Full text of Brian Purcell’s statement on recording of phone calls in Garda stations

Secretary General of Department of Justice responds to criticism for not passing on information sooner

Brian Purcell, secretary general of the Department of Justice and former head of the Irish Prisons Service. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Brian Purcell, secretary general of the Department of Justice and former head of the Irish Prisons Service. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Thu, Apr 3, 2014, 01:00

Report by the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality

Recordings of telephone calls in Garda stations

In its statement of 25 March 2014, the Government asked for a report on all aspects of this matter from An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality, so that an informed decision could be made on the legal and other consequences of the emergence of recordings of telephone calls into and out of Garda stations, with the assistance of the Attorney General.

Procurement of equipment
The on-going understanding of the Department of Justice and Equality has always been that Garda radio messages and calls routed through Garda control rooms, for example emergency calls, have been recorded for operational purposes. This is the basis on which the provision of new recording equipment was considered in the course of limited discussions with the Garda authorities in 2007/2008, and at no stage was the Department alerted to the fact that more extensive recording was being, or was proposed to be, undertaken.

In the event the relevant equipment was procured directly by the Garda authorities, it seems in 2008, under delegated arrangements, and the Department was not involved.

Urgent inquiries are being made in relation to any earlier papers concerning any previous procurement of the equipment used for the recording of telephone calls, but on the basis of the material inspected to date there is no indication that any intention to engage in the type of recording now the subject of controversy was brought to the attention of the Department.

The Holness case
There has been public comment to the effect that the result of an investigation by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) into a complaint by Mr Anthony Holness should have alerted the Department to the existence of the practice of recording telephone calls into and out of Garda stations.

The report by GSOC, which was not submitted to the Minister but rather was published in summarised form on the GSOC website, referred to a ruling by the court before which a number of Gardaí were tried (and convicted) in which evidence consisting of a telephone call to Waterford Garda station was held to be inadmissible, because neither of the parties to the call were apparently aware that it was being recorded. The GSOC report went on to invite the Garda Commissioner to re-evaluate the practice regarding the recording of such calls and the consents required.

In fact, however, what was at issue here was a call by one of the Gardaí dealing with Mr Holness at the scene to a Garda colleague in the control room in Waterford Garda station (using a mobile phone, it is understood), the contents of which would have been very damaging for the Gardaí concerned. The purpose of the suggestion in the GSOC report that the Garda Commissioner might wish to re-evaluate practice in the light of this was, therefore, to ensure that Gardaí were fully aware that calls to and from control rooms were recorded. This case did not, therefore, suggest any practice of recording telephone calls outside of control rooms.

The Bailey case
Mr lan Bailey and his partner initiated civil proceedings against the Garda Commissioner, the Minister, Ireland and the Attorney General in 2007. It is normal practice for the Minister to be included as a defendant in cases where plaintiffs allege Garda wrongdoing, and officials from the Department are routinely copied with documentation in such cases and attend some consultations.

In the Bailey case, a very considerable amount of documentation, with extensive appendices, was circulated over a period of time. While there were references in some appendices to recordings made during this investigation, this did not give rise to an appreciation that there was in place a system of routine recordings of telephone conversations, and there was no indication that there was any wider system in place in Garda stations generally.

On 28 February 2014 the Department of Justice and Equality was advised by the Garda Síochána that they had received legal advice from senior counsel in relation to recordings, and that they would have implications for the defence of the case.