The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Dermot Ahern, T.D., today published important new legislation to target organised crime. Among the key provisions being proposed in the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 are:
(i) Organised crime offences will be scheduled offences for the purpose of the Offences Against the State Act so that they will be tried in the Special Criminal Court unless the DPP directs otherwise.
(ii) A new offence of directing or controlling a criminal organisation, which will carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
(iii) An amended offence relating to participation or involvement in organised crime will be created with a penalty of up to 15 years imprisonment;
(iv) Expert Garda opinion evidence on the existence and operations of criminal gangs will be admissible in evidence.
(v) These offences will be scheduled as "serious offences" within the meaning of the Bail Act 1997, thereby providing for circumstances where bail may be refused by the courts.
(vi) these offences will also be scheduled under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2007. This has the effect of applying Section 25 (providing for higher sentences for a repeat offence) and Section 26 (providing for post-release supervision) of that Act.
(vii) Organised crime offences will in general attract higher sentences than the same offences committed by individuals, although the maximum permissible sentence will not be exceeded.
(viii) In regard to all organised crime offences the court will be enabled to draw inferences from failure to answer questions, failure to account for movements, actions, activities or associations etc. Provisions of this nature are already contained in the Criminal Justice Act 2007 but will need to be extended to the new offences.
(ix) Procedures relating to the extension of time for questioning are to be simplified to reduce the amount of Garda resources diverted away from investigations and to ensure that the hearings cannot be used by detainees to obtain information that might prejudice the Garda investigation;
(x) The penalty for intimidation of a witness or juror will be increased from 10 years to 15 years imprisonment.
(xi) The Gardaí will be given extended powers to detain organised crime suspects for questioning for up to 7 days.
Minister Ahern said: "This is groundbreaking legislation we are publishing today. It is something we do not do lightly but we have a duty to protect our citizens and ensure the rule of law.
We cannot tolerate a situation where citizens live in fear of crime gangs. This new legislation sends out a clear message to those involved in criminal gangs that we are taking you head on.
These so-called crime lords have shown a blatant disregard for human life and an arrogance that they in some way believe they can operate outside the criminal justice system because of intimidation and threats. This is something we can not and will not tolerate. This new legislation provides the State with the measures to put these criminals behind bars and help rid law abiding communities of the scourge of organised crime gangs."
The Bill is available on the Oireachtas website www.oireachtas.ie.
30 June 2009