herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

Dozens of criminal cases could be affected by drugs loopholes, admits Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has admitted that “dozens” of criminal cases could be affected by the loophole in the country’s drug laws.

Speaking after the Court of Appeal struck out defective anti-drug legislation this morning, Mr Varadkar said that he has been advised that the number of cases involved is “relatively small”.

Independent.ie has learned that convictions already handed out are not open to being overturned, and the impact the court’s decision is limited to cases “which are currently in process.”

Mr Varadkar said that on foot of the judgement, possession of the 70 types of drugs is not illegal, but the “sale, supply, import and export” of such substances remain against the law.

He said that the passage of the bill through the Dail tonight and the Seanad tomorrow, will close the loophole that has been opened up in the law.

Mr Varadkar, a qualified doctor, urged people tempted to take such drugs tonight to consider the harmful impact they may have.

He said that once it was the case was heading for the Court of Appeal, he and his officials began drafting the emergency legislation which he said was approved by Cabinet in January.

Earlier today, it was revealed that the Government is  being forced to rush through emergency legislation in the Dail tonight after the Court of Appeal has struck down a law banning so-called legal highs.

A Government regulation declaring illegal a psychoactive substance sold lawfully in “Head Shops” until 2011 was found to be unconstitutional.

In what the Court of Appeal said was a “constitutional issue of far-reach importance”, the three-judge court unanimously said a regulation making the possession of methylethcathinone illegal was invalid.

The court said Section 2(2) of the 1977 Misuse of Drugs Act, under which the regulation was brought in, was unconstitutional because it purports to vest in the Government with law making powers which are in the exclusive authority of the Oireachtas. The State indicated today it may seek to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court on a point of exceptional public importance.

However, on foot of the Court’s decision, the Dail agenda for today has been amended on foot of the judgement and will sit until 11.30pm this evening.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar is to bring the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill 2015 to the Dail this evening for a three hour debate. All stages of the bill are to be discussed before a vote is taken.

The bill will then go the Seanad tomorrow morning before being sent to President Michael D Higgins for his signature.

This morning’s case concerned a prosecution of a man for possession of methylethcathinone which was among a number of substances put on the controlled drugs list in 2010.

Stanislav Bederev, who is denying criminal charges of having the substance for supply in 2012, brought a High Court challenge seeking to stop his trial claiming the new regulations were unconstitutional.

Lawyers for Lithuanian-born Mr Bederev argued it was not lawful to put this substance on the controlled drug list because there are no principles and policies guiding the introduction of such rules.

In particular, it was argued by his counsel Sunniva McDonagh, the decision to ban a particular drug was a matter to be considered by the Oireachtas before the relevant government minister could formally initiate the ban.

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