Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission calls for radical overhaul of legislation
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has called for a radical overhaul of the legislation governing its operations to make the garda complaints and oversight system fairer, more transparent and more efficient.
It also called for GSOC, which currently operates under the aegis of the Department of Justice and Equality, to be reconstituted as a fully independent agency with its own voted financial resources. It believes credibility in the capacity of GSOC as an independent oversight organisation will be enhanced by reducing its relationship to the Department of Justice and Equality.
GSOC says that the Garda Síochána Act 2005 under which GSOC was established prescribes processes that are overly complicated and place too much focus on retribution and not enough on resolution. It does not believe that complainants’ issues are best addressed by the current system.
In a detailed submission to the Department of Justice and Equality, GSOC has set out proposals for legislative change, recommending a new stand-alone piece of legislation rather than amendments to current legislation.
The proposed changes are aimed at:
- enhancing the independence of the Ombudsman Commission;
- placing greater emphasis on early resolution of complaints to the benefit of complainants and gardaí alike and;
- streamlining the more formal investigative processes.
GSOC believes neither the public nor gardaí are well served by the current system which directs the majority of minor complaints into a drawn-out disciplinary process with its focus on blame and sanction.
Among the key changes it proposes is that GSOC be able to decide when attempts at local resolution of a complaint are appropriate. Members of the public who make a complaint should have a say in whether local garda management can deal with the complaint (particularly where complaints relate to service-level issues such as discourtesy or the non-return of phone calls) or whether they want GSOC to deal with it.
Where a formal investigation of a complaint is necessary, GSOC proposes that it be responsible for all such investigations. Under the current system, many complaints of a non-criminal nature are referred to the Garda Síochána for investigation. Such investigations may be either supervised or unsupervised by GSOC – a system GSOC believes is questionable in terms of public confidence, independence and efficiency. (Complaints alleging criminal behaviour or acts by garda members have always, and would continue to be, investigated by GSOC officers.)
GSOC is also proposing a statutory right of review of its decisions on the admissibility of complaints and its decisions that end the investigative process.
GSOC acknowledges that its proposals have significant implications for the resourcing of the organisation and stresses that the resourcing of GSOC will need to be addressed alongside the legislative change proposed.
In its Proposal for Legislative Change, GSOC says that the years since the 2005 Act came into force have encompassed a turbulent time for the Garda Síochána and oversight bodies. It has also been a time of significant new legislation, including in relation to the rights of victims of crime and of persons wishing to make protected disclosures. These developments reflect a more modern approach to accountability, and the time is right for a new, simple, stand-alone Act.
“The overall thrust of our proposals is towards fairness, openness, efficiency and independence. We believe, after ten years operational experience, that the system needs a radical overhaul and that significant opportunities exist now and should be grasped,” says GSOC in its submission.
- The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission became operational in 2007 to provide a system for receiving complaints and dealing with issues of Garda misconduct in a manner that is efficient, effective and fair to all concerned, and to promote public confidence in the process for resolving those complaints.
- The main route by which alleged misconduct by gardaí comes to GSOC is through complaints from members of the public concerning their experience with gardaí whose conduct may amount to either a criminal offence or behaviour that is contrary to the Garda Síochána Discipline Regulations 2007.
- GSOC has dealt with over to 23,000 complaints from the public, some 900 referrals from the Garda Síochána (the Garda Síochána is obliged to refer certain matters to GSOC), and numerous other investigations undertaken at the request of the Minister for Justice and Equality.
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