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Monday 21 October 2019

Big savings from scheme to cut Garda time in court

By TOM BRADY, Security Editor LEGAL changes which reduced the need for gardai to appear in court to give evidence in criminal cases have...

LEGAL changes which reduced the need for gardai to appear in court to give evidence in criminal cases have resulted in substantial savings to the taxpayer.

Evidence relating to the arrest, charge and caution of a suspect can now be given by certificate to the court rather than orally.

And a pilot scheme carried out last year involving only two courts in the Dublin area saved 16,193 gardai from having to attend hearings.

At least half of those gardai would have been in court on a rest day and entitled to three hours overtime payment.

The savings from the scheme were estimated last night be at least £500,000 in garda overtime last year on top of further cutbacks in expenditure as a result of the need for many solicitors on free legal aid to turn up often in courts.

The scheme showed that solicitors were needed in court on one or two occasions, compared to an average of five appearances under the old system.

Solicitors are paid £140 under the free legal aid for the first court appearance and £30 for second and subsequent appearances.

The scheme also meant that the gardai not in court could be deployed more efficiently by the authorities on the streets or fighting crime.

The success of the pilot scheme has prompted the authorities to extend it from Bridewell courts 44 and 46 to Bray, Kilmainham, Tallaght, Swords and Dun Laoghaire district courts. And eventually it will be introduced in Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and other large urban centres.

At the moment the scheme involves gardai in five stations, Store Street, Pearse Street, Bridewell, Crumlin and Sundrive Road and when this is extended to include all 43 Dublin stations, the savings in garda overtime and solicitors' fees are likely to top £5m a year.

The legal changes were introduced in the Criminal Justice (miscellaneous provisions) Act and allow evidence of certain procedural matters to be tendered in court by a garda court presenter.

The pilot scheme was set up last year after an assessment of the implications by a garda working group.

A statistical study of the scheme showed that 19,077 cases were dealt with by the six court presenters attached to the Bridewell, 16,193 gardai were not required to attend court, 2,794 cases were brought to a conclusion by the presenters, eliminating the need for the arresting garda to attend court at any time during the processing of the cases.

Hearing dates were fixed for a further 2,021 cases and it was only on this date that arresting gardai were required to attend while warrants were issued in 3,014 cases.

So far this year the pilot scheme has resulted in 6,996 cases being dealt with by court presenters and a further 5,967 court appearances deemed unnecessary.

The legislation was introduced by Justice Minister John O'Donoghue in 1997.

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