Calls for watchdog to oversee all justice bodies

An overarching watchdog is being proposed to oversee the entire justice apparatus, including the job of policing the Garda Ombudsman.

The Oireachtas justice committee has recomm-ended that a Criminal Justice Inspectorate would have powers to “oversee and supervise the administration of all aspects of the criminal justice system”.

Bodies under its control could include the Garda Síochána, the Courts Service, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, the DPP, the Probation Service, the Legal Aid Board and even the state pathologist and prison governors.

In an interim report to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald of its review of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the committee said the super-authority could police the police ombudsman.

Other key recommendations include:

nGive GSOC the power to investigate the Garda Commissioner;

nReplace the current three-person leadership of GSOC with a single Garda Ombudsman;

nBan current or former gardaí from serving in GSOC;

nGive GSOC the power to conduct investigations on its own initiative;

nGive GSOC the responsibility for all complaints against An Garda Síochána, including whistleblowers from inside the force.

The report recommends GSOC set up internal structures to enable garda whistleblowers bring matters of concern to it.

It wants the Ombudsman to set up a helpline to offer advice in confidence and a separate hotline for reporting complaints.

The committee said the appointment of one leader, rather than three, to head GSOC would ensure “greater accountability” and ensure there was “no possibility of dissenting opinions or divergence” in its findings.

Committee chairman David Stanton TD said the report was an “interim response” dealing with issues relating to the oversight of An Garda Síochána and related bodies.

“We intend to continue our review of this act over the coming months with the view to bringing forward a more detailed and comprehensive report in the autumn,” said the Fine Gael Cork East TD. The interim report will now form part of discussions on proposed legislation to reform GSOC.

In a surprise recommendation, the committee has called for a Criminal Justice Inspectorate, similar to a body in Northern Ireland.

The committee suggests that the planned Garda authority be set up as a “shadow organisation” initially to ensure the correct administrative structure was in place before it assumed real powers. The committee recommends a “gradual” transfer of powers to it. It said that “fundamental issues concerning the culture” within the criminal justice bodies, including the Garda, “need to be addressed”.

The committee recommends that the appointment of senior gardaí — from chief superintendent up — become the responsibility of the Garda Authority. And it said the Government should have no role in the appointment of the Garda Authority.

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