· Minister Fitzgerald publishes legislation to strengthen the powers and remit of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission
· Minister says this Bill will “ensure that the wider public will have confidence in GSOC and how it carries out its important tasks”
Wednesday, 20 August 2014
Frances Fitzgerald T.D., Minister for Justice and Equality, has today announced the publication of the Garda Síochána (Amendment)(No. 3) Bill 2014.
Commenting on the Bill’s publication the Minister said: “This Bill is a significant piece of legislation and it is an important element in the comprehensive programme of justice reform that is being undertaken by the Government. In particular, and in line with commitments given by the Government, the Bill delivers key elements to strengthen the powers and remit of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).”
The Bill will amend and update the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and other relevant legislation with the main objectives of:
· bringing the Garda Commissioner within the remit of GSOC for the first time;
· extending GSOC’s powers of investigation in relation to complaints involving suspected criminal behaviour;
· ensuring that the Garda Síochána provides information sought by GSOC for an investigation as soon as practicable; and
· providing greater autonomy for GSOC in examining the Garda Síochána’s practices, policies and procedures.
The Minister went on to state: “GSOC has a pivotal role to play when it comes to addressing complaints made against members of the Garda Síochána. I believe that this Bill will contribute in a meaningful way to the operation of GSOC so as to ensure that the wider public will have confidence in it and how it carries out its important tasks.”
The Minister continued: “The measures provided for in the Bill take account of the results of a public consultation process initiated by the Cabinet Committee on Justice Reform and also relevant work within the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. Further changes in relation to GSOC will be considered in the context of the legislation to establish a new Policing Authority which I will introduce as quickly as possible.”
With regard to the enactment of the new Bill, the Minister added: “It is my intention that the Bill will become law as quickly as possible and I look forward to having it debated by the Houses of the Oireachtas at an early stage.”
Notes for editors
The main purpose of the Garda Síochána (Amendment)(No. 3) Bill 2014 is to amend the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to expand the remit and powers of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), which is the independent body responsible for receiving and dealing with complaints made by members of the public concerning the conduct of members of the Garda Síochána. Amendments are also being made to further legislation in respect of the exercise of certain police powers by GSOC.
The Bill is available at www.oireachtas.ie
Key provisions in the Bill
In particular, the Bill:
· Brings the Garda Commissioner within the scope of GSOC investigations for the first time.
· Allows GSOC, for the first time, to carry out such an examination of certain Garda practices and procedures on its own initiative. Currently it can only do this when requested by the Minister.
· Requires the Garda Commissioner to ensure that any information to be provided by the Garda Síochána to GSOC for the purposes of an investigation will be supplied as soon as practicable. This provision will strengthen the ability of GSOC to carry out investigations.
· Extends the general time limit for making a complaint to GSOC from six to twelve months. This does not alter the current position under which it is open to GSOC to extend the time limit if it considers that there are good reasons for doing so.
· Broadens the scope for the Minister to refer a matter to GSOC for investigation, in the public interest. This will now be possible in relation to any matter that gives rise to a concern that a Garda member may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings.
· Allows GSOC to carry out certain investigations where:
- the identity of the member of the Garda Síochána concerned may not be known when the investigation is undertaken, or
- the offence or behaviour concerned may also involve or have involved a person who is not a member of the Garda Síochána.
These are issues which have been identified as ones which could usefully be clarified.
· Enables the Garda Síochána Inspectorate to conduct, on its own initiative or at the request of the Minister, inspections or inquiries in relation to any particular aspects of the operation and administration of the Garda Síochána. At present the Inspectorate can only conduct such an inspection or inquiry with the prior consent of the Minister.
· Amends the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 to enable GSOC to undertake interception of communications for the purposes of a criminal investigation. A GSOC investigating officer will have the powers that would be available to the Garda Síochána in the same circumstances.
· Amends the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 to enable GSOC to carry out surveillance where it is necessary in connection with a criminal investigation concerning an arrestable offence. In this context, GSOC will be in the same position as the Garda Síochána for the purposes of conducting a criminal investigation.
Independent Policing Authority
The Government has undertaken to put in place a comprehensive programme of justice reform, a key element of which is the establishment of a new independent policing authority.
The views of the public on the proposed establishment of an independent policing authority were sought by way of a public consultation process that commenced on 9 May 2014 and ended on 31 May 2014. Submissions received on foot of this process are currently being considered in the Department.
In addition, a seminar on justice reform took place on 20 June 2014 at Farmleigh. The purpose of the seminar was to provide a platform for key stakeholders and persons with an interest in Garda reform to discuss elements of the justice reform programme initiated by the Government.
Recruitment of Garda Commissioner
The open recruitment process for the post of Garda Commissioner has commenced under the management of the Public Appointments Service, which the Government has asked to independently manage the competition.
It is expected the appointment of a new Garda Commissioner will be made by the end of the year.