06/14/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/14/2021 02:09
Garda powers to be modernised and updated under new Bill from Minister Humphreys
Minister announces consolidation of police powers
Targeted reforms will improve police effectiveness
New fundamental rights provisions to ensure rights protected
14 June 2021
The Minister for Justice, Heather Humphreys TD, has today published the General Scheme of the Garda Síochána (Powers) Bill following approval by Government.
Publication of the Bill was a key commitment in the Justice Plan 2021. The Bill will modernise existing law and make it more consistent.
In line with a recommendation of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, the Bill will provide a clear and transparent statutory basis for the existing police powers of search, arrest and detention, supported by statutory codes of practice.
It will also have a strong focus on human rights. This includes both the rights of suspected or accused persons, as well as the human rights of all members of society to live free from violence, abuse, crime and fear.
New measures included in the Bill include:
Minister Humphreys said:
'The law in this area is currently very complex, spread across the common law, hundreds of pieces of legislation, constitutional and EU law. Bringing it together will make the use of police powers by Gardaí clear, transparent and accessible. The aim is to create a system that is both clear and straightforward for Gardaí to use and easy for people to understand what powers Gardaí can use and what their rights are in those circumstances.
'At the same time, where we are proposing to extend additional powers to Gardaí, we are also strengthening safeguards. The Bill will have a strong focus on the fundamental rights and procedural rights of the accused. I believe this will maintain the crucial balance which is key to our criminal justice system, while ensuring greater clarity and streamlining of Garda powers.
'This Bill, along with the implementation of the other recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, will improve and copper-fasten a policing practice which is focused, intelligence-based and underpinned by community confidence and support. It will enhance the bedrock of safeguards for good policing - trust, legitimacy and authority.'
The new Bill will set out and enhance the rights of persons in Garda custody, and bring together the existing powers to detain people in Garda custody for the purpose of an investigation.
It will bring in longer detention periods for the investigation of multiple offences being investigated together, for a maximum of up to 48 hours.
It will also allow for a week's detention for suspects in human trafficking offences, which are currently subject to a maximum of 24 hours detention. The longer detention period is warranted because of the control that is often exerted by the perpetrators over their victims.
It is important to note that these are the maximum detention periods permitted. They can only be used where necessary to investigate the offence and they are subject to authorisation by a Court.
The rights of detained suspects are provided for in detail, including the right to rest, the right to medical attention and the right of access to a lawyer.
The Department has consulted extensively in the formulation of the Bill, including with human rights bodies, policing oversight bodies, as well as An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Part of the Scheme dealing with search warrants will also apply to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
The proposals relating to the rights of accused persons will strengthen the measures in place to implement the EU Directive on the Right to Information and facilitate the State opting-in to the EU Directive on Access to a Lawyer. The General Scheme also implements the majority of recommendations of the Law Reform Commission's 2015 Report on Search Warrants.
The Scheme does not include the powers of search, arrest and detention under the Offences Against the State Acts, as that legislation is separately the subject of a review chaired by Mr Justice Michael Peart. Following the completion of that review, any implications for this Scheme will be considered.
The General Scheme will now be sent to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice for pre-legislative scrutiny.
Notes for Editors:A copy of the General Scheme can be read on the Department of Justice website at http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Gen_Scheme_of_AGS_(Powers)_Bill.pdf/Files/Gen_Scheme_of_AGS_(Powers)_Bill.pdf
The Scheme comprises 7 Parts and 68 Heads. Many of these Heads are a restatement of existing law. Common law powers and procedural rights have also been codified. There are also some reforms of the law. The key reforms being introduced by the Bill are as follows:
Introduction of single power of arrest
At the moment, there are several hundred powers of arrest on the statute book going back at least two hundred years, many of which apply to very minor offences. This needs to be streamlined. The proposed introduction of a single power of arrest will replace the majority of the existing powers of arrest on the statute book with a single power of arrest.
This new provision provides a balance. It expands the power of arrest to a greater number of offences, but the new power of arrest is now subject to conditions to ensure an arrest is necessary in the particular circumstances. Under the proposed legislation, arresting Garda must be satisfied that the arrest is necessary for one of a list of reasons, for example to prevent harm, or to establish the person's identity. This type of power is the norm in other common law jurisdictions.
Putting the Garda caution on a statutory basis and removing the requirement to take a written note of interview
At present, there is a requirement that Garda interviews are taken down in writing, even if they are being video recorded. This is very time consuming and makes for an inefficient investigative process. It can also unnecessarily prolong a person's detention. The General Scheme aims to do away with this requirement by putting the Garda caution on a statutory footing and rewording it to remove the requirement to take a written contemporaneous note of Garda interviews in circumstances where the interview is being recorded by other means.
A statutory right for the accused to have their lawyer present at interview
It has been current practice for the accused to be entitled to have their lawyer present at interview following a Supreme Court decision in 2014. The new Bill will put this right on a statutory basis.
A power for An Garda Síochána and other bodies to require a person to provide passwords for access to electronic devices when carrying out a search warrant
The Bill will give Gardaí and other bodies carrying out a search warrant the power to require a person to provide a password to a device. This was recommended by the Law Reform Commission and by the Garda Inspectorate in its Follow-Up Review to its report on Responding to Child Sexual Abuse.
A new requirement to make a written record of a stop and search
Gardaí currently have a power to stop and search a person where they reasonably believe they have certain items on them, for example drugs. However, at present, there is no requirement on Gardaí to make a record of when they stop and search a person. This is a common requirement in other jurisdictions. The new legislation will codify the existing Garda powers to stop and search a person where a Garda has reasonable grounds to suspect that the person is in possession of some prohibited article, such as drugs, firearms or stolen goods.
It also replaces an existing power for a Garda to stop and search a vehicle and any persons in the vehicle where the member has reasonable grounds to suspect that a specified serious or terrorist offence is occurring or is about to occur. At present there is a power for Gardaí to carry out random searches of cars where the Gardaí suspect that a specific serious or terrorist offence has occurred or about to occur, for example at roadblocks. This is being extended to abduction and trafficking offences, so that where a child has been abducted, for example, it will allow a roadblock to be set up where Gardaí can randomly check vehicles.
Powers around Garda custody
The new Bill will set out and enhance the rights of persons in Garda custody, and bring together the existing powers to detain people in Garda custody for the purpose of an investigation. Reflecting the current law, it will allow Gardaí to detain suspects for up to 24 hours for serious offences (those carrying a maximum penalty of 5 years or more), and for up to 168 hours for certain offences listed in Schedule 5 (these include offences linked to organised crime and drug trafficking). It will bring in longer detention periods for the investigation of multiple offences being investigated together, and for human trafficking offences, and for all forms of murder (currently, it just applies to certain forms of murder). The rights of detained suspects are provided for in detail, including the right to rest, the right to medical attention and the right of access to a lawyer.
Special measures to be taken for suspects who are children, and suspects who may have impaired capacity
The Bill will place fundamental rights principles on a statutory basis and make provision for the use of powers in respect of children and persons with impaired capacity (whether because of an intellectual disability, mental illness, physical disability or intoxication). This is to reflect the fact that such persons may lack capacity to make decisions for themselves for example.