Whistleblowers get protection in crackdown on white-collar crime
BLANKET legal protection for whistleblowers who report corruption is to be introduced within weeks as part of a major overhaul of laws covering white-collar crime.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern is to seek cabinet approval for plans to update and consolidate existing anti-corruption laws into a single piece of legislation to be introduced before the year end.
But first, blanket protection for whistleblowers who report suspected corruption will be introduced and is expected to be brought into operation in the summer.
The minister's proposals are expected to take account of the complex laws being encountered by the Garda Fraud Bureau as its officers press ahead with their inquiries into alleged financial irregularities at Anglo Irish Bank.
Mr Ahern announced his planned overhaul last night against a background of public demands for criminal prosecutions to be brought against bankers allegedly involved in wrongdoing during the Celtic Tiger era.
The minister said the reforms would mean a rigorous focus on white-collar crime -- "detecting it, deterring it and bringing to justice those who perpetrate it".
He told the annual dinner of the Law Society in Dublin that the experience gained by gardai in current and past investigations into white-collar crime meant they were well placed to put forward proposals that would help bring offenders to justice expeditiously.
Key to the reforms will be the recommendations from Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy, who was the first chief of the Criminal Assets Bureau and is a former head of the Garda Fraud Bureau.
Mr Ahern said he also intended to ask the DPP James Hamilton to provide his detailed views on reform in this area. Last weekend, Mr Hamilton suggested a number of controversial changes, including the setting up of non-jury courts to deal with complicated financial crimes.
He said the introduction of special juries, comprised of judges or specialists, "needs to be looked at" because the public could not always deal with complex cases.
The minister stressed last night that he intended to move quickly on the whistleblower protection and said it would apply to all offences covered by the anti-corruption legislation, which dates back to 1889. "It will provide protection to any person, in any sector, reporting suspicions of corruption in good faith", Mr Ahern added.
He took the view that the number and variety of laws dealing with corruption on the statute book was unsatisfactory and understandably confusing for many people.
He wanted to make the law clearer, easier to access and, where necessary, tougher in this area.
Mr Ahern said he would shortly bring proposals to Government to begin preparation of a consolidated corruption bill, which would bring all of the relevant anti-corruption measures together in a single statute.
He had also asked his officials to give priority to white-collar offences in the new white paper on crime, which is being prepared in his department.
A white paper consultation paper on this issue is to be published shortly and will invite submissions and comments from all quarters.
Meanwhile, Mr Ahern has proposed special funding from the Government to open up the legal profession to bright students from poorer areas.
The minister is to ask the new Legal Services Ombudsman to focus his first report on access to the legal profession.