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Garda chiefs issue strict rules for gardaí on cancelling of District Court cases

The new rules will be activated at the end of the month.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

GARDA CHIEFS HAVE issued strict new rules on how gardaí cancel or strike out minor court cases at District Court level. 

Sources have told The Journal that the new rules have ordered that individual gardaí will now have to complete a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions or a senior officer before they can cease a prosecution.

The new rules also direct gardaí to not cancel court summons when the subject of the court case cannot be found – essentially removing prosecuting garda discretion involved in District Court proceedings. 

This move comes as garda management have said that there is a need to develop a system with strong governance. It will also allow officers to monitor the use of the discretion to cease prosecutions and the reasons for the decision.

The change will have the most impact on the work of gardaí in road policing units. Individual officers have, for a number of years, been permitted to strike out cases before a judge when the accused in a road traffic prosecution has produced relevant documentation in court. 

Sources have also said that, in the past, there was a practice of small quantity drug possession cases being struck out in court when the suspect co-operated with the garda investigation. 

Gardaí begin district court cases, or summary matters, within six months of dealing with the incident. An accused can be issued a charge sheet or a court summons delivered to their home. 

These cases for the most part are minor public order incidents like drunkenness or abusive behaviour, road traffic offences like speeding and no insurance, small thefts and small drug possessions.

There is also an automatic court summons issued when a member of the public does not pay a road traffic fine. A garda must then deliver this summons to the person’s house – though for a variety of reasons these summons go unserved, particularly when their address does not match their details on the garda PULSE computer system.   

The new so-called “discontinuance of District Court prosecutions” will be made when gardaí write a detailed report on the reason for ending their prosecution.

Sources believe it will further add cumbersome bureaucracy to an already paperwork-heavy process.

The direction was issued on 11 July and will take effect on 25 July – gardaí have been told they will be disciplined if they do not abide with the order. 

Investigations

In recent years gardaí have been suspended from duty in Limerick and other locations as detectives from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI) investigate the cancelling of penalty points. 

There has been strong criticism of the NBCI investigation by local representatives as the gardaí involved have been suspended for a number of years without information on the progress of the case. 

The investigation has questioned a large number of members of the public who were in contact with various gardaí. That investigation began as the NBCI was investigating other issues in Limerick which are currently before the courts. 

Sources believe that the new rules on cancellation of District Court proceedings will have an impact on the investigation given that these are new procedures.   

The issue of penalty point “squaring”, which is garda slang for the cancelling of tickets and court proceedings, along with other governance and management issues was first raised by then-Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe. 

In 2018 the Disclosures Tribunal, chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charleton, found there was a smear campaign against McCabe in response to his whistleblowing.

The report found that McCabe was a genuine person who had the interests of the people of Ireland in his mind at all times. 

This campaign came at a time when McCabe was highlighting deficiencies within the penalty points system within An Garda Síochána, where fixed-charge notices were routinely cancelled.

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