The president of the District Court has said “a lot” of cases may have to be adjourned and more gardaí may have to attend courts following a High Court decision overturning a rule under which a huge volume of criminal prosecutions were managed by Garda ‘presenters’ there.
The High Court’s Ms Justice Marguerite Bolger held on Tuesday that a District Court rule which permits any garda to present a prosecution in the District Courts is an “impermissible” amendment of section 8.2 of the Garda Síochána Act which limits that “significant” right to the garda who initiated the prosecution.
District Court president, Judge Paul Kelly, told The Irish Times later on Tuesday he is waiting to see how the DPP will respond to the High Court judgment.
He said emergency legislation could “easily” address the situation. He also agreed the DPP has the option to appeal the judgment but said, pending any such appeal, the High Court decision is stating the law.
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While it is not entirely clear what impact the High Court decision will have on the District Courts, it may well be that a lot of cases will have to be adjourned and more gardaí will have to attend the courts pending the DPP’s response, he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the Minister is aware of the judgment and the Department is examining its implications in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and An Garda Síochána.
Sources within the force suggested the ruling will put massive pressure on Garda resources.
“It’s going to create chaos for administration and allocation of members, particularly in the short term,” a senior garda said.
“It will result in a lot more gardaí being removed from frontline duties on a daily basis unless a workaround is found,” said another garda.
The 2018 report of the Commission on the Future of Policing had recommended an end to gardaí, rather than qualified lawyers, prosecuting some cases on behalf of the DPP in the District Courts.
In an early instance of ruling’s impact, most cases at a special sitting of Galway District Court were adjourned on Tuesday following an announcement from the DPP’s office that the High Court decision meant Garda Sergeant court presenters could no longer manage criminal prosecutions in the District Court.
Judge John King took only those cases where pleas were entered and adjourned several contested matters to October after court proceedings were interrupted around noon on Tuesday by State solicitor, William Kennedy, who informed the judge and lawyers of the High Court decision, issued about two hours earlier.
Ms Justice Bolger had noted the outcome of her decision may adversely affect the way in which criminal prosecutions are managed before the District Court.
She did not underestimate or disregard the administrative challenges in managing the system of District Court criminal prosecutions and the need for an efficient and effective system to do so, the judge said.
However, the “desirability of efficiency” cannot be permitted to overlook the application, even over many years, of a rule that goes impermissibly beyond what is permitted by section 8.2, she said.
The legal issue arose in relation to a prosecution last August of a man who denied a charge of having a small quantity of cannabis.
A Garda Sergeant, who said he was “instructed” by the prosecuting garda, told District Judge Miriam Walsh he was not ready to proceed but facts could be provided if there was a guilty plea.
After the defendant’s solicitor argued that sergeant had no right of audience before the District Court, Judge Walsh referred legal issues to the High Court for determination. The Attorney General was a notice party to the High Court case in light of the potential significance of the issues raised.
In opposing the High Court proceedings, lawyers for the DPP and AG argued the interpretation of the District Court rules being contended for would result in a fundamental overhaul of the courts presenter system operating in the District Courts.
Ms Justice Bolger ruled the sergeant who had appeared in the case had no right of audience which, she held, was limited to gardaí who initially arrested and charged the accused persons.
The right of audience conferred on members of specified groups, including certain members of An Garda Síochána, is not an element of court practice and procedures but is “more significant and akin to the administration of justice”, she said.
Section 8.2 of the 2005 Act, which permits a garda to initiate and conduct a District Court prosecution on behalf of the DPP, means that officer must have both initiated and conducted the prosecution in order to have a right of audience before the District Court, she held.
A Garda spokesman said it is aware of High Court ruling. “An Garda Síochána is working closely with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure continuity in the prosecution of cases before the District Courts,” he said.