Gardai paid €17m in overtime for cases that don't make court
THE Government is spending €17m a year in overtime payments to gardai to attend criminal cases in the courts that do not get heard.
The enormous sum has been branded a "huge waste" by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) as it represents almost a quarter of the overall garda overtime bill for last year.
James Hamilton, the DPP, says the spend on garda overtime where cases don't proceed in court when they are meant to is more than his office spends on barristers who prosecute on behalf of the State each year.
The massive bill doesn't include garda overtime to attend cases that do proceed.
Cases don't proceed for a variety of reasons, including failure on some of the parties involved to turn up, a lack of completed paperwork, an adjournment or because there is no time to hear the specific case.
Last month, Justice Minister Alan Shatter revealed that the provisional bill for garda overtime last year was €76.5m.
This was the lowest for several years and a substantial decline from the €135.4m garda overtime bill peak in 2007.
Mr Hamilton, speaking on Saturday at the Bar of Ireland Conference in Galway, said there was "huge waste" in the legal system, with large savings to be made in the management of criminal law cases.
"We don't really have joined-up thinking in the Irish public service," he said.
"One of the stark facts, I think, is that at the moment the annual bill for garda overtime attending court in cases that don't actually get on or get heard is about €17m a year, which is rather more than we pay for counsels' fees," Mr Hamilton told the conference, which was attended by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, High Court president Nicholas Kearns and Attorney General Maire Whelan.
"I am absolutely convinced that if we sat down with the Bar Council and with the Courts Service and put forward proposals to manage cases better than they are done, then we could do a great deal to save that."
Almost €15m was spent last year by the DPP on barristers' fees, which includes VAT. This follows a succession of cuts that have seen criminal lawyers' fees reduced by more than 22pc to 2002 levels.
Mr Hamilton encouraged the legal profession to find alternative ways to save money.
"If we don't find ways to improve the criminal justice system, of trying to make economies and save money, then we are going to get the Government coming back to us again with the old reliables: cut the barristers' fees, cut the fees of my own staff," he warned.
A senior judge also told delegates at the conference that judges were unable to hear some cases because of a shortage of court registrars, caused by the public sector recruitment ban.
"There are now less registrars than there are judges," said High Court judge Frank Clarke.
"Everybody will make its own case for special treatment, but perhaps we are now reaching the stage where there does have to be consideration of just how (the recruitment embargo) is impacting.
"It does seem silly that you have judges who are able and willing to sit and hear cases, litigants who want them (heard) and the thing that is not allowing them to get on is not the availability of judges but the non-availability of backroom staff," he added.