Adult caution scheme to be reviewed amid concerns about lapses

Audit will check if offenders are repeatedly availing of cautions and so escaping justice

Policing Authority chairwoman Josephine Feehily and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Policing Authority chairwoman Josephine Feehily and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw


The Garda’s adult caution scheme is set to undergo a major audit amid fears it is beset with the same mismanagement exposed with a similar system for juvenile offenders.

The Irish Times understands the audit will be on the same scale as the one carried out into the Garda’s inflating of breathalyser test numbers and the wrongful conviction of about 15,000 motorists under the fixed-charge notice system for motorists.

Consultants Crowe carried out that investigation for the force and concluded the number of breath tests had been overestimated by about 1.5 million, about 500,000 more than the Garda had disclosed.

The audit of the adult caution scheme, which could be announced as early as Friday, is also expected to be carried out by a consultancy firm on behalf of the Policing Authority.

There is concern that adult offenders, who were suspected of a range of crimes, were either not processed properly through the scheme or should have been charged and tried for criminal offences but effectively escaped justice.

This scenario has been found in the youth justice system, and earlier this year Policing Authority chairwoman Josephine Feehily said she was concerned the same shortcomings might be present in the adult justice system.

“It must at least be an open question as to whether similar behaviours, and therefore similar lapsed cases and similar opportunities to reoffend, have occurred in relation to adult offenders,” she said at the time.

Those concerns have not abated within the authority and it has now commissioned the independent audit.

How it works

Under the adult cautioning scheme, offenders can effectively be cautioned by gardaí for a range of crimes, especially first offences, rather than being charged and convicted, which would result in them having a criminal record.

The offences covered by the scheme include a range of public order crimes, from being drunk in a public place to disorderly conduct, threatening and abusive behaviour and others. Cautions can also be given for thefts involving property below the value of €1,000 and for some assaults.

The audit of the adult system will seek to determine if offenders were repeatedly availing of cautions and as a result escaping justice for their crimes. It will also seek to establish if offenders were proposed by gardaí for a caution but refused by a senior officer and then never charged as they should have been.

It emerged in January that 7,894 criminal offences committed by 3,489 child suspects were not processed because of “Garda inaction” over a seven-year period.

An internal Garda review examined all 158,521 referrals, involving 57,386 children, into the diversion programme between 2010 and 2017. The programme seeks to deal with youth offenders outside the criminal justice system in an attempt to divert them away from crime.

Some 103,515 referrals were deemed suitable for the programme and 55,506 were deemed not suitable. These unsuitable cases should have been progressed through the wider justice system, mainly via prosecutions. But in 7,894 cases nothing further happened despite there being grounds, and enough evidence, to pursue the cases.

In each case the child was the suspect for a crime, from minor issues to serious offences including one rape case, seven violent disorder cases and three threats to kill. There were 55 “serious offences” involved.

A full report arising from the audit of the adult cautioning system is not expected until next year, with an interim report expected within two to three months.