Category Archives: Special Criminal Court

The Media, Crime, & Criminal Justice in Ireland

In 2017, in the Republic of Ireland, the relationship between the media, crime, and criminal justice is fundamentally different than what was the case a half century ago. A functioning independent media operating in the public interest and a transparent criminal justice system are notionally the cornerstones of an effective democracy.

Both should have clear demarcations on authority and demonstrable respect, without exception, for civil liberties. Both should respect “a social contract that sets out the expectations, the rights, and the responsibilities of all parts of society – individuals, institutions and government.” (Reference 1), the statute book and the constitution. A society “where Government works in the interest of all” (Reference 2)

The Dark Triad

The relationship between these elements has changed in recent history as a result of the normalisation of sensationalism in the media and an exaggeration by the media of the levels of serious domestic criminal activity.

Both of these phenomena have resulted in an erosion of civil liberties and a skewed public perception of the threat level that serious crime presents domestically. As a result bills have been proposed and laws passed that deliver disproportionate criminal justice powers to the State.

To a large degree the majority of the public are unaware of the potential pitfalls of this kind of legislation and have rather been led into a position of inertia by an irresponsible media.

“Influencing” Public Opinion

Public attitude to crime is substantially informed by the consumption of print, TV, radio and digital media and as “an issue of major public interest it is therefore covered extensively in the media.” (Reference 3)

Media coverage is a major influence on the public perception of crime and the administration of criminal justice.

The media affects public attitudes to different types of crime, to certain sectors of society, to the perception of the levels of criminal activity within society, to the expectation with respect to the burden of proof thats rests with the State in criminal trails, to the checks and balances that exist within the system, to the willingness of the public to surrender civil liberties in the face of alleged threats and “in the tabloid media in particular, it dominates and dictates the news agenda.” (Reference 4)

“The relationship between media presentations and crime is dependent on characteristics of the message and the audience.” (Heath and Gilbert (1996)). Chiricos et al (2000) finds that local and national news are related to fear of crime and have a direct effect on the willingness of constituents to consider a reduction in their personal freedoms in order to allow new legislation that more “effectively” combats the perceived threat.

The “Contract” Between The Media & The Public

The poor quality and reliability of output in certain sections of the media is detrimental to the effective administration of criminal justice and rather “the media should endeavour to ensure that stories of crime accurately reflect the nature and extent of their true occurrence.” (Reference 5)

A by-product of a broken “media-crime-criminal justice” relationship has been the erosion of certain civil liberties. In particular the presumption of innocence, the rules of habeas corpus, the right to a fair trial, the fundamental right to silence and the right to trial by jury in an ordinary Court for non-terrorist offences.

There is a “growing insignificance of the presumption of innocence for accused persons such that its “tangible benefits [appear] little in evidence in our criminal justice system.” (Reference 6)

In conjunction with media scare-mongering that is disproportionate to the threat posed the fallout “has been global in scope – in particular, in the battering taken by international human rights standards and even the Geneva Conventions.” (Reference 7)

The Dublin-Limerick Effect

During the 1990’s, Dublin and Limerick became the focal point for domestic media crime reporting especially amongst the tabloids. Specialised law enforcement units evolved in response to this relatively new type of threat to state security. Due to the changes in the nature of offences being brought before the Courts there was a drive to author new legislation as a unique set of legal challenges began to appear when investigating these offences.

It also became clear that gangs and gang members were proving difficult to tackle and existing legislation made gathering evidence to support trials difficult. The Criminal Justice Act 2006, legislated for during the tenure of Michael McDowell as the Minister for Justice, created a new offence of membership of an organised crime gang, or “criminal organisation”, and made it an offence to assist the activities of an organised crime gang.

Evolving this legislation the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 provided for the use in criminal trials of material obtained during covert surveillance. The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill further defined membership of a criminal organisation and made it an offence to direct the activities of one.

There were also a host of newly created scheduled offences contained in the legislation which allowed gang members to be tried in the non-jury Special Criminal Court. In Section 8 of the Bill a declaration was made that the ordinary courts were inadequate and were not in a position to effectively administer justice as there was a pervasive threat of jury tampering and intimidation.

Despite this there was no evidence that the ordinary courts had previously failed repeatedly to justify such a sweeping alteration of the normal rules of habeas corpus, the right to silence (removed by the introduction of “inferences”), the right to trial by jury and the fundamental right of the presumption of innocence.

To support this view that the legislation was ill-conceived and introduced to reduce the workload and evidence required in securing convictions in these cases Central Criminal Court Judge Mr. Justice Paul Carney stated that when gang members were brought before a jury in his court there were no difficulties in securing convictions.

Maintaining Integrity & Accuracy

The interactions between the media and criminal justice should to be governed by a clear understanding of boundaries and acceptable authority. There should also be an attempt to maintain independence from political influence and any vested interest bias.

Restricting reporting to verifiable fact on matters of fundamental importance is paramount. Instead there has been “a surrender to an exaggerated, media-driven perception of the levels of crime or the threat posed by certain types of crime.” (Reference 8)

Mandated commentators – journalists – were historically, to a greater or lesser degree, controlled and restricted according to their professional standards and ethics. The concept of a trusted press was based on the premise that facts formed the basis of reporting.

Developing commentary and drawing conclusions from those facts was to be a task fulfilled by those who possessed subject matter expertise, experience and independence.

Rather we have experienced “hysteria in the media about crime” (Reference 9) which “has caused a moral panic and calls for extreme measures such as zero tolerance.” (Reference 9). This has led to questions as to whether “vested interests have turned a manageable problem into a crisis?” (Reference 10)

The Effect Of Poor Standards

Over time “opinion pieces”, “columnists”, “editorials”, “investigative journalism” and “news anchor monologues” became the means by which competing media outlets in an increasingly crowded market vied with each other for market share where even non-commercial bloggers now vie for the public’s eyeballs.

This is in stark contrast to what was the case previously. There has been an erosion of the boundary between what is delivered as fact and what is offered as opinion. It is often not clear which is which.

Personal opinion, political alignment, individual or organisational prejudice or vested interest factors have increasingly influenced media output and the production of opinion pieces, as fact, is de rigueur.

The combination of these phenomenon has produced an often misinformed public view of crime and criminality and by extension criminal justice.

There have been several seismic shifts that have evolved the relationship between the media, crime, and criminal justice. The catalysts for these shifts are myriad and include complex changes in social norms, a more diverse society as an outcome of membership of the EU and in more recent times immigration, advancements in technology, a lowering of the bar with respect to fact-checking and independence and a number of external influencers that previously did not exercise control – whether direct of indirect – on the operations of sovereign states in Europe such as The European Court of Human Rights and other external bodies which exercise extra-national legislative influence.

The role of the media in society has naturally evolved over the last century. A free and independent media in a democracy was to be catalyst for positive change.

A relatively free press and a notionally independent judiciary emerged in the first quarter of the 20th century. Media became a liberal and in part, socially crusading, part of society during the third quarter of the 20th century.

With the emergence and evolution of digital media in the latter part of the 20th century until the present – the media – became every person who possessed a keyboard and with that journalistic integrity became diluted. So too did media freedom. Media is influenced by vested interests and by extension so too are the public.

The Loss of Self-Imposed Governance

The relationship between the media and court officials, members of the judiciary, law enforcement, law makers or politicians was at one point to a greater or lesser degree governed by what was once self-imposed governance.

Acceptable practice, and adherence to a set professional standards were respected. Sometimes as a result of a moral compass and sometimes as a result of the threat of potential sanction.

By extension the media ability to influence public opinion on social phenomena, such as crime, without necessarily adhering to legislation or citizens rights as enshrined in statute and the constitution has been blurred.

Data Protection, Confidentiality & Due Process

Chinese Walls, acting as an insurmountable barrier to the passage of confidential information, between the media and criminal justice has all but ceased to exist.

The age of the “leak” which is normally a self serving exercise and the “whistleblower” which is normally in the public interest defines to a great extent the current relationship between the media and criminal justice and the reporting and perception of crime.

The recent alleged extreme rise in violent crime nationally and gun violence between organised criminal gangs has been used by the political parties, An Garda Siochana and lobby groups to ridicule legitimate opposition to the illegal practises of the non-jury Special Criminal Court apparatus in particular.

The Media, Like An Garda Siochana, Are Held To Increasingly Low Standards

I reference a recent article in the Independent with the title “ Highly Sophisticated Eastern European Thieves Making A Fortune In Burglaries Targeting Rural Ireland” (Reference 11).

This article is a prime example of poor journalistic standards facilitating the shoddy application of criminal justice and the poor performance of An Garda Siochana.

It offers transparent sensationalism and embellished fact to facilitate the creation of an impression in the public’s mind. The impression that the article creates is an impression that is simply not true and it is published by what is considered to be one of the main news outlets in the Republic of Ireland.

It is a prime example of the phenomenon and a poster-boy for quantity not quality as the driver for news production in 21st Century Ireland.

The article refers to “the international professional burglary gang which has carried out robberies with “military precision” in Munster”. On examination of this statement it appears that the only evidence of organisation and precision was a time limit the burglars generally imposed upon themselves during their robberies which was deduced from the observation that they looked at “their watches at regular intervals”.

The author then describes how the gang weaponised their vehicles by “transforming “cheap” cars into battering rams, capable of smashing through the premises.”. In fact this impressive sounding planning and preparation actually involved the removal of a seat and its replacement with some concrete blocks.

When the man who was convicted of the crimes was being arrested by armed members of An Garda Siochana the journalist states that “a man “accompanying” him was shot in the face”.

The use of quotes around the word “accompanying” gave this reader the impression that the journalist was insinuating that while the man was never arrested or charged with a crime that he was somehow complicit.

The headline of this article is calculated to draw the attention of the reader and suggests that large amounts of burglaries had been carried out and that vast amounts of monies had been generated by the criminals from the proceeds of their crimes.

The far less sensational reality is that over a two year period during three documented robberies that €150,000 of goods were stolen and not a single member of the public was physically harmed.

Reference Index

1 “Ireland’s Social Contract Is Broken And An Alternative Is Now Required: Social Justice Ireland”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/irelands-social-contract-is-broken-and-an-alternative-is- now-required-social-justice-ireland-786142.html N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

2 “Ireland’s Social Contract Is Broken And An Alternative Is Now Required: Social Justice Ireland”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/irelands-social-contract-is-broken-and-an-alternative-is- now-required-social-justice-ireland-786142.html N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

3 Crime In Ireland (2016) “Crime In Ireland”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.ceifin.com/resources/paper/PaulReynolds_CrimeCorrespondentRTE.pdf. N.p., 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

4 Crime In Ireland (2016) “Crime In Ireland”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.ceifin.com/resources/paper/PaulReynolds_CrimeCorrespondentRTE.pdf. N.p., 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

5 “Fear of Crime in Ireland and its Impact on Quality of Life”. http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Fear%20of%20Crime %20in%20Ireland.pdf/Files/Fear%20of%20Crime%20in%20Ireland.pdf. N.p., 2016. Web 27 Mar. 2017.

6 Hamilton, Dr. C. “The Presumption Of Innocence In Irish Criminal Law: Recent Trends And Possible Explanations”. http://eprints.maynoothuniversity.ie/5997/1/CH-Presumption-Innocence.pdf. N.p., 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

7 McLintock, Michael. “Erosion Of Human Rights Sets Bad Example”. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/erosion-of- human-rights-sets-bad-example-1.1095225 The Irish Times. N.p., 2002. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

8 Walsh, Professor Dermot. “The Criminal Justice Act, 2006: A Crushing Defeat For Due Process Values?”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.jsijournal.ie/html/Volume%207/2007%5B1%5D_Walsh_Due%20Process%20Values.pdf Judicial Studies Institute Journal. N.p., 2007. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.

9 O’Connell, Dr. Mick. “Crime And Media Hysteria: Tone Down The Headlines | Politico”. [online] Retrieved from: http://politico.ie/archive/crime-and-media-hysteria-tone-down-headlines N.p., 1998. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

10 Kerrigan, Gene & Shaw, Helen. “Crime Hysteria”. Magill 1985: 7-12. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

11 Raleigh, David. “‘Highly Sophisticated’ Eastern European Thieves Making A Fortune In Burglaries Targeting Rural Ireland – Independent.Ie”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/highly-sophisticated- eastern-european-thieves-making-a-fortune-in-burglaries-targeting-rural-ireland-35605436.html. Independent.ie., 2017. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

Bibliography

A. Ashworth, “Four Threats to the Presumption of Innocence” (2006) 10 E. & P. 241-279

An Garda Síochana (2015). An Garda Síochana Annual Report . [report] Ireland: An Garda Síochana

C. Hamilton, Whittling the Golden Thread: The Presumption of Innocence in Irish Criminal Law (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2007)

Crime In Ireland (2016) “Crime In Ireland”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.ceifin.com/resources/paper/PaulReynolds_CrimeCorrespondentRTE.pdf. N.p., 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Department of Justice & Equality. “Publication Of Commission Of Investigation (Certain Matters Relative To The Cavan/Monaghan Division Of An Garda Síochána) Final Report – The Department Of Justice And Equality”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PR16000100. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.

Department of Justice, Equality & Law Reform. “Fear of Crime in Ireland and its Impact on Quality of Life”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Fear%20of%20Crime%20in%20Ireland.pdf/Files/Fear%20of%20Crime %20in%20Ireland.pdf. N.p., 2016. Web 27 Mar. 2017.

Dowler, Kenneth. “Media Consumption And Public Attitudes Toward Crime And Justice- JCJPC,Volume 10, Issue 2”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.albany.edu/scj/jcjpc/vol10is2/dowler.html. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Hamilton, Dr. C. “The Presumption Of Innocence In Irish Criminal Law: Recent Trends And Possible Explanations”. http://eprints.maynoothuniversity.ie/5997/1/CH-Presumption-Innocence.pdf. N.p., 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

H. Kennedy, Just Law: The Changing Face of Justice and Why it Matters to Us All (London: Chatto and Windus, 2004).

Kerrigan, Gene & Shaw, Helen. “Crime Hysteria”. Magill 1985: 7-12. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

M. O’Halloran, “Ahern rejects claim that Asbo system is a ‘failure’” Irish Times (26 February 2009)

McLintock, Michael (2002). “Erosion Of Human Rights Sets Bad Example”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/erosion-of-human-rights-sets-bad-example-1.1095225 The Irish Times. N.p., 2002. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

O’Connell, Dr. Mick. “Crime And Media Hysteria: Tone Down The Headlines | Politico”. [online] Retrieved from: http://politico.ie/archive/crime-and-media-hysteria-tone-down-headlines N.p., 1998. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

Raleigh, David. “‘Highly Sophisticated’ Eastern European Thieves Making A Fortune In Burglaries Targeting Rural Ireland – Independent.Ie”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/highly-sophisticated- eastern-european-thieves-making-a-fortune-in-burglaries-targeting-rural-ireland-35605436.html. Independent.ie., 2017. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

Statute Book, Irish. “Criminal Justice Act 2006”. Irishstatutebook.ie. Office of the Attorney General, 2006. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2006/act/26/enacted/en/print. 4 Apr. 2017.

Statute Book, Irish. “The Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009”. Irishstatutebook.ie. Office of the Attorney General, 2009. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2009/act/32/enacted/en/html. 4 Apr. 2017.

Various, “Ireland’s Social Contract Is Broken And An Alternative Is Now Required: Social Justice Ireland”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/irelands-social-contract-is-broken-and-an- alternative-is-now-required-social-justice-ireland-786142.html N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Walsh, Professor Dermot. “The Criminal Justice Act, 2006: A Crushing Defeat For Due Process Values?”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.jsijournal.ie/html/Volume%207/2007%5B1%5D_Walsh_Due%20Process%20Values.pdf Judicial Studies Institute Journal. N.p., 2007. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.

 

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