Gardaí far less likely to be convicted in court than the general public
Just 22 of the 46 people prosecuted after investigation by Ombudsman convicted
operation A source within the ombudsman was more forthcoming about what obstacles are faced by the watchdog when bringing gardaí to court. They cited a lack of garda co-
operation during investigations as a factor.
“Investigations can drag on for years and we have faced significant problems with garda witnesses in the past in terms of co-operation,” they said.
“It can be a very tough job, investigators sometimes have to go back again and again to get enough information before they can send a file to the DPP.
“But it should be said that the DPP and judiciary have congratulated GSOC on several occasions and I think there is a feeling out there that GSOC does good investigations despite those issues,” they added.
The GSOC employee also suggested the conviction rate may be lower for gardaí because they “have more to lose”. If a garda is convicted of a serious crime they are likely to lose their jobs.
“It’s a lot higher stakes, the impact of a criminal conviction on a serving member of the police is a lot higher than a conviction in many other types of cases,” the source said.
“These people would be looking at every type of legal argument and would argue every possible point and would engage as much expertise as possible.”
A barrister who has prosecuted cases against gardaí believes that sympathetic jurors are one of the main hurdles once a case gets to trial.
“There’s a higher threshold you have to pass when it’s a police officer; there’s already an inherent trust there when they (jurors) see a guard in the dock,” the lawyer said. “That wouldn’t really be there with your ordinary Joe Soap up for beating the head off a chap in a nightclub.”
Added to this is the fact that the complainants in GSOC investigations often have a history with the gardaí and can easily be portrayed by defence lawyers as harbouring a grudge against them.
“A lot of the time the main witness will have his own share of convictions and when that goes before a jury you’re on the back foot already,” the barrister said. “They’re not what you would call ideal witnesses in that respect.”
GSOC has recently being granted access to the garda PULSE system for its investigations but chairman Simon O’Brien has called on the Oireachtas Justice Committee to strengthen its powers further, including allowing it to investigate complaints against the Garda Commissioner and granting it increased resources.