The Courts and justice: A law unto themselves?

June 5, 2012 in 2006

False rape allegations, the ‘Shell To Sea’ campaign in Mayo and state land acquisition are among some of the topics discussed in the latest edition of the Irish Jesuit quarterly Studies published this December 2006.

The lead article by Irish Times columnist Breda O Brien is an investigation into the miscarriage of justice against Nora Wall and Paul Mc Cabe. He was convicted of the rape of a child with Nora Wall as accomplice.The convictions were subsequently squashed and they were told to consider themselves innocent. Ms O Brien examines how these cases were conducted and raises many serious questions about the ‘justice’ afforded to Paul Mc Cabe .

For example, she says, it is extraordinary that no notes were kept of interviews with Mc Cabe in the Garda station “in clear breach  of the Criminal  Justice (Treatment of Persons in Custody in Garda Stations) Regulations, 1987.”She also highlights the issue of justice and law being subject to public opinion and perception, and says it’s an unacceptable way for a supposedly democratic country to behave.

In a hard-hitting Editorial, Fergus O’Donoghue SJ raises concerns about a whole range of injustices regularly perpetrated in the name of interest groups and greed.

He asks about the “making of law to suit a powerful and influential minority rather than society as a whole”, and fears we are in danger of alienating a whole generation of people bewildered and dispossessed by a partial legal system that is inaccessible and favours only the rich.  Some of these points are explored in detail by barrister and Mercy Sister, Michele O’ Kelly in her article ‘The Rule of Law and Advocacy in Civil Society’, where she outlines the potential for the misuse of power by advocacy groups.
 A timely article by T.P. O’Mahony in a week which sees the publishing of proposals for a Press Council, addresses the issue of the Press and privacy. The contemporary fascination with “celebrity culture” highlights the acute tension between two basic rights, the freedom of expression and protection of reputation. Both of these rights are widely acknowledged, but the task of balancing them is becoming increasingly complex.

According to the journalist, citizens need to know that society will not stand idly by when reputation and privacy are being threatened or undermined. At the same time, society, supposedly democratic, has a vested interest in safeguarding freedom of expression. The acid test of what tolerance means arises when these rights come into conflict.

In 2002, an amendment to the Gas Act allowed commercial industries to purchase private lands through the state Compulsory Acquisition Order (CPA). The CPA was issued to acquire land on the planned route of the gas pipe in spite of the objections of the landowners and the most vocal, the Rossport Five, were eventually to spend 94 days in prison in 2005 and today are still engaged in active protests.

They claim that the State was using its law-making apparatus to favour the mega-industrial interest at the expense of the local community. The perceived provocations fed into long-buried resentment towards any possible violation of local environment and habitat. The really astounding aftermath of the Mayo protest, however, according to Liam Leonard in his article on morality and the ‘Shell to Sea’ campaign was the mobilisation of ever-widening circles of support and the broadening of the ethical framework in which the dispute came to be seen.