Tuesday 20 February 2018

High Court judge in warning on 'disturbing' gun-licence practices

Don Lavery

The Department of Justice and An Garda Siochana are facing defeat and severe embarrassment in the High Court on Tuesday after a judge indicated that senior gardai were not following their own licensing system for firearms and that, "disturbingly", a senior officer altered application forms for gun certificates.

A High Court judge bluntly said that if the licensing system in place was not being followed, then both the granting and refusal process is "clearly flawed".

The result of test cases brought by shooting enthusiasts against refusals by senior gardai to issue them with certificates for restricted firearms could have widespread implications for gun owners, the gardai and hundreds of pending legal actions.

In the cases, gun owners are seeking orders quashing the refusals saying it breaches their constitutional rights and amounts to a fixed policy of not issuing licences for guns that can be legally held.

The gardai deny the claims, including that there is any fixed policy.

After several days of evidence last Friday, Mr Justice John Hedigan, who emphasised that his remarks were not a judgement, said the evidence at this moment shows the recording process in the licensing of firearms had not been correctly followed.

He had pointed out that the licensing of powerful handguns and rifles was a matter of the gravest nature.

"The commissioner, and through designation by him, chief superintendents, have been charged with a heavy responsibility of decision as to who should be given such restricted arms licences. It is a grave responsibility because the consequences of a mistake may be devastating," the judge said.

He said the recording process was essential in the context of the weaponry that was being licensed or refused. The accuracy and integrity of that documentation is essential to the safe and effective operation of the scheme.

But he said the evidence "at this moment" was that the recording process was not correctly followed.

"Large sections of the official forms whose completion is mandatory have not been filled in. These largely relate to the reasons why licences have been refused. This has been described as having happened through inadvertence.

"More disturbingly, it has been admitted that a substantial number of the applications forms have been altered, after having been previously finalised and signed.

"This occurred after these proceedings were initiated."

He said reasons for refusal were as important to record accurately as the reasons for granting.

"The integrity, meaning the unalterability of such records, is obvious. The court has to be gravely concerned that the system put in place after careful consideration by the relevant authorities is strictly adhered to."

He asked if the authorities wished to stand over the firearms licensing system currently in operation by An Garda Siochana and told senior counsel for the gardai: "I don't really want to go any further at all with this case."

Firearms enthusiasts yesterday said they expected the gardai to "throw in the towel" and grant the licences in the cases while a shake-up of the way the gardai administer their own licensing system is also likely.

The case has been adjourned until Tuesday.

Sunday Independent

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