'Serious concerns' new garda powers bill is unconstitutional

The bill proposes to grant gardaí the power to stop and search for possession of proscribed articles, the power for Gardaí to sign off on search warrants and allowing Gardaí to exclude "disruptive" legal counsel
'Serious concerns' new garda powers bill is unconstitutional

Bob Collins, Chair of the Policing Authority said his organisation had "five areas of concern".

Government TDs and Senators have spoken of "serious concerns" that a new bill to grant extra powers to Gardaí is unconstitutional.

The Oireachtas Justice Committee discussed the Garda Síochána (Powers) Bill 2021 which proposes to grant An Garda Síochána additional powers to stop and search, to sign off on search warrants and to exclude "disruptive" legal counsel.

Green Party TD Patrick Costello said he is "deeply concerned in relation to the search warrant in urgent circumstances," and said for any warrant to be "truly independent" it would have to be someone from outside An Garda Siochana.

Fine Gael senator and senior counsel Barry Ward said some of the Bill is contradictory to the current system.

"I cannot see a circumstance in which it will be justifiable for a Garda to decide that a lawyer was being disruptive, because that is exactly what their job is. Their job is to be disruptive, to represent the rights of the person who's being questioned," he said.

"Disgusted it is maybe a bit strong, but I think it is absolutely extraordinary that this provision has found its way into the heads (of the Bill).

"To my mind, it is unconstitutional, and I have grave difficulty with this and I would be very unhappy if this found its way into the bill when it's drafted."

Mr Ward added that a senior guard issuing an emergency warrant was not "justifiable."

"I don't think we should be putting those kinds of powers into the hands of the Gardaí because, again, you will always find an urgency if you look for one," he said.

Bob Collins, Chair of the Policing Authority, said his organisation had a number of "areas of concern".

Mr Collins says the provision which enables a Garda member, of superintendent ranking or above, to issue a search warrant in urgent circumstances goes against the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission which made it clear that warrants should be issued only by the courts.

"It is difficult to envisage circumstances where traditional approval of a warrant could not be urgently obtained electronically. This provision should not be retained," he said.

The authority is also "very concerned" by the provision for exclusion of legal representation based on a subjective evaluation of possible future behaviour.

"Nothing, nothing should undermine the right to legal assistance which must be practical, effective and unfettered. These provisions should be removed," Mr Collins added.

Mr Collins said Gardaí should be required to record the ethnic, age and gender details of people who are stopped and searched.

He said it would be "naive and self-delusional" to think that Ireland was completely different to other countries in the profiling of people who are subject to police searches.

"We don't have any information at all on the nature of stop and search: its extent, the age, the gender, the ethnic indicators of those people who are stopped and searched," he told the committee.

"We would be naive and it would be self-delusional if we thought Ireland was a complete outlier in this respect, and that there was a precisely proportional representation of the entire population in people who are stopped and searched."

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