Thousands of District Court cases could be delayed following High Court ruling
Posted on 1st June 2022 at 20:37
High Court ruling will have significant impact on court’s operation, gardaí warn
Thousands of criminal prosecutions could be logjammed in the district court, following a High Court ruling that only gardaí who initiate and conduct a prosecution can be heard, and that Garda sergeants who have presented cases for years have no right of audience.
The case arose after a defence solicitor for a man charged with possession of cannabis in Co Tipperary challenged the right of a Garda sergeant to deal with the case at the district court on what he described as “the instruction” of the original prosecuting garda who was not in court.
The man’s solicitor submitted that while the Garda Síochána Act conferred the right of any garda to prosecute and conduct proceedings in the name of the Director of Public Prosecutions, it did not provide a power for a garda to take instructions from and appear on behalf of the prosecuting garda.
Ms Justice Margeurite Bolger ruled that the relevant section in the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which permits a garda to present a case to the court, means that the garda must have both initiated and conducted the prosecution to have a right to be heard by the court.
The court presenter system, where a Garda sergeant presents information in non-contested cases, arose originally to avoid the need to have gardaí attend every court session for every prosecution they were involved in, even when an accused was pleading guilty.
“The court presenting system was brought to keep guards out of court – you were ending up with situations when there was a local court in a town, every guard in town had to be in court or, if a town lost its court, every guard in town had to go over to the neighbouring town for court.
“As well as giving the facts to the judge in cases where a fellow is pleading guilty, the court presenter would also give any previous convictions but that was only in uncontested cases – in all contested matters, the prosecuting guard still had to come in and give the evidence and be tested on it,” said one court presenter
The system had worked well because a court presenter would be able to tell a judge that a certain garda was off or out sick but would be available on a certain date and all that garda’s cases could then be adjourned to that date, another court presenter told The Irish Times.
“Very often my job would be to group all a particular guard’s cases together and get them all adjourned to a particular day when they were working so they could be all dealt with together rather than adjourning them to three separate days for which they might now have to be paid overtime.”
Now, the fear is that inspectors and superintendents will not be able to prosecute a contested case if they have not been involved from the beginning. “It is going to have very serious repercussions for the district court system around the country,” said one.
“If every guard in a district is going to attend every time that they have a case listed, even if it’s only to fix a date for hearing, it’s huge to lead to huge congestion – the courthouses won’t be able to accommodate them all – they will be as crazily busy as Dublin Airport last Sunday.”
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