Steps are being taken by the gardaí to address concerns over the control and management of drugs, cash and other evidence seized as part of criminal investigations by the force.
The Audit Committee of An Garda Síochána says it is “encouraged” by plans put in place to address property and evidence management.
A report from the committee points out that 23 out of 44 high priority audit recommendations relating to the control and management of evidence remain outstanding. “This was the highest single category of unresolved audit recommendations at year end,” it states.
While the committee remains concerned, it is aware that gardaí have prioritised the issue, and a phased approach to rectifying control weaknesses has started.
The first of a two-step approach involves all property and evidence being held on networked computers in district headquarters. The second step involves updating storage facilities, bar-coding all items and upgrading the garda computer system.
The handling of evidence is part of the five-year modernisation and renewal programme (2016-2021) published by An Garda Síochána in June.
The document points out that a property evidence management system (PEMS) will give investigators a single view of all property and exhibits in garda custody relating to their investigation.
“It will also enable the recording, tracking, and safe custody of such items. Its introduction will address a key risk for the organisation,” it states.
Barrister Paul Anthony McDermott said the Director of Public Prosecutions had to prove beyond reasonable doubt the chain of custody of evidence in every prosecution.
“We know that this is the second such report in a row because it was referred to in a 2014 report as well,” he said on RTÉ radio yesterday.
While he was aware that garda management had prioritised the issue, it was still unresolved.
“It is surprising that this is the second year in a row that the audit committee has raised a query about something as basic as the proper preservation of exhibits.”
The audit committee also raises concerns about the staffing of the Garda Internal Audit — the section can no longer staff two audit teams, a situation that was limiting the capacity of the section to check across the garda organisation within a reasonable timeframe.
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