DPP may clarify conditions for prosecutions to proceed

 

GUIDELINES may be issued by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to clarify the requirements for cases to get to court.

TDs heard yesterday that directions for the initiation or the continuance of prosecutions were given in respect of 56 per cent of files referred to the office.

At a meeting of the Dail Public Accounts Committee, the Limerick Fine Gael TD, Mr Michael Finucane, predicted that, with the implementation of the Child Care Act, the number of abuse cases referred to the office through the Garda and the health boards would increase dramatically.

Mr Michael Liddy, senior legal assistant in the DPP's Office, said already there had been a significant rise in such cases. They often presented problems, such as that children were too young to be able to give a coherent account of events.

Mr Finucane said that, where social workers had painstakingly worked to produce information to proceed with a file to the DPP, the consequences of the file being found to be too vague created frustration within the health care system.

Mr Liddy said that, while the quality of social workers' reports was excellent, it might be that the demanding legal requirements of the accusatorial criminal justice system had not been properly understood.

He was not ruling out the issuing of guidelines.

Speaking as a health board member, Mr Finucane said it would be helpful if the boards were given guidelines by the director's office.

Earlier, Mr Liddy said it took an average of 15 days for a direction to be given on a file of any kind.

Efforts were being made to recruit additional staff.

He told Mr Pat Upton (Labour) that in 1994 a total of 6,446 files had been received covering various types of crime. In respect of 5,672, a decision was required on whether a prosecution should be started or continued. In 3,154 cases, or 56 per cent, a positive response was given.

Mr Upton noted that this resulted in a 44 per cent rejection rate. Mr Liddy said there were always legal grounds for a decision not to prosecute. Occasionally the public interest would mean that there should not be a prosecution.

Mr Des O'Malley (Progressive Democrats) complained that prosecutions for fraud were few and far between.

Could the DPP's Office do anything to ensure that more people were prosecuted for this kind of crime, he asked. It seemed that large frauds carried out by prominent business people went unpunished.

Rejecting this claim, Mr Liddy said the level of prosecutions in this area was not mirrored by reporting in the newspapers. The office relied on the Garda to investigate fraud allegations and he saw no reluctance on their part to do so.