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Review of adult caution scheme after juvenile prosecution scandal

A review of the juvenile diversion programme found thousands of reported crimes were not prosecuted.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

THE POLICING AUTHORITY has commissioned a review of An Garda Síochána’s adult caution scheme, following issues identified in the juvenile diversion programme this year.

In January, a review of the youth referral scheme, which aims to prevent young offenders from entering into the full criminal justice system, found thousands of reported crimes were not prosecuted due to failings in the scheme. 

Now, the Policing Authority wants to find out whether similar problems exist with the adult caution scheme.

All crimes committed by youths are referred to the juvenile programme for consideration. They may not be deemed suitable for the scheme if they have not admitted the offence, they have a history of offending, or if the crime is on the more serious end of the scale. 

These cases are referred back to the original investigating garda, who is then supposed to pursue them through the normal process for offenders. In thousands of cases, this was not done and more than 3,000 young people over a seven-year period went unpunished. 

The Policing Authority said today that the adult caution scheme is “the nearest parallel” to the youth diversion programme. It is available as an alternative to prosecution where it is not required in the public interest.

The authority said it wants to understand whether problems with the youth referral scheme “exist or have the potential to exist in a broadly similar diversionary programme for adults”.

Offences that can be considered for a caution include being drunk in a public place, failure to comply with a garda direction, threatening or abusive behaviour in a public place and (small-scale) theft or criminal damage. It was recently announced that the scheme is to be extended to include simple drug possession offences. 

The offender will be issued with a warning that any future similar behaviour will result in a prosecution. Similar to the juvenile scheme, the person must accept responsibility for the offence before they can be considered for a caution.

The decision is made by the garda superintendent in the investigating station and a caution should only be applied once to an offender, unless the DPP gives permission for a second one. 

In 2017, the Garda Professional Standards Unit (GPSU) conducted an evaluation of the scheme and found a number of issues. 

These included:

  • There was no search facility on the Pulse system to find cautions that had been recommended or administered;
  • Cautions were being administered several months after the offence occurred, limiting the time available to initiate a subsequent prosecution if needed;
  • Subsequent cautions were being administered to people who previously had cautions, without the DPP’s consent
  • In some cases, cautions were being administered by sergeants.

The Policing Authority said the scale or prevalence of these issues was not quantified in the 2017 report and it is unclear whether recommendations made in it were implemented. 

Crowe has been asked to carry out the new review. It is expected that an interim progress report will be provided to the authority before the end of the December 2019 and that a final report, including any recommendations, will be delivered in the first quarter of 2020.

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