtown Bogotá than a modern European capital, such is the extent of gangland murder, assaults, and violent crime”; that “gangland law” now exists in Ireland; that “many of our urban areas are terrified by rampant gangland crime, which is apparently making huge parts of the country ungovernable” and that gun crime is “reminiscent of gang warfare in east Los Angeles”. Such commentary comes from across the political spectrum and provides ripe opportunity for the introduction of unduly “robust” measures that pay scant regard to traditional due process norms and values. Although the Irish judiciary, for the most part, remain resolute in upholding the due process rights of the individual, irresponsible invocations of places with far graver crime problems than Ireland heightens public fear and ratchets up the fearful tenor of political discourse. This in turn leaves any politician who fails to support such provisions open to accusations of being naïve and failing to grasp the reality of crime in communities.

Rather than relying on a comparison with The Wire or its equivalent to exaggerate the problem of crime, policy makers in the UK and Ireland should look to the series’ incisive commentary on the causes of crime to assist in the development of laws; namely savage deprivation; widespread failings in the educational system; cynical policing tactics; the misguided war on drugs; widespread hard drug abuse, and the persistence of a misogynistic and violent conception of masculinity.

International Conference on Budget Decisions and Economic and Social Rights, Queen’s University Belfast, 14-15 November 2009

August 31, 2009 1 comment

This conference on ‘Economic and Social Rights and Budget Decisions’ links with ongoing international efforts to develop and deepen the relationship between economic analysis and the assessment of human rights compliance.  The aim of the conference is to bring together people who are doing work on monitoring state compliance with ESR obligations – with a particular focus on budget work. The conference will be international in focus, with presenters including UN experts, internationally renowned scholars and civil society practitioners.  Drawing on the expertise of participants with backgrounds in law, human rights, economics and development, this multidisciplinary event will enable practitioners and academics to share insights and experiences in order to expand and strengthen the research on budget decisions and ESR.

ConfirmQUBed speakers include:

Miloon Kothari (Former UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing)
Ann Blyberg (Executive Director, International Human Rights Internship Program, Washington DC)
Prof. Diane Elson (Human Rights Centre, University of Essex)
Martin Sigal (Director, Civil Association for Equality and Justice, Argentina)
Prof. Sigrun Skogly (University of Lancaster)
Michael Windefuhr (Brot für die Welt/Bread for the World, Germany).

For more information on the conference, including details of sessions and logistical arrangments, see here.

This conference forms part of a two-year research project on ‘Budget Analysis and the Advancement of Economic and Social Rights in Northern Ireland’,which is being undertaken by a number of members of the Human Rights Centre, School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast.


Welcome to the Blog

August 31, 2009 Leave a comment

Human Rights in Ireland is a new blog with a focus on human rights issues in Ireland and on Irish scholarship about human rights more generally. The intention behind this blog is to provide an online arena for discussing issues arising in Ireland in relation to human rights, as well as publicising Irish work in this area. All of the contributors to this blog are academics, mostly lawyers, who are working either in Ireland or abroad and whose work relates broadly to human rights.

As you can see if you look at our About the Contributors page, our interests are varied-we include criminal lawyers, constitutional law experts, socio-economic rights scholars, legal philosophers and law and terrorism scholars. As a result, we intend to provide varied and diverse content relating to human rights. Comments are open on the blog, although your first comment will require moderation so please excuse any slight delay that may occur.

We hope that you will enjoy reading this blog and that you will get involved through your comments.

The HRinI team.

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