Key policing proposal a ‘major change’, says Law Society of Ireland

The Law Society of Ireland has said there is “no doubt” that a key recommendation in the Policing Commission report — to remove gardaí for court prosecutions — would represent major change and require “considerable investment”.

The reaction from the country’s representative body for solicitors follows the publication of the landmark report on Tuesday, which laid out a general blueprint for reform of policing and oversight.

The Future of Policing in Ireland report contains a radical recommendation that would involve a massive reorganisation of the criminal justice system by removing gardaí from key roles they currently fulfil.

“All prosecution decisions should be taken away from the police and given to an expanded State solicitor or national prosecution service,” states the report.

“We also recommend that the practice of police prosecuting cases in court should cease.”

It says that the commission heard, in the course of public consultations, that gardaí in charge of prosecutions may not be trained to the level of the opposing defence lawyer.

“Some gardaí have undoubtedly become skilful prosecutors through experience, but this should not be their job and it does not justify taking them away from frontline duties,” it states.

The Future of Policing in Ireland report says that most comparable jurisdictions recognise that investigation and prosecution processes should be separate.

“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,” the Future of Policing in Ireland report states.

Given that sergeants prosecute cases in district courts up and down the country, this proposal would involve a massive increase in the provision of staffing in the State solicitor network or a national prosecution service.

The report is silent as to how this transformation would occur in practice and it may be something that the implementation group will take up.

In response to queries from the Irish Examiner, the Law Society said: “There is no doubt that some of the recommendations, in particular, would, if implemented, represent a very significant change and would inevitably require considerable investment by the State.

“The society is looking forward to carefully considering those recommendations and developing policy positions in due course.”

The implementation group will examine any supporting documentation the commission may have to guide it on how this transformation would take place.

The group will also have to examine how it can implement related proposals regarding the removal of gardaí for “non-core” duties.

These include providing security at courts, transporting remand prisoners, serving summonses, attending minor road traffic accidents, and safeguarding examination papers for schools.

It said that many hours of sworn police time is “squandered” on such duties and that action should be taken “immediately”.

In its statement, the Law Society welcomed other recommendations in the report, including the development of a scheme of continuous professional development for gardaí, a plan to deploy body-worn cameras, and the emphasis on stronger community policing.

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