The Policing Authority is ordering a review of the Garda adult caution scheme, in which adults are given a caution, rather than prosecuted in the courts, for less serious crimes.
The authority has raised questions with Garda bosses about the scheme over the last year after controversy erupted from the operation of the youth diversion scheme, in which cautions are applied to juveniles.
The review of the adult scheme is being conducted by external consultants Crowe Howarth, which carried out a review of a Garda examination of the youth diversion programme. Terms of reference are due to be published today.
Crowe Howarth also conducted a detailed examination of the Garda breath-test scandal, resulting in a report in November 2017. The review of the caution scheme is expected to be a short examination, with an interim report expected by December and a final report in early 2020.
The scheme was set up in 2006 and gives a garda, through a senior officer, the discretion to apply a caution to an adult for certain minor offences, as an alternative to prosecution.
The offences include those under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003, the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, and the Criminal Damage Act 1991.
Possession of drugs for personal use is due to be included under a new health diversion programme. The scheme is supposed to be applied to people who are deemed unlikely to reoffend. It stipulates that the caution should only be applied once, but can, in exceptional circumstances, be given a second time.
The review ordered by the authority is thought to be a probe of the rules around the scheme, the scale of usage, how discretion works, and consistency in application, the offences for which cautions are given and the level, and grounds, for second or more cautions. Little public information is provided on the usage of the scheme.
Garda HQ has so far indicated, both in public meetings with the authority and with the Oireachtas justice committee, that none of the issues found in the youth diversion programme have been discovered in the adult scheme. The Garda professional standards unit began a nationwide audit of the adult caution scheme last year.
This was initiated after the unit examined the operation of the scheme in a particular division, which exposed a number of issues. The Policing Authority has flagged general concerns about the running of the scheme ever since revelations surrounding the juvenile scheme emerged around a year ago.
That covered the period of 2010 to 2018, and related to juvenile offenders who had been referred to the Garda youth diversion programme but had been deemed unsuitable and their cases were referred back for charges to be brought.
It was revealed that almost 8,000 offences, involving 3,500 juvenile offenders, were not prosecuted. A major disciplinary process has been under way since, with 460 gardaí so far being disciplined.