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keeping tabs

There are plans afoot to electronically tag Irish prisoners on bail for the first time

The plan, set out in the new programme for government, has been included at the request of gardaí.

Tagging device File Photo: A small electronic monitoring device used in the UK judicial system PA Archive / Press Association Images PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

THERE HAVE BEEN quite a number of promises made by the new government regarding crime.

In the new programme for government released on Wednesday, an increase in Garda numbers to 15,000 (albeit with no specific delivery date), a review of the public defender system, and post-release supervision for sex offenders are just three of the commitments made.

One of the more interesting commitments however is the electronic tagging of people charged with crimes who have been released on bail.

This promise has been made at the request of gardaí, and the government will seek to “fast-track this legislation” thereby “reducing the risk of reoffending”.

Typically, such tags, which operate off a base unit in the relevant person’s home which is monitored by a relevant monitoring company, are attached to an alleged offender’s ankle.

Should he or she move beyond range or break a geographical limitation during curfew, the company is notified who can duly let law enforcement aware of the situation.

When considering such an innovation the first case that springs to mind is that of murdered Clare woman Sylvia Roche Kelly.

During an extended civil action taken by Sylvia’s husband Lorcan against the Garda Commissioner and the State, it was argued that her killer Gerard McGrath should not have been at liberty to commit that crime as he was on bail for several other offences at the time.

Other countries

The use of such tags is already par for the course in other countries.

In the US, such tags are used as a means of monitoring non-violent offenders given the creaking nature of its correctional system which is vastly over-populated. Those criminals who are deemed of minimal threat to the population are allowed to serve their time wearing a tag via a system known as ‘offender-funded justice’, where penalties for infractions are paid to the monitoring company in question.

In the UK, tags are used as means of enforcing curfews on people facing criminal charges throughout the duration of trial proceedings. The use of tags has been in place for almost 20 years in Britain.

Australia meanwhile has been using electronic tags in its pre-trial and primary sentencing proceedings for over 30 years.

Reaction contacted the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) to gauge its reaction to the news that tagging is to be actioned in Ireland. Their response? Such tagging should only be used in exceptional bail cases.

“International human rights standards including the European Convention on Human Rights  require that pre-trial detention be used as an exceptional measure of last resort,” executive director with the IPRT Deirdre Malone told us.

Unjustified and excessive use of both pre-trial detention and electronic tagging impacts on the right to liberty and the presumption of innocence.

Any interference with the rights of someone facing charges “must be proportionate and justified”.

The only true application for such tagging in bail cases would be if the only other option is imprisonment, and assuming that such tagging is “properly resourced”, Malone said.

“The preferable option would be the provision of effective bail supports,” she added.

Read: Here’s what the incoming government is promising for business

Read: ‘No town, village or parish will be left behind’ for broadband rollout – but for how long?

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