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Posts Tagged ‘criminal justice policy’

New Irish Criminology Research Network Blog

March 22, 2010 2 comments

The Irish Criminology Research Network has just announced the launch of its new blog.

Established in 2009, the Network comprises of researchers, students, academics and practitioners with an interest in criminology and the Irish criminal justice system. Members are from a range of academic institutions and agencies north and south of Ireland.

Members of the Network research and write about crime, criminal justice and criminology in Ireland and further afield. The blog aims to discuss issues of critical concern.

For more details, please contact Nicola Carr at n.carr@qub.ac.uk

New Forensic Evidence and DNA Database Bill published

January 21, 2010 2 comments

On Tuesday, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern, published the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill 2010. This Bill repeals the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act 1990 in its entirety. It provides for the taking of three categories of samples: (1) non-intimate and (2) intimate samples from persons arrested and detained in garda custody in order to prove or disprove their involvement in the commission of a particular offence, and (3) samples for the purpose of creating a DNA profile to be kept on the DNA database. Samples in this third category may not generally be taken from children under 14 years of age. The Bill also provides for the taking of samples from volunteers and others.

The Bill goes on to provide for the establishment of a DNA database – one part of which will retain DNA profiles for the purposes of criminal investigations, and a second, separate part of which will retain DNA material in order to assist in tracing and identifying missing or unknown persons. These two parts of the database are not to be cross-referenced. The database will be administered by the Forensic Science Laboratory, which is to be renamed in Irish – Eolaíocht Fhóiréinseach Éireann – and hold the initials EFÉ.

As reported in the Irish Times, the Minister in introducing the Bill said that all persons serving sentences for serious offences when the new law comes into force will be required to give a sample for the database. This will include people in prison and anyone on temporary release or on suspended sentences, as well as anyone on the sex offenders’ register.

Following the recent jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (S and Marper v UK) the Bill provides that only persons convicted of serious offences will have their DNA material held indefinitely. Persons who are acquitted or against whom no proceedings are instituted will have their DNA material removed on application to the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána (with further appeal to the District Court). Where no application is made, the default periods for destruction of the material are 10 years in the case of a profile and three in the case of a sample.

Mark Kelly, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), has said that the ICCL will review the Bill in order to establish whether it strikes the right balance between catching criminals and protecting private life.

Police Governance and Accountability: Challenges and Outlook – Conference Report

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

Last Thursday and Friday, December 3 and 4, saw an international conference of a very high calibre take place in Limerick (see press coverage in the Irish Times and the Irish Examiner). This conference (previously advertised on this blog here), which focused on Police Governance and Accountability, was organised through the Centre for Criminal Justice in the University of Limerick by a contributor to this blog, Dr. Vicky Conway (formerly of UL, now at Queen’s University Belfast) and Professor Dermot Walsh (UL).

The conference was very well-attended and drew an impressive array of scholars and practitioners researching and working in the area of policing both nationally and internationally. The main plenary presentations were given by Professor Andrew Goldsmith from the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, Professor James Sheptycki from York University in Toronto, Canada and an intriguing turn-and-turn-about final plenary presentation from Dr. Vicky Conway and Professor Dermot Walsh.

Professor Goldsmith discussed the manner in which modern technology, such as mobile phones, digital cameras and the internet (specifically sites like YouTube), are allowing for a new sort of transparency in policing whereby previously invisible police actions can be observed, recorded and shown to the public at large. He gave the example of the death of a Polish immigrant, Robert Dziekanski, following the police use of a taser gun on him in Vancouver airport which was caught on video. Professor Goldsmith used the phrase “sous-veillance” for this type of recording of police actions which comes from beneath and can be contrasted with the more traditional sur-veillance (which comes from the top down). All of this, he suggested, will have an impact on the ability of the police to manage public perceptions of policing, on the demands that are made of oversight agencies, and on the practice of policing in general.

Professor Sheptycki discussed the challenges which exist for transnational policing in the modern world. Employing interesting analogies from the world of art and art history, Professor Sheptycki explored the concept of “constabularly ethics” and sought to ask the question, in the context of European co-operation in policing, “what is good policing?” Professor Sheptycki was particularly interested in “The Raft of the Medusa” by Gericault, which is housed at the Louvre, and depicts a scene of tragedy on a raft set adrift after the wreck of a French naval vessel. Of 147 people aboard the raft, only 15 survived. The painting shows a point of crisis but with the hope of a rescue ship in the distance. Professor Sheptycki suggests that the concept of the “constabulary ethic” may bring hope to the future of transnational policing.

While each of the plenary sessions were thought-provoking, from an Irish perspective the swift overview of the Garda Síochána, from their initial establishment through to current challenges and future possibilities delivered in this third session was particularly interesting. Dr. Conway and Professor Walsh raised many questions about the level of political control of the gardaí provided for under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the potential strengths and weaknesses of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the general secrecy of the Gardaí as an institution. Dr. Conway gave a most insightful description of the work of the Morris Tribunal, the allegations which led to its establishment and the findings of Mr. Justice Morris (all of which are detailed in her forthcoming book “The Blue Wall of Silence: The Morris Tribunal and Police Accountability in Ireland“). Professor Walsh mentioned the lack of statistics on many policing issues in this jurisdiction. He suggested that material such as The Garda Code ought to be made publicly available and was of the opinion that the availability of such material and public knowledge about the training and ethics of the gardaí might in fact increase public confidence in the force.

More than 40 papers were delivered over the course of the two-day event on topics including: juvenile justice and alternative policing; police complaints and accountability; policing of vulnerable groups; new technologies in policing; police culture and decision-making; local policing; policing and constitutional values; policing and the law of evidence; and many other related matters. Rights issues which arose included: incursions on the right to silence; the protection of the suspect right to pre-trial legal advice; victims’ rights; privacy rights and the use of DNA; the consequences of police abuse of power and the exclsuion of evidence; children’s rights; privacy rights and the use of CCTV; and many more.

This was a most successful and informative conference which allowed for transnational discussions at the macro level on the changing nature of modern policing and the challenges for the investigation of crime in a globalised world, as well as debates and comparisons on the details of policing powers and experiences at a micro level in different jurisdictions.

Arrest for the purpose of DNA sampling

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

A report published today by the Human Genetics Commission (HGC) in the United Kingdom, which advises the government in that jurisdiction in relation to genetic issues, contains a claim that police officers deliberately arrest people in order to get DNA samples from them to add to the DNA database. The claim, put forward by an unnamed retired police superintendent, is contained in a report entitled “Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear?”.

Obviously, it is difficult to investigate the truth of the claim that persons are being arrested solely for the purpose of obtaining DNA samples where they would not be arrested in other circumstances, and indeed, such a claim has been denied by the Association of Chief Police Officers. However, the Chairman of the HGC, Professor Jonathan Montgomery, has admitted that there is some evidence to substantiate the allegation. Professor Montgomery has also suggested that the DNA database in the UK has suffered from “function creep” since its introduction in 1995, evolving from a database of offenders into a database of suspects. Liberty‘s director of policy Isabella Sankey has also observed the extent of the use currently being made of DNA databases and the manner in which policing decisions can be influenced:

Not only are we stockpiling the most sensitive information of innocents who have never been charged, let alone convicted, we are also creating a perverse incentive for officers to arrest the innocent.

The UK DNA database is the largest of its kind in the world and this is not the first time that it has been the subject of controversy and debate, although Professor Montgomery suggests that there has not been enough public or parliamentary debate on the issue.

Read more…

Bail reform mooted

November 17, 2009 2 comments

As is reported today in the Irish Times, the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern is currently considering reform of the bail laws. Work is beginning on a new Bill and legal advice sought regarding the possible refusal of bail to an individual who may commit any offence while on bail, rather applying to the commission of serious offences as is currently the situation under the Bail Act 1997. Consideration is also being given to the proposal that courts should consider the need to protect the public and the safety of an individual when deciding whether bail should be refused.

While the entitlement to bail is not a constitutional right, it represents “a recognition by the Courts that a person presumed to be innocent shall not have his liberty interfered with unnecessarily pending his trial on a criminal charge” (In Re Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Bill 1975 [1977] IR 129). The proposed amendments signify a further shift from liberal due process norms which centre on equality, liberty and the presumption of innocence, to a criminal justice model which places more focuses on a nebulous conception of the public and its needs. Indeed, it is arguable that the latter proposal is mere windowing dressing in a bid to be seen a cognisant of community “interests”/ “rights”, given that under the common law bail’s objective encompass “preventing the evasion of justice, either by the accused absconding; by the accused interfering with witnesses; or by the accused destroying, concealing or otherwise interfering with physical evidence” (People (DPP) v Ryan [1989] IR 399 ) which seems to include matters of individual/public safety.

The refusal of bail on the basis of possible future offending essentially allows the court to affect an individual’s liberty due to his character and past record, rather than on a legal finding of guilt. In a liberal democracy that purports to value due process norms and principles, only the evasion of justice itself, rather than the possibility of a further offence being committed, should merit the restriction of the presumption of innocence. This sees the integrity of the trial process as more important than public protection, an unpopular sentiment in political discourse.

In addition to rights-based concerns, empirical evidence suggests that the commission of offences while on bail is not determined by the legal regime in place, thus undermining the need for future legal amendment. Indeed, although the number of offences committed by persons on bail decreased in the years immediately following the Bail Referendum (which first allowed refusal on preventative grounds for serious offences), the implementing 1997 Act did not come into effect until 15 May 2000. Thus, it seems that the decrease was affected by matters independent of the law reform, paralleling the diminishing crime rate in general at that time.

The Exclusionary Rule soon to be before the Supreme Court

October 29, 2009 2 comments

Supreme CourtThe case of DPP v Cash is listed for hearing in the Supreme Court on Monday November 16th 2009. This case may have major implications for the criminal justice process, policing in Ireland and the protection of suspect rights. The case is likely to allow for an exploration of the Irish exclusionary rule in relation to improperly obtained evidence. This rule, first established in People (AG) v O’Brien [1965] I.R. 142 and later modified in People (DPP) v Kenny [1990] 2 I.R. 110; [1990] I.L.R.M. 569, has come in for much criticism in recent times and many see the Cash case as the perfect opportunity for the Supreme Court to address the strict manner in which the rule operates in the context of unconstitutionally obtained evidence.

In O’Brien, a dichotomy was established between evidence obtained in breach of legal rights only and evidence obtained in breach of constitutional rights. In relation to the former, a trial judge holds a discretion to admit or exclude the evidence based on an assessment of the totality of the circumstances, including the nature and extent of the illegality, whether it was based on an ad hoc decision or settled policy, whether it was intentional or unintentional and whether the public interest would be best served by the admission or the exclusion of the relevant evidence.

However, the trial judge has no discretion in relation to the exclusion of unconstitutionally obtained evidence. Once it is shown that there has been a breach of constitutional rights, and there is a causal link between such breach and the impugned evidence, the evidence becomes automatically inadmissible. The only circumstances in which unconstitutionally obtained evidence might be admitted is where there are so-called “extraordinary excusing circumstances” in place which justify its admission, such as the need to rescue a victim in peril or to prevent the imminent destruction of vital evidence. Read more…

Ian Brady and the Right to Die

October 29, 2009 1 comment

I watched a very interesting docu-drama on BBC Alba last night on Ian Brady and the right to die (entitled, predictably enough, Ian Brady – The Right to Die), which has created a minor furore in Scotland about an issue which has largely been forgotten.  

 The Moors murders carried out by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley between July 1963 and October 1965, in and around the Greater Manchester area have, perhaps more than any other murders, passed into the popular consciousness of Britain and Ireland. The victims were five children aged between 10 and 17, at least four of whom were sexually assaulted. The murders are so named because two of the victims were discovered in graves dug on Saddleworth Moor; a third grave was discovered on the moor in 1987, over 20 years after Brady and Hindley’s trial in 1966. Read more…

Victims of Crime Initiatives

September 24, 2009 1 comment

Victims' CommissionThe Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern TD, yesterday launched two new websites aimed at making relevant information readily accessible to victims of crime. The websites are those of the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime and the Victims of Crime Office.

The Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime was established in 2005 and is an independent body, operating under the aegis of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (DJELR).  It has a wide range of functions, including the development of strategies to support victims of crime, providing financial assistance to voluntary bodies that support victims of crime, promoting awareness of the services available to victims , and carrying out research to support its general mission. Along with this, the Commission seeks to co-operate in particular with Cosc (the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence) and the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (within the DJELR). The current Chairperson of the Commission is Ray McAndrew, former Assistant Commissioner of the Gardaí, and the other members include Nora Owen, former Minster for Justice and Seán Lowry, former Head of the Probation and Welfare Service.

The Victims of Crime Office, which works closely with the Commission, was established as an executive office of the DJELR in September 2008. Its main aim is to improve the continuity and quality of services to victims of crime by both state agencies and NGOs. The Director of the Victims of Crime Office is an ex-officio member of the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime and the Office provides the secretariat to the Commission.

The DJELR also has further plans for change in the area of victims’ rights. Some of these plans are included in the Criminal Procedure Bill 2009, e.g.  clarification of the status of next-of-kin victim impact statements in homicide cases . The Bill also proposes changes to the rule on double jeopardy in certain situations, e.g. where there is evidence that previous acquittals occurred in circumstances of interference with the criminal justice process. The Minister for Justice clarified yesterday that any such changes to the double jeopardy rule would not operate retrospectively.

While much of the Criminal Procedure Bill 2009 is being touted by the Minister for Justice as victim-oriented, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties has previously suggested that many of the measures contained therein “chip away at fair trial rights”. In relation to the proposed changes to the  double jeopardy rule Mark Kelly, Director of the ICCL, noted that these “will do little or nothing to improve the position of victims or their families”. In May of this year, the ICCL proposed an alternative approach to the protection of victims’ rights entitled “A Better Deal: The Human Rights of Victims in the Criminal Justice System“. This detailed policy document emphasises the need for Ireland to comply with the European Framework Decision on the standing of victims in criminal proceedings, which was agreed in 2001. This Framework Decision requires Member States to align their legislation on criminal proceedings to guarantee a number of things to victims including amongst other things: the right to be heard in proceedings and the right to furnish evidence; access to information relevant to their interests from the outset of proceedings; and access to any necessary interpreting or communicating facilities.

The launch of the new websites of the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime and the Victims of Crime Office yesterday is more than welcome, however, it is clear that there is a lot more work to be done in guaranteeing rights to victims. There is also likely to be plenty more controversy and conversation in the future at both a domestic and an EU level about how best to protect victims’ interests within the criminal process while still ensuring the fairness of trials and respect for suspect rights.

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.