This module is a resource for lecturers

Research and independent study questions

a) Some countries have established special courts for trying offenders, particularly those charged with organized crime and terrorism offences. In Ireland, a Special Criminal Court (SCC) was established to try individuals charged with terrorism and serious organized crime and has been functional since 2009. This court is granted with wide-ranging powers and distinguishes itself from ordinary courts with non-jury trials. As in any other common law jurisdictions, an important aspect of criminal proceedings for serious offences in Ireland has always been the use of jury trial. The Special Criminal Court is an exception to this principle and has been heavily criticized by human rights advocates. Discuss the opportunities and risks of special courts in organized crime cases.

b) Is there a strategy for the prosecution service on countering transnational organized crime in your country? Are there special prosecutors for organized crime cases in your country?

c) Conduct an independent research on the laws of two countries of your choice to provide an answer to the following question: can witnesses be forced to a) testify and b) answer a question that would incriminate them? If a witness under oath in court gives evidence that reveals they have committed a previously unknown crime or offence, are they automatically charged or is there another process that may or may not be followed before they are charged?

d) Can you think of a situation in which a witness requests immunity, but that request is denied? What would be valid reasons for such a denial?

e) Can witnesses be forced to participate in witness protection programmes? Why?

f) Conduct an independent research on the existing legislation in your country and study the regulations related to witness testimonies. As witnesses usually testify to what they experienced first-hand, may witnesses testify about something they were told? Is there a recommended formula for evaluating the truthfulness and accuracy of another person's statements or testimony?

g) During the criminal trial against Cosa Nostra that took place in Palermo, Italy, between 1986 and 1992, informants Tommaso Buscetta and Salvatore Contorno were protected by the FBI. What were the reasons for a foreign agency to provide witness protection to the Italian authorities? Conduct an independent study of the existing forms of international cooperation between countries on witness protection, including relocation. What does the Organized Crime Convention stipulate about such cooperation?

h) Conduct independent research on the admissibility of remote witness testimonies via videoconferencing (remote appearance technology) in courts in your country. What are the advantages and disadvantages of remote witness testimonies?

i) Does plea bargaining mean higher sentences for defendants who go to trial? Outline the human rights considerations.

j) Plea bargaining is controversial. Critics say it allows dangerous criminals to get off with light sentences. Others argue that the government should be forced to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Write an essay in which you consider the plea-bargaining process from the perspective of prosecutor, defendant, judge, and victim/victim's family. Elaborate on the pros and cons of plea bargaining from the perspective of each of these parties. Present specific reasons and suggest some examples based on real-life legal cases.