Garda Ombudsman Annual Report 2015 published
Garda Ombudsman Annual Report 2015 published.
The 2015 Annual Report of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has now been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
It includes numerous case studies illustrating the Garda Ombudsman’s work and reports on operations in relation to the organisation’s four main areas of responsibility:
1. To deal with complaints concerning garda conduct.
- In 2015, just under 2,000 complaints were received by the Garda Ombudsman, of which 1,102 were admissible.
- The most common matters complained of were abuse of authority and neglect of duty.
- 2,176 complaints were closed and their outcomes are listed and explained in the report.
2. To conduct independent investigations, following referral by the Garda Síochána, in circumstances where it appears that the conduct of a garda may have resulted in the death of, or serious harm to, a person.
- 52 referrals were received in 2015, of which 15 related to fatalities.
- The most common circumstances for such referrals were road policing and arrest.
- 58 such investigations (initiated in 2015 or in previous years) were closed during the year, half of which 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 and the outcomes are listed and explained in the report.
3. To investigate matters in relation to the conduct of gardaí, when it is in the public interest, even if a complaint has not been received.
- 12 investigations in the public interest were opened in 2015 (eight more than in 2014). Two were opened by decision of the Ombudsman Commission and the remainder were on request of the Minister for Justice and Equality, all arising from the work of the Independent Review Mechanism. (An update on the status of these investigations is available on our website)
- Eight public interest investigations were already underway at the start of 2015. Two were concluded during the year, with reports available on our website. Two others were nearing conclusion at year end (one of which has been concluded since).
4. To examine any “practice, policy or procedure” of the Garda Síochána.
One examination of Garda Síochána practice, policy and procedure was delivered in 2015. It had been commenced on request of the Minister in 2014 and was the second such examination conducted by the Garda Ombudsman. It was focused on the issue of the Garda Síochána’s dealings with people who are committed to custody on remand by a court. A series of recommendations were included in the examination, which the Commission hopes will assist in addressing existing vulnerabilities and building public confidence in the system. It is available here
GSOC submitted 36 further recommendations to the Garda Síochána during the year, relating to systemic issues that had come to light during investigations. These are listed in section 6 of the report. The Commission hopes that this feedback loop between GSOC and the Garda Síochána will help to reduce the number of complaints against gardaí. The Commission was encouraged to note the positive reception to such observations from the Garda Síochána over the last year.
During the year, the Garda Síochána (Amendment) Act 2015 was passed (in March), as was the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority) Act 2015 (in December). The Acts amended and updated the Garda Síochána Act 2005 (the principal Act governing GSOC’s activity) and other relevant legislation. Changes included bringing the Garda Commissioner within the remit of GSOC; extending the time limit for making a complaint to GSOC; and extending GSOC’s powers of investigation in relation to complaints involving suspected criminal behaviour. The Ombudsman Commission is hopeful that this marks the beginning of a phase of legislative change, to enable GSOC as an organisation to fulfil its functions more effectively.
At the end of 2015, GSOC commissioned independent public attitudes research to measure any change in public opinion since the last piece of independent research, undertaken two years previously. This is included in the report. It was positive that seven in ten Irish adults surveyed said that the Garda Ombudsman provides an important service; and the majority believed that, if they had a problem, they would be treated fairly if they went to the Garda Ombudsman. It is of concern, however, that only half of those surveyed expressed confidence in the Garda Ombudsman’s ability to resolve problems.
It is GSOC’s experience that a complainant is often looking for assistance in resolving an issue, or simply recognition that the interaction they had with a member of the Gardaí was not satisfactory. In these cases, they are not often seeking formal discipline of a garda. The system provided for by the current legislation favours formal criminal or disciplinary investigations. In such investigations, the possible outcomes of making a complaint to a GSOC are all related to evidence of a criminal offence, or of a breach of the Garda Síochána Discipline Regulations. This does not always reflect a complainant’s expectations.
“We believe that some complaints, in particular those that relate to quality of service from gardaí, are best addressed through a managerial rather than a disciplinary response,” said GSOC Chairperson Justice Mary Ellen Ring. “We have put suggested reforms before the Minister and Department of Justice and Equality.”
“We would also like to see more engagement by gardaí with the informal resolution process, when minor complaints are made,” she said. “These types of complaints, as they are currently handled, are resource intensive for both GSOC and the Garda Síochána – and often they do not provide a satisfactory experience for complainants either. Moving towards a resolution model must be a focus for GSOC.”
Head of Communications
Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission