Minority report calling for abolition of Special Criminal Court to be published

One-third of Government-appointed review group believe the non-jury court is no longer justified

A review of the Special Criminal Court, due to be published by Government shortly, will include a minority report calling for its abolition.

The Government-appointed independent review group submitted two reports, representing a split among members over the future of the non-jury court.

The Irish Times understands four members of the group recommended the court be retained but with some changes, while two members recommended its abolition based on the view that it is no longer justified due to the declining threat from subversive groups.

Both reports are set to be published by Government after being brought to Cabinet. This is expected to happen before the Dáil’s annual vote on June 30th to renew the Offences Against the State Acts which underpins the court.


The majority report is expected to be used by the Government to justify the retention of the court, which has long been criticised by various civil rights bodies.

The disagreement among the review group over the court’s future mirrors the outcome of the last review of the court in 2002. On that occasion a minority of the group, including the chair Mr Justice Anthony Hederman, called for the court and aspects of the Offences Against the State Acts to be scrapped.

The most recent review was established by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee in February 2021 and led by Mr Justice Michael Peart.

The group held about 40 meetings, including meetings with State agencies and human rights bodies.

The Government has repeatedly stated it views the court as essential to deal with organised crime and subversives, a position it reiterated following the acquittal of Gerard Hutch by the court in April.

The three-judge court found Mr Hutch not guilty of taking part in the murder of David Byrne in the 2016 Regency Hotel attack after it rejected the evidence of Jonathan Dowdall, who turned State’s witness after facilitating the attack.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), the State’s rights watchdog, is in favour of abolishing the court and repealing the Offences Against the State Acts. This is “the only viable solution to vindicate the rights of an accused to a fair trial”, it said in its submission to the group.

The United Nations and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties have also expressed concerns about the court.

In recent years, the court has been increasingly used to prosecute gangland crime, with cases involving subversives becoming a rarity.

The review was established on foot of a recommendation by the Commission on the Future of Policing in 2018. The Green Party, a junior Coalition partner, had also called for a review.

The main Opposition party, Sinn Féin, has a long-standing policy position calling for the abolition of the court. However, in recent years, it has nuanced this stance, accepting there may be a need for a non-jury court to deal with “gangland” type trials.

When launching the review, Ms McEntee said the Act had “served the State well in tackling subversives and organised crime gangs and have long been a necessary part of the State’s arsenal in this regard”.

She added: “However, it is important to occasionally review the operation of our important legislation.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times