Investigations following referral

GSOC is responsible for conducting investigations in circumstances where it appears that the conduct of a garda may have resulted in the death of, or serious harm to, a person. This is so that the public can be confident that there is independence in the investigation of such circumstances.

The most common way that these investigations are initiated is following a referral by the Garda Síochána.

40 referrals were received over the course of 2019, of which 16 related to fatalities. Of these, six fatalities related to road traffic incidents. 32 such investigations were closed during 2019. A percentage of these cases were able to be closed quite quickly, after initial independent examination showed no evidence of misbehaviour or criminality by a garda. In the remaining cases, full investigations were undertaken.

The most common circumstances giving rise to referrals are generally road policing and arrest. The table below lists the referral investigations closed in 2019, and describes the types of investigations that were undertaken and their outcomes.

Types of investigation and their outcomes

Investigations following referrals closed in 2019

Type of investigation and outcome Cases
Case closed after initial examination showed no evidence of misbehaviour or criminality by a garda 15
Non-criminal investigation  undertaken and concluded, finding no evidence of misbehaviour by a garda – no further action taken. 7
Non-criminal investigation undertaken and concluded – Garda Discipline Regulations no longer apply to member. 1
Non-criminal investigation undertaken and concluded – sanction applied by the Garda Commissioner. 1
Non-criminal investigation undertaken and concluded – no sanction applied by the Garda Commissioner 1
Criminal investigation undertaken and concluded, finding insufficient evidence of criminal misconduct by a garda –  no further action taken. 4
Criminal investigation undertaken and concluded. referred to the DPP. prosecution directed. 2
Case discontinued due to lack of cooperation from the injured party and no other issues of concern. 1
Total 32

Investigations into a death

Article 2 of The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) states that everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. This right encompasses both positive and negative obligations for the State: a negative obligation not to take life and a positive obligation to protect life.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that, when there has been a death following police contact, the State is obliged to conduct an effective, official and independent investigation. The ECtHR has developed five principles for the effective investigation of complaints against the police where article 2 of the ECHR has engaged. These have been summarised as follows by the European Commissioner on Human Rights, Thomas Hammerberg:

  • Independence – there should not be institutional or hierarchical connections between the investigators and the officer complained against and there should be practical independence;
  • Adequacy – the investigation should be capable of gathering evidence to determine whether police behaviour was unlawful and to identify and punish those responsible;
  • Promptness – the investigation should be conducted promptly and in an expeditious manner in order to maintain confidence in the rule of law;
  • Public Scrutiny – procedures and decision making should be open and transparent in order to ensure accountability; and
  • Victim Involvement – the complainant should be involved in the complaints process in order to safeguard his or her legitimate interests.

The fact that investigations in cases where a death follows police contact are undertaken by the Garda Ombudsman fulfils the requirement for independence.

We are conscious of upholding the other four principles too. For example, in order to ensure victim involvement, GSOC has several trained Family Liaison Officers in its Investigations team, to communicate with, and provide support for bereaved families during such cases. Following its investigations, GSOC also provides a written or in-person report to the family of the deceased.

We are also conscious that GSOC alone does not ensure that all of these principles are upheld; but it plays a part in doing so, with the Office of the DPP, the Coroner’s Court and other State bodies. It is for this reason that, even if GSOC may be of the opinion that there is no evidence of criminality, in many cases involving death we will send a file to the DPP to consider anyway.