Gardaí will face prison for deleting body camera footage

Proposed penalties detailed in new Bill on use of recording devices by the force

New  legislation will make it a criminal offence for gardaí to falsify, conceal, destroy or dispose of evidence gathered by a body-worn camera. Photograph:  Oli Scarff/Getty

New legislation will make it a criminal offence for gardaí to falsify, conceal, destroy or dispose of evidence gathered by a body-worn camera. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty

 

Gardaí who delete or conceal footage from their body cameras will face up to five years in prison under proposed legislation.

The penalty is detailed in the general scheme of the Garda Síochána (Digital Recording) Bill which was approved by Cabinet this week. The Bill will form the basis for the Garda’s use of body-cameras and other recording devices such as mobile phones and drones.

Gardaí are expected to receive body cameras in 2022 after a code of conduct on their use is drawn up by Commissioner Drew Harris.

Once passed, the legislation will make it a criminal offence to falsify, conceal, destroy “or otherwise dispose of evidence” gathered by a body-worn camera. It will also be a crime to knowingly damage or destroy a body-worn camera.

Offenders face up to five years imprisonment and a fine if convicted in the Circuit Court or up to 12 months if convicted in the District Court.

As reported on Monday, the system being examined by gardaí will involve cameras which do not record all the time. They will only be activated by gardaí in certain situations.

Gardaí will have the choice to turn recording on or not. Under the regulations being considered, gardaí will be likely to have to signal whenever they are about to record, and will have to justify the decision afterwards. This will be similar to the process for the use of force.

The proposed legislation will mandate that cameras be visible on the clothing of the Garda “and shall have a visible indicator when it is being operated”.

Garda may use cameras for “preventing, investigating, detecting or prosecuting criminal offences, securing public order and public safety or safeguarding against, and the prevention of, threats to public security”.

The use of cameras “must be necessary and proportionate in relation to the functions of the Garda Síochána,” the Bill states.

Standards

The Bill also details the use of CCTV in garda vehicles, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras and the use of mobile phone or drone cameras by gardaí.

An independent examiner will also be established to review the use of third party data by gardaí.

“While enhanced policing capabilities are something that is necessary, these powers must be subject to sufficient controls and oversight to ensure they are proportionate at all times,” said interim Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys on Thursday.

“We will therefore ensure there is a robust statutory framework in place to set standards and procedures and to provide appropriate oversight of the use of the powers, particularly where they could infringe on the privacy or data protection rights of citizens.”