A Legal Step in the Right Direction, Hopefully?

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Department of Justice takes first step to
          prosecution reform
The overhaul was recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. 

Wed, 10 Mar, 2021 – 20:05

The Department of Justice is commissioning research which would be the first step in implementing a key recommendation of the Policing Commission, published two and a half years ago.

The commission’s recommendation calls for a fundamental shift in the prosecution of most crimes in the courts, away from gardaí and into the hands of State solicitors.

The report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland was published in 2018 and set out a blueprint for the reform of An Garda Síochána and policing in general.

It said “all prosecution decisions” should be taken away from the police and given to an expanded State solicitor or national prosecution service.

It also recommended that the practice, in district courts, of gardaí prosecuting cases in court “should cease”.

That is because gardaí are not trained for the job and a separation between investigation and prosecution is commonplace in most countries, according to the report.

And it added: “The involvement of gardaí in prosecutions and the amount of time they spend in court or preparing for court is enormously wasteful of police resources that should be deployed on core police duties”.

Substantial investment

Although it didn’t examine cost, such a shift would appear to require substantial investment in the prosecution service.

The Government’s implementation plan, A Policing Service for the Future, was published in December 2018.

It envisaged the commencement of a review on prosecution decisions to start by September 2019 and implementation during 2020 and by the summer of 2021.

The Department of Justice has now invited tenders to research the prosecutorial system in relevant jurisdictions, including other common law countries.

It said the research should particularly focus “on how our current prosecutorial regime aligns with others, how it differs, and the options for reform in Ireland that might emerge”.

The tender document cites the assessment and recommendations of the Policing Commission.

The document says: “The recommendation was accepted in principle by Government, subject to further evaluation on the implications, including resource implications, how best it might be achieved, and the timing of implementation.” 

High-level review group

It said a high-level review group on the role of an Garda Síochána in the Public Prosecution System had been set up to conduct this evaluation and to recommend a preferred option for consideration by Government.

It said the winning research would need to examine relevant jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland, England and Wales, Scotland, Finland, Australia, and New Zealand.

It said the department was eager that the tenderer would be ready to start “as soon as possible” and asked that applicants specify how soon they would be in a position to commence the work.

“Duration of the tender will be no more than three months after the awarding of the tender, with the final report due at the end of the three months,” it said. It said the budget for the research was a maximum of €25,000 (excluding Vat) and applications need to be in with the department by close of business on April 5.

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