Politics

Criminal justice plans

10468865 eolas summarises the Government’s justice commitments in each part of the system and the opposition’s alternatives.

Policing

In a commitment that will resonate with the public, the Government pledges to “ensure that rogue bankers and all those that misappropriate or embezzle funds are properly pursued for their crimes” and receive “the full rigours of the law”. Garda representatives have claimed that Ireland’s financial crime investigations are undermanned compared, for example, to Denmark.

A consolidated anti-corruption law would also be enacted. Convicted white collar criminals would not be able to transfer assets to spouses and other relatives and a strengthened Criminal Assets Bureau would pursue their legal aid costs.

Plans to reduce gardaí numbers to 13,000 by 2014 were included in the Government’s agreement with the EU and European Central Bank last year; there were 14,330 as of 31 March. Officers claim that Garda strength equals public safety but Alan Shatter doubts whether a “mathematical formula” can be used. He sees “smart policing, investigative skill, reliable intelligence, technological and forensic supports and co-operative policing across borders” as important factors.

The Government also pledges a DNA database to help investigate serious crime and immigration offences.

X-ray scanners at ports, increased coastal patrols and more customs officers at smaller airports will tackle smuggling, especially in drugs. Roadside drug testing is also proposed.

Gardaí should work on the front line while civilian staff clear up administration. Tackling anti-social behaviour should become a higher priority. Proposals include a 12-month probationary tenancy for all public or social housing tenants, extending the Juvenile Liaison Officer Scheme and the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme.

Courts

More efficient case management should see fewer gardaí spending time in court. Legislation to strengthen the rights of victims of crime, especially to improve information and advice, will also be brought forward.

A distinction is drawn between serious and violent crime (which merits prison) and the remaining offences (where fewer prison sentences and more non-custodial alternatives should be used). No-one should go to prison for defaulting on fines and debts, it states.

Community service will be the first option for judges considering sentences of one year or less. Attachment orders would pay off fines over time by docking wages or welfare payments. However, aggravating factors will also be formally considered in sentencing.

A judicial council, with lay representation, would deal with complaints against judges and the legal professions will be independently regulated. The Government also plans to introduce “consolidated and reformed” domestic violence legislation. Labour supports the drugs court initiative, piloted in Dublin, while Fine Gael wants a full review of that court.

Prisons & probation

All prisons will install x-ray scanners to screen visitors for drugs and mobiles. Post-imprisonment restraint orders (including the use of electronic tagging) could be imposed on violent and sexual offenders when sentencing is passed.

Good behaviour, participationin education and training, and completion of rehabilitation programmes will be essential factors for any violent or sexual offender seeking remission. The Thornton Hall project, to replace Mountjoy Prison, will be reviewed and any alternatives considered.

The Inspector of Prisons is to be put on a statutory footing and would be obliged to report annually to the Justice Minister and the Oireachtas Justice Committee. Reports from prison visiting committees will also be published by the inspector. Better co-ordination between the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Board is to be encouraged.

Outcome-based contracts with community organisations will be examined, based on the UK’s social impact bond model. “Renewed impetus to the fight against drugs” is promised, including compulsory as well as voluntary rehabilitation programmes.

Opposition

During the campaign, Fianna Fáil pointed to its track record in government e.g. sustained Garda funding despite the downturn, building over 1,600 prison places and the new Criminal Courts of Justice.

It has since accused Alan Shatter of opportunism for opposing the cut in gardaí numbers when in opposition but indicating his support when in government. Shatter describes this as an “unfortunate reality” and points to the previous Government’s commitment to the same target.

Fianna Fáil wants to see progress on bills which were stalled due to the early election i.e. a clampdown on white collar crime, the Spent Convictions Bill, and legal protection for householders using force against burglars. The party also wants more protection for gardaí on the beat, both in equipment and legal powers.

Sinn Féin calls for an increased full-time Garda service, the abolition of the Garda Reserve and more civilianisation. Joint policing committees and local authorities should have more power to decide the location and opening hours of alcohol outlets.

All monies confiscated by the Criminal Assets Bureau should be reinvested in the communities worst affected by crime, the party says. Other proposals include more sexual assault treatment centres and reducing court ‘holidays’ to four weeks per year; the current summer vacation is two months although judges and staff keep working to clear up paperwork. District courts sit all year round.

The party continues to call for an end to the Offences Against the State Acts and Special Criminal Court, introduced to deal with terrorism, although this was not mentioned in its manifesto. A spokeswoman said that “the powers and provisions that exist on the criminal law books are more than sufficient.”

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