Special Criminal Court (Ireland)

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The Special Criminal Court ( Irish : An Chúirt Choiriúil Speisialta ) is a criminal court without jury in the Republic of Ireland in the cases of terrorism or organized crime to be negotiated.

Article 38 of the Irish Constitution empowers the Dáil (House of Commons) to set up so-called “ special courts ” with far-reaching powers when the ordinary courts are insufficient to enforce the safeguarding of jurisdiction. The Special Criminal Court was first established under the Offences Against the State Act in 1939 to prevent the then IRA from undermining Irish neutrality during World War II . The current jurisdiction under this name has existed since 1972, shortly after the Northern Ireland conflict began.


The court consists of three judges appointed by the government. One judge is from the ranks of ordinary court judges (usually the High Court ), one from the Circuit Court, and the third from the District Courts . Court judgments are made by the three judges without a jury by majority decision. Appeals can be heard at the Court of Criminal Appeal .

In 2004 Justice Secretary Michael McDowell announced a plan for another Special Criminal Court to speed up the process.

The court will investigate violations under the following Irish laws:

  • Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875
  • Explosive Substances Act 1883
  • Offenses against the State Act 1939
  • Firearms Act 1925 to 1990
  • Criminal Damage Act 1991

Infringements under these laws are known as “scheduled offenses” and range from possession of illegal weapons to importing inciting media to property damage. However, the court can also examine non- scheduled offenses if the head of the prosecution can make credible that the normal courts could not act adequately in this case.

Although the court was originally set up to try terrorism-related cases, since the IRA announced a ceasefire in the 1990s, there has been an increasing number of judgments of organized crime. For example, the case of the journalist Veronica Guerin , who was murdered by a drug gang, was heard here.


The Special Criminal Court has come under fire from Irish civil rights initiatives, Amnesty International and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights . Among the points of criticism are the lack of a jury and the negotiation of more and more “normal” cases. Critics also claim that the court is superfluous as there is no longer a direct terrorist threat to Ireland.

Known cases

The most famous case of this court was that of Nicky Kelly, who was convicted along with two other men in 1978 for the Sallins Train Robbery (robbery of a train). All three sentences were later overturned after it was discovered that the suspects had been ill-treated in police custody.

In 2003 Michael McKevitt was convicted of the Real IRA leader , and in 2001 Colm Murphy of Dundalk was convicted of a planned bomb attack. In January 2005 the verdict was revoked and a new trial was rescheduled in the Court of Criminal Appeal when it was found that two police officers made false statements and previous convictions of Colm Murphy were incorporated into the verdict of the three judges.

See also