Concerns about senior gardaí over gun licences still persist

 

ANALYSIS:FOLLOWING AN intervention by Mr Justice John Hedigan, the Garda and three gun enthusiasts have come to an agreement. This will allow gun club members reapply for licences where they have been refused.

The basis on which the case was settled was the reasoning for the refusal of licences was flawed.

However, questions about the behaviour of the Garda posed by Mr Justice Hedigan remain to be answered. Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has asked the Garda Commissioner for a report on gun- licensing practices within the force.

Criticism of the Garda by a judge of the High or Supreme Court is always a serious matter. It is not unprecedented – findings of lying under oath have been made by a number of judges in individual criminal cases, leading to convictions being overturned.

These cases all concerned people accused of criminal offences, where the investigating garda fabricated evidence or lied under oath. Further, they were addressed by a number of high-profile inquiries into Garda conduct. The public therefore is entitled to feel these issues have been addressed.

The gun licences case raises potentially even more serious issues. Here, three law-abiding citizens, representing hundreds of gun club members who were pursuing a legitimate sport, took a civil case where they argued there was a systemic failure to abide by the gun licensing law on the part of the Garda.

This involved very senior officers as decisions on licences are made by chief superintendents.

Because the case was settled, there was no judgment made and the issues put by the gun club members were not resolved by the court. Nonetheless, Mr Justice Hedigan made very trenchant comments about the conduct of some gardaí.

“The accuracy and the integrity of that documentation [seeking licences] is essential to the safe and effective operation of the scheme,” he said. “The evidence at this moment shows that this recording process has not been correctly followed.

“More disturbingly, it has been admitted that a substantial number of the application forms have been altered, after having been previously finalised and signed. This occurred after these proceedings were initiated . . .”

If senior officers are seen to bend the rules in their engagement with law-abiding citizens, public confidence in the force will be undermined and the courts will be less likely to accept their evidence.