Court quashes dismissal of garda who mishandled informant

Judge orders rehearing of Det Brian Culbert’s case before a new board of inquiry

The High Court has quashed the dismissal of a detective garda who had admitted breaching Garda rules concerning the handling of informants. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The High Court has quashed the dismissal of a detective garda who had admitted breaching Garda rules concerning the handling of informants. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The High Court has quashed the dismissal of a detective garda who had admitted breaching Garda rules concerning the handling of informants.

A rehearing of proceedings before a new Garda board of inquiry has been ordered.

Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley said internal disciplinary proceedings against Det Brian Culbert should be reheard by a different Garda board of inquiry.

The detective had been involved in the investigation of crime in the Limerick area and his work involved acting as a handler for an informant.

It was alleged he breached Garda rules as to the handling of informants, and that he was ordered by his superiors to stop this conduct but he ignored those orders.

As a result, he was charged with breaching Garda disciplinary rules and an internal Garda board of inquiry was set up to investigate the matter.

The court heard that he admitted the breaches and pleaded mitigation but, in September 2013, the board recommended that he be dismissed.

The Garda Commissioner ordered the detective’s dismissal a month later.

That decision was appealed, on grounds including the alleged failure of the board to conduct a proper hearing, that the sanction was unfair and disproportionate and that the detective was not given reasons for his dismissal.

The court heard that a board of appeal was subsequently convened.

In advance of the appeal, the board of inquiry reconvened in February 2014 to deal with a request from the board of appeal for a report outlining the reasons for the decision recommending dismissal.

The board of inquiry agreed to give a copy of its report to each member of the board of appeal, as well as the detective.

‘Tainted process’

Det Culbert claimed that this process was tainted and brought judicial review proceedings against the Garda Commissioner aimed at preventing any further steps in the disciplinary process.

He also sought orders quashing the appointment of both the board of inquiry and the board of appeal, as well as any decision taken by either body.

Paul Burns SC, for the detective, argued the decision to provide the board of appeal with a report, when one of the grounds of appeal was a failure by the board of inquiry to give reasons for its original decision, meant the disciplinary process was tainted beyond any possibility of correction.

The Garda Commissioner opposed the application on grounds including that the detective had admitted the allegations against him, the facts in the case were straightforward and there was no need to give reasons for the decision.

Judge’s ruling

In her judgment, Ms Justice O’Malley quashed both the determination and recommendation of the board of inquiry in relation to the detective.

The Garda Commissioner’s subsequent decision to dismiss the detective must be treated as void, she said.

The matter should be reheard by a differently constituted board of inquiry, the judge said.

The judge said that this was because the court did not know if the members of the original board had had a firm collective view of their reasons for the decision relating to Det Culbert when it reconvened three months after its original decision.

It would not be practicable for the same board to reconsider the matter as it might lead to further complications, the judge said.

In the circumstances of this case, the judge said that she did not believe an order preventing the matter being reheard would be appropriate.

The judge said that the detective admitted his guilt in relation to the charges against him, the hearing of the board of inquiry was conducted on that basis and that he had appealed against the sanction.