We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.
Military and civilian justice

Explainer: How gardaí and the Defence Forces interact when a soldier is charged with a crime

The system that dictates how gardaí and the Defence Forces is set out in legal documents.

GARDAÍ HAVE SAID that as they investigate criminal investigations involving members of the Defence Forces they routinely alert a military officer so they can be present in court for the case. 

The garda comment is in line with statements by Tánaiste Micheál Martin and the Irish Defence Forces. 

The Taoiseach Simon Harris has called for a list of those military personnel who are currently convicted of criminal offences

The case of Cathal Crotty saw the 22 year old Private who is based at Sarsfield Barracks in Limerick receive a suspended sentence for the unprovoked attack on Natasha O’Brien on the city’s O’Connell Street.

Defence Forces officer was in court monitoring proceedings and also gave evidence when asked about the conduct of Crotty while serving. When asked to comment on the evidence of the attack, the superior said it was, in his opinion, “very out of character” for Crotty.

Gardaí said their primary role is to investigate criminal offences in the civilian setting and do not participate in the Courts Martial system which is the military’s internal legal structure. 

“Where members of the Defence Forces are alleged to have committed offences which have a strong civilian connection they will be investigated by the An Garda Síochána and tried in the ordinary criminal courts (The Civil Courts), and not a Court Martial

“When a member of the Defence Forces is charged with any offence, An Garda Síochána will inform the Officer commanding the unit to which the defendant is attached, so that an Officer may be present in the Court,” a spokesperson said. 

The Journal has obtained the Defence Forces Regulations, Part Seven which outlines military involvement in civilian court hearings.

The document sets out that officers attend court to monitor proceedings and it must be a senior officer from the unit in which the soldier serves. 

The officer is obliged to bring a record of the Defence Forces member’s personnel details and a brief report that outlines the conduct or previous incidents with the member standing trial.

Section 57 of the document states that the officer does not have to disclose any information unless they are asked by the court. On completion of the hearing the officer who acted as court liaison then writes a report ahead of internal discipline processes.

Back in April, 2023 the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said that the force was carrying out a review of investigations into allegations of abuse in the Irish Defence Forces. 

At the time Harris said that gardaí had 26 cases in their historic records arising out of complaints of sexual abuse in the Irish Defence Forces.

Harris had confirmed that gardaí have a specialist operation in place and have begun investigating incidents, adding “that there may be predators out there”.

Confirmation of the garda investigation came days after the publication of the Independent Review Group into sexual abuse, bullying and harassment in the military. 

Harris said that the investigations were being conducted at divisional level across the country but that they are being coordinated at national level by specialist garda detectives with the National Bureau of Protective Services.

Harris had said that the reports dated back to the 1960s and that gardaí were compiling data and examining their own records – they were also carrying out an audit to determine how the force handled those complaints.

The Journal asked what were the results of that audit but a garda spokesperson said that as that was an internal examination of garda records that they were unable to comment. 

A spokesperson from the Irish Defence Forces said: “Any conviction in a civilian court has implications for the retention and service of members of the Defence Forces, as stipulated in military regulations.

“The Defence Forces cannot act until due process has been completed in a civilian court of law. It is then a matter for the relevant Defence Forces authorities in accordance with military regulations.”

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
Our Explainer articles bring context and explanations in plain language to help make sense of complex issues. We're asking readers like you to support us so we can continue to provide helpful context to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.