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Government rushing in emergency laws to solve High Court ban on Garda court presenters

Ms Justice Marguerite Bolger said that the use of court presenters was beyond the permitted powers of gardaí.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE GOVERNMENT IS set to introduce emergency legislation in response to a High Court ban on garda court presenters prosecuting cases.

As revealed by The Journal last week, summary prosecutions were thrown into disarray as a result of a ruling by Ms Justice Marguerite Bolger who banned garda court presenters prosecuting cases in the District Court. 

Court presenters are generally gardaí at sergeant or inspector rank who act as prosecuting gardaí in court – they act on behalf of other gardaí, and outline the details of cases for the judge. 

This was designed to keep gardaí on the streets and save on overtime payments for court appearances and essentially means lower ranking gardaí have to attend court less often.

As a stop-gap measure it was decided by garda management and the Director of Public Prosecutions that lawyers would be drafted in to prosecute cases while a fix was developed, if needed. 

This morning at Cabinet, Minister Helen McEntee received Government approval for “urgent legislation” to solve the problem.

The new legislation will clearly establish a right for any member of An Garda Síochána to conduct a prosecution, whether or not that member initiated the original prosecution.

Arresting gardaí normally proffer charges on an accused – but to allow them continue their operational roles court presenters who are fellow gardaí have typically dealt with such cases in the District Court. 

Last month in the High Court case DPP v Davitt when Ms Justice Bolger said that the use of court presenters was beyond the permitted powers of gardaí. 

In her judgement Ms Justice Bolger admitted that her decision may “adversely affect” how prosecutions are handled in the District Court. 

Minister McEntee today has told her cabinet colleagues that emergency legislation is required urgently as the High Court Judge had put a stay on when the judgement is enacted until 16 June. 

She said that without “remedial legislation” there would be “significant disruption” to the operation of the District Courts throughout the country and there would be significant costs incurred by the State in seeking alternatives such as dedicated prosecuting barristers.  

“Owing to the urgency of the matter, and the serious operational and cost implications that will arise if the judgment becomes operative, the Minister considers it necessary to seek a waiver of pre-legislative scrutiny from the Justice Committee and to also seek a motion for early signature of the Bill by the President following the passing of the Bill by the Houses of the Oireachtas,” the Department of Justice said in a statement.

It added that Minister McEntee will publish the Bill “as soon as possible”.

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Last Friday The Journal revealed that an immediate fix would involve the use of barristers and other lawyers linked to regional State Solicitors’ offices.

The issue of gardaí acting as prosecutors in the district court was mentioned in the Commission on the Future of Policing more than four years ago. 

The report recommended that it was not appropriate that investigators act as those prosecuting the case. This was accepted by Government but never acted on. 

Comments closed for legal reasons.

Additional reporting from Ronán Duffy. 

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