The history and development of the special criminal court 1922-2005' (Four Courts Press, 2007) Fergal Francis Davis

AuthorRonan Keane
PositionChief Justice of Ireland 2000-2004
Judicial Studies Institute Journal [2009:1
(Four Courts Press, 2007)
Fergal Francis Davis
It is a melancholy reflection that, during the period of
almost ninety years since the foundation of the State,
the institution of the “special court” has been with us almost
without interruption. As this exhaustive and thoughtful survey
demonstrates, it has been present in a number of different forms,
which have, however, one major feature in common:
the assignment of at least some criminal trials of serious offences
to tribunals sitting without a jury. Irrespective of one’s views on
the merits of jury trials in criminal cases, the fact that successive
governments and legislatures have considered it necessary to
abrogate the right to them over so lengthy a period is, of itself,
somewhat depressing. It can, of course, be said that the same
period was dominated by the Civil War and its aftermath, the
huge security problems of the Second World War, the “troubles”
in Northern Ireland and, more recently, the growth of organised
crime. That helps to explain the almost continuous recourse by
successive executives to “special courts”, but is hardly of great
Given that the distinguishing feature of these tribunals is
the absence of the jury, it is understandable that Dr Davis at the
outset should consider the arguments for and against the central
role played by the jury in the Anglo-American criminal justice
system. He is not fully persuaded by the arguments of those who,
like de Tocqueville, see it as a valuable democratic process.
Davis comments that the primary role of the jury is not to involve
the public or to educate the citizenry: “it is to deliver justice”.
In considering whether it is more likely to achieve that objective
Chief Justice of Ireland 2000-2004.

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