Wednesday 21 August 2019

DPP wants new laws to minimise 'traumatic' delays during trials

The Director of Public Prosecutions Claire Loftus
The Director of Public Prosecutions Claire Loftus
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The Director of Public Prosecutions wants new laws to be introduced to minimise delays during trials, which she said can be particularly traumatic for victims of crime.

Her comments come a week after the Government announced plans for a new Criminal Procedure Bill, which will tackle delays associated with white-collar crime trials.

However, in the foreword to her office’s annual report for 2016, published today, DPP Claire Loftus suggested similar measures were also needed in other, less complex, types of trials.

The bill is set to include provisions for pre-trial hearings so a subsequent trial does not get bogged down in legal argument, which can lead to lengthy delays, greater costs and increase the likelihood of losing jurors.

Delays have been a feature of a number of white collar crime cases, most notably the trial of former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive Sean Fitzpatrick on allegations of concealing loans. The trial became the longest in Irish criminal history, mainly due to lengthy periods of legal argument in the absence of the jury.

A jury was ultimately directed to acquit the former banker as a result of issues uncovered during legal argument.

But Ms Loftus is seeking for the new legislation to have a much wider application than just white-collar crime cases.

“The final form of the provision on pre-trial hearings remains to be seen but I hope it will have sufficient robustness to make a meaningful difference to the processing of all indictable cases through the courts,” she said.

“While the savings can be most obvious in very lengthy and complex cases, there is also a need for effective disposal of issues prior to trial in less complex cases.

“These are of great importance to the participants and it can be particularly traumatic for victims if delays and adjournments occur.”

The report showed the Office of the DPP spent €14.8m prosecuting cases last year, an increase of just over €800,000 on 2015.

Just over half of this was spent prosecuting cases at Circuit Court level.

The report revealed the proportion of cases where no prosecution was directed declined by 5pc between 2014 and 2016.

Of 11,337 files considered by the DPP in 2016, some 4,567, or 40pc, did not result in prosecutions.

Some 3,259, or 29pc, were dealt with in the District Court, while 3,398, or 30pc, were sent for trial on indictment in higher courts.

The number of cases still under consideration at the end of the year was 113, or 1pc of the total.

The main reason given for not prosecuting cases was insufficient evidence, which accounted for 80pc of files which never made it to court.

Other reasons why cases did not proceed included where injured parties withdrew complaints (6pc), where matters were dealt with by adult cautions (2pc), where there was undue delay (1pc), where time limits had expired (1pc), and where juvenile diversion programmes were used (1pc).

In 2pc of these cases it was decided the public interest was not best served by bringing a prosecution.

Prior to November 2015 the DPP only dealt with requests for reasons why prosecutions were not taken in cases involving fatalities.

But it broadened this out to all cases following an EU victims directive that month.

Since then the Office of the DPP has received 1,180 requests for reasons why prosecutions were not not brought.

The report said reasons had been given in 977 cases and refused in 136 to date. Decisions are pending in 67 cases.

Some 38pc of the cases inquired about involved sexual offences, 24pc involved non-fatal offences against a person and 15pc involved theft or fraud offences.

The Office of the DPP also received 418 requests to review decisions not to prosecute.

So far only eight decisions have been overturned. Some 344 requests were refused, 34 were deemed invalid and 32 are pending.

The report revealed 94pc of cases where a trial on indictment was recommended resulted in a conviction last year.

The vast majority of convictions came as a result of guilty pleas being entered and only 5pc of cases ended with a conviction as a result of a jury verdict.

The report said 4pc of cases resulted in acquittal by a jury and 2pc by acquittal on the direction of a judge.

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