Don't forget the public's civil rights

The recent International Bar Association conference on cross-border crime and criminal organisations painted a grim picture of the dangers organised crime poses to societies across the globe.

From the triads of South East Asia to the Mafia and newly established organised crime groups in Eastern Europe, from the escalation of financial crimes such as credit card fraud and bank note fraud to the drugs barons across the world, the problem is testing governments worldwide.

The difficulty of dealing with such organisations is obvious and international co-operation between states is one of the main ways of tackling the fight against crime. There is still a lot of work to be done in this area, as Hans Jurgen Bartsch, head of the Division of Crime Problems at the Council of Europe, told delegates at the conference. Lack of unity among member states was a threat to the battle against cross-border crime, he said.

Amid all the horror stories, it is easy to forget the danger to civil liberties posed by governments as they seek to deal with the threat. This was an issue brought up when Irish state prosecutor Barry Galvin said both he and Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions, Eamonn Barnes, believed the right to silence should be limited in the interests of dealing with organised crime.

As a result Terence MacCarthy, executive director of Chicago's federal defender programme and Monty Raphael, of Peters & Peters, asked, what is the price of crime control? Should civil liberties be sacrificed in its name?

It is too easy to justify cutting back individual liberties for this reason. Civil rights protect the individual against the state and once removed they are never restored. Members of society deserve full civil rights, criminals included.

The authorities have the resources to do their job. Perhaps they should make better use of them instead of taking the easy options.