Couple to take Garda to court over delay in child pornography case

Hold up in analysing parents’ computer means their children may be taken into care

Couple’s legal case against Garda asks  that  the computer be examined immediately. Photograph: Frank Miller

Couple’s legal case against Garda asks that the computer be examined immediately. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

A couple accused of possessing child pornography on their home computer face having their children taken into care due to a nine-month delay by the Garda in analysing the hard drive.

The man and woman have now launched a legal case against An Garda Síochána asking that it either examines the computer immediately or allow their own independent experts to examine it to determine if it contains child abuse material.

This would allow the case to be dropped or for charges to be brought against one or both of them.

Mr Justice Séamus Noonan had previously barred the press from reporting or attending the case. Following a legal challenge from The Irish Times over the course of three court hearings, the judge agreed on Tuesday the case can be reported with some restrictions.

In July last year, gardaí obtained a warrant from the District Court to search the couple’s home based on information that an internet protocol (IP) address linked to their house was responsible for downloading illegal images of children between June 2017 and May 2018.

A computer was seized and given to the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau (GNCCB) for examination.

The man and woman both deny any involvement in downloading child abuse material and have not been charged with any offence. They were told it would take up to 18 months for the computer to be examined due to a backlog of cases.

Following the seizure, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, began an ongoing assessment of the couple to determine if they pose a risk to their young children who live with them.

The agency has imposed strict conditions on the parents relating to the children, all of which have been complied with, lawyers for the couple will argue.

The parents have also been told the children may be taken into care in the near future. The only reason this has not happened to date was due to the parents’ “strict compliance” with Tusla’s conditions, documents state.

In response, the parents lodged a case in February alleging the Garda has “delayed unduly in completing the investigation”.

They argue the Garda has breached their constitutional rights and its own statutory obligations. The parents will ask the court to order the Garda to complete the analysis of their computer immediately.

Forensic copy

Alternatively, they are demanding the Garda provide them with a “forensic copy” of the computer’s hard drive “to permit their [the parents] independent assessment by duly approved experts”.

The Garda and Tusla have until next month to respond to the couple’s arguments.

GNCCB, like its predecessor the Garda Computer Crime Investigation Unit, has been hampered by a lack of resources for examining computer hard drives suspected of containing child abuse material.

There is currently a delay of nearly two years between the seizure of a computer by gardaí and its analysis by garda technicians.

The wait-time is causing follow-on delays in the criminal justice system as suspects can’t be charged or prosecuted until a full examination of their computer has taken place to confirm the presence or absence of illegal material.

Last year a judge in Cork criticised gardaí for taking six years to bring a child pornography case to its conclusion. A garda told the court the computer crime investigation unit was hugely understaffed and had “a huge backlog” of cases.

At Tuesday’s hearing Mr Justice Noonan ruled The Irish Times could report on the facts of the case but could not identify the family or the details of the conditions currently imposed upon them by Tusla.

He also said the Garda may, if it wishes, apply to bar reporting of the details of any child abuse imagery that may be on the computer and the “tradecraft” it employs to investigate child pornography cases.

Details of garda tradecraft could “educate suspects” and “alert them to possible ways to circumvent identification,” Det Chief Supt Declan Daly submitted.