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Move to video evidence stalls as DPP demands garda notes

A PLAN to abolish full handwritten notes in favour of videotaping garda interviews has been delayed -- because the DPP still insists on longhand memos.

The long-awaited scheme to modernise garda interviews has no completion date due to feared legal difficulties over the admissibility of video evidence.

When questioning suspects officers are required to write out every word of their question. The suspect's full answer must also be transcribed.

The laborious practice takes up large amounts of garda time, and in many cases detectives many be operating under time constraints -- particularly in instances where forensic evidence may only be available near the end of the interviewing process.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said: "Even though every interview is videotaped, it is still important, in order to present evidence in court, to have a written synopsis of a witness's statement.

"The Garda must err on the side of caution in terms of how a case is presented. That is done on the basis of the requirements and directions of the DPP."

The Minister indicated that proposals for a new system of note-taking were at an advanced stage, but no date was given for its introduction.

The issue was raised in the Dail by Labour Justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte, who asked: "What can be so complicated about taking the necessary action to ensure valuable Garda time is no longer wasted in taking long-hand notes of electronically recorded interviews?

The issue of garda note- taking has featured in criminal prosecutions in the past.

At the recent trial of Eamonn Lillis for killing his wife Celine Cawley, Det Sgt Fionnuala Olohan said that not everything that was said in an interview with Lillis was written into her notes.

In another high-profile instance the conviction of Colm Murphy, for conspiracy to cause the 1998 Omagh bomb explosion, was found to be unsafe. This was because the Special Criminal Court did not give proper regard to garda interview notes, which were altered.

Murphy, from Ravensdale, Dundalk, is currently being retried at the Special Criminal Court.