Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald wants watchdog for criminal justice sector

Plans are progressing to set up a super-watchdog to inspect criminal justice agencies, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said.

And she said forthcoming legislation would bring Ireland into full compliance with international torture conventions.

Addressing a conference organised by the Irish Penal Reform Trust, Ms Fitzgerald said she was pushing ahead with an “overarching” criminal justice inspectorate.

Issues that needed to be examined included accountability mechanisms, the range of agencies, and the body’s authority. Ms Fitzgerald said: “The proposed inspectorate would incorporate aspects of the inspection functions of the Garda Inspectorate and the Inspector of Prisons but its remit may also cover other criminal justice agencies.”

She said she hosted a policy debate last Monday, attended by agencies, NGOs, and academics, who presented differing views.

She said she had no “fixed model” in mind and that the department would now examine the views and take them into account.

The criminal justice inspectorate in Northern Ireland inspects the PSNI, the Public Prosecution Service, the Prison Service, the Probation Service, the Forensic Service, the Courts Service and the Police Ombudsman.

Ms Fitzgerald told the conference, Securing responsibility in the Prison Service, the Government had approved the drafting of a General Scheme of an Inspection of Places of Detention Bill. She said this would make prison visiting committees more effective, establish a reporting relationship between the committees and the Inspector of Prisons, and expand the inspector’s role.

Ms Fitzgerald accepted that Ireland had not yet fully ratified the UN International Convention Against Torture, put stressed they were “working towards” it. She said that once the legislation was enacted, it would “address outstanding issues”.

IPRT chairman Professor Michael O’Flaherty, said accountability systems must be “independent and adequately resourced”. He said it was “imperative” their work was timely and that they had both a “responsive and remedial” function and a “preventative” one.

IPRT director Deirdre Malone welcomed the “consultative and constructive approach” of the minister in preventing rights violations in closed institutions.

“An opportunity now exists to put in place the best model, informed by the practice and experience of the 62 countries that have already ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture,” she said.


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