Tuesday 27 September 2016

One year on from the crises in Justice

Published 31/05/2015 | 02:30

Garda oversight through the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) was proven to be defective and operating under inadequate legislation
Garda oversight through the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) was proven to be defective and operating under inadequate legislation

A year has passed since the crises related to the administration of justice but there is insufficient evidence to suggest that lessons have been truly learned, let alone acted upon.

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In the first half of 2014, Garda whistleblowers were vindicated about internal maladministration and abuses of the fixed penalty points system. Garda oversight through the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) was proven to be defective and operating under inadequate legislation. The Department of Justice itself operated through a culture of secrecy and with a lack of proper management. These events led to the unprecedented resignation of a Garda Commissioner and a Minister for Justice.

A new era in Garda management was ushered in with the appointment of Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, the first woman to be appointed to the position in the proud 90-year history of the force. At the time, there were those who remained sceptical that she was right person for the serious task at hand, given her senior position for many years in An Garda Siochana.

But her suitability was deemed appropriate and she was appointed by the Government on a permanent basis last November, having held the position in a temporary capacity for a considerable eight-month period. The Garda Commissioner has made a steady but unspectacular start in implementing a much-needed transformation plan. A recently announced reshuffle of Garda top brass is welcome. The establishment of a specialist squad to deal with child-protection and domestic violence is long overdue. Merging the National Drugs and Organised Crime Units makes sense.

But there remains much to be done, with a far greater sense of urgency than is suggested by the arrest last week of a senior Garda officer, who was authorised to speak to the media, over his alleged dealings with the media.

The Garda Inspectorate recently published an excellent series of reports which highlighted systemic deficiencies repeatedly revealed in detection rates; defective notification procedures; inadequate personnel training; under-investment in technology and the dubious reclassification of offences. Specifically exposed were facts such as: 66pc of suspects who should have had their fingerprints taken did not; 83pc of crimes were downgraded to less serious offences; Pulse technology was outdated and there were 700 untrained detectives.

Today, the Sunday Independent reveals than an estimated 10,000 offences a year are 'disappearing' under the practice of reclassification. Senior Garda sources have said the downgrading of crimes has even impacted on murder probes which, they claim, have been effectively dropped because of a lack of resources required to bring cases to court.

More broadly, other issues remain unresolved: when will GSOC be given full legal powers to oversee the Garda Commissioner? As the Garda Confidential Recipient system has failed, should GSOC carry out internal and external investigations? Should a Garda investigation, or personnel, form any part of a GSOC probe?

These are issues not for the new Garda Commissioner but relate to the Department of Justice, which is responsible for the restoration and maintenance of confidence in the administration of justice.

However, there remains much for the Garda Commissioner to do. Now that her honeymoon period has ended, it is to be earnestly hoped that she will more urgently get on with the demanding job to hand.

Sunday Independent

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