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Lugh Ildánach

26 County Supreme Court rules that Warrants Issued by Gardaí are not independent, well... d'uh!

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THE prosecution of dozens of suspected killers, dissidents, tiger kidnappers and drug dealers is in doubt following a Supreme Court ruling that threw out a law allowing senior gardai to issue search warrants to other gardai.


The Irish Independent has learnt that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has asked its trial lawyers to review serious crime files over fears that a number of major criminal trials will collapse because evidence obtained against suspects was in breach of their constitutional rights.


The DPP has asked prosecutors to check if any forthcoming trials will be affected by the recent Supreme Court ruling.

Earlier this week, a Dublin man charged with firearms offences walked free from court after lawyers representing the DPP said the office was not proceeding with the charges against him.


No reason was given in court for the DPP's decision not to prosecute the man.


But it is understood that the garda "self-service" search warrant struck down by the Supreme Court was part of the prosecution evidence against him.


In the vast majority of criminal investigations, search warrants are issued by District Court judges, who are independent and impartial for the purposes of issuing warrants to search suspects' homes and businesses.


But senior gardai are allowed, under a small number of laws, to sanction the issue of "self-service" warrants to investigating gardai.


These are usually issued in urgent cases where gardai suspect that an offence has been committed and that there may be evidence to be found at the place of search.




Late last month, the Supreme Court ruled that a key section of the Offences Against the State Act permitting one form of self-service warrant was unconstitutional.


This is because it permitted the issuing of a search warrant by a person -- in that case a garda superintendent leading an investigation -- who was not independent.


Although a core part of the State's anti-terrorism legislation, the 'Section 29 Warrant' in fact applied to a whole range of scheduled offences including murder, firearms offences, aggravated kidnapping and robbery.


It also affects a huge number of cases involving the alleged use of guns.


The ruling is likely to have a major impact in cases tried at the Special Criminal Court, which deals primarily with dissident republican and firearms trials as well as organised crime cases.


But several other prosecutions have been affected by the ruling at the Central and Circuit Criminal Courts. They include a murder trial and a major aggravated robbery trial.


Section 29 was routinely used by gardai to search the homes of suspects, who may now argue that any arrests or evid- ences obtained on foot of such a search is tainted.


Searches of properties other than the principal family home are not expected to be affected by the ruling.


- Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

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