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Sunday 31 August 2014

Sobering law reform

Published 01/05/2014 | 02:30

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Intoxicated suspects are being released from custody because gardai do not have the powers to detain them until they are sober.

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Now gardai want Justice Minister Alan Shatter to change the law and provide greater protection for prisoners who could put their own safety at risk when allowed back on to the streets. The conference heard of a recent release from garda custody which resulted in tragedy because the 18-year-old suspect had nobody available to meet her when she was set free.

Cork city central executive member, Michael Corcoran, said there were provisions under the road traffic legislation to cover the detention of suspects for drink-driving offences until they were sober. But he pointed out that most of the intoxicated prisoners held in stations were arrested for public order offences.

He said because of the gap in the public order laws, suspects were sometimes set free on to the streets with nobody to guarantee their safety.

WRITTEN RULE OUTDATED

Gardai are still writing down interviews with suspects in longhand notes even though they are being recorded electronically at the same time.

Now they want to stop the practice through a change in the judges' rules which determine all notes must be written.

Only written notes can be used in evidence and included in garda files to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The electronic tape comes into play if there is an issue over the notes and the recording can then be introduced at the request of the defence lawyers.

The conference heard yesterday that it was an antiquated system despite the use of smart policing in the introduction of electronic taping. Special Detective Unit central executive member Ciaran O'Neill pointed out that the legislation was already in place in respect of the electronic recording of interviews in garda stations. But the current rules regarding cautions given to suspects before being interviewed required everything being written down. He said the rules had been changed in the UK about a decade ago but had not yet been changed here.

The conference backed a motion calling on Mr Shatter to bring in legislation to amend the legal caution and remove the need for interview evidence to be taken down when it was being electronically recorded.

Irish Independent

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