Thursday 30 March 2017

GSOC can probe the alleged inadequacy of a garda investigation of a fatal accident involving a squad car ten years ago

GSOC
GSOC

Tim Healy

THE Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) can go ahead with its probe into the alleged inadequacy of a garda investigation of a fatal accident involving a squad car ten years ago.

The Supreme Court overturned a High Court prohibition on GSOC's inquiry into Sergeant Andrew Keegan's investigation into the accident on May 22, 2005, when a squad car went out of control and struck 74-year-old grandmother Mary Seavers who was waiting for a bus stop on the Clonskeagh Road in Dublin.

Mr Justice Donal O'Donnell, giving the five-judge court's unanimous decision, said it may be a matter of severe criticism of GSOC that it does not act in an efficient or effective way, but this would not undermine the legality of an investigation.

He did not think it was intended the validity of GSOC's actions could be reviewed by the court against "such ephemeral standards as effectiveness and efficiency" and that further inquiry be therefore stopped.

The appeal to the Supreme Court was brought by GSOC arising out of a High Court decision quashing the continued GSOC inquiry into investigation by Sgt Keegan, of Donnybrook Garda Station, of the Seavers accident.

Following the sergeant's investigation, the DPP decided there should be no prosecution.

Two years later, after new witnesses came forward, the DPP considered the case again and again decided there should not be a prosecution.

After that, in November 2007, Mrs Seavers' son David made a complaint to GSOC saying the original investigation was inadequate including because it involved colleagues from the same station as the garda driver in the collisiion and an alleged lack of oversight in the investigation.

GSOC initially said the complaint was inadmissible because it was not brought within six months after the incident, as required by law.

Then, on July 30, 2008, GSOC decided an investigation was desireable in the public in accordance with a provision of the Garda Siochana Act 2005 (setting up GSOC).   That provision (Section 102.4) gives GSOC the power to initiate an inquiry at its own behest, independent of any complaint.

Mr Justice O'Donnell said in deciding an investigation was required, GSOC "made no secret" of the fact that it did not because of information in the complaint of Mr Seavers which is had already found was inadmissible.

The judge said GSOC also wrote to Sgt Keegan's lawyers, following newspaper coverage of the new investigation decision, saying it was investigating under its own power.

In the light of what is now known, Mr Justice O'Donnell said this was a surprising response and was "certainly misleading".

The judge said however the 2005 Act cannot be interpreted as imposing a general limitation on an investigation if not initiated within six months. 

The Act should be interpreted as to not render the subject matter of an inadmissible complaint immune from further complaint.   It rather brings an end to that complaint but it does not preclude the subject matter from becoming a matter of investigation under the power conferred on GSOC by Section 102.4 of the Act, he said.

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