Wednesday, 3 November 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
82. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the amount paid out either in respect of court awards or out of court settlements for claims taken against members of the Garda in respect of assault, unlawful arrest or other breach of a citizen’s right in respect of 2001, 2002, 2003 and to date; the number of cases in which awards were made by the courts and the number of cases settled out of court; the number of such cases pending; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27237/04]
Mr. McDowell: The information requested by Deputy Gilmore on court awards and out of court settlements in actions taken against members of the Garda Síochána in respect of assault, unlawful arrest or other breaches of citizens’ rights is set out in the following table.
As of 31 December 2003, there were approximately 750 civil actions taken against members of the Garda Síochána on hand. A detailed breakdown of these actions in the form of the number of allegations of assault, unlawful arrest and other breaches of citizens’ rights is not readily available. However, a database introduced in 2002 for the purposes of recording civil actions against members of the Garda Síochána indicates that in 2003, the first complete year for which a detailed breakdown is available, of the 142 actions initiated or received in that year by my Department there were 34 cases of alleged assault, 38 cases of alleged unlawful arrest and the remaining 70 cases included allegations of defamation and harassment. In the year to date, 111 actions have been initiated or received and they include 37 cases of alleged assault and 22 cases of alleged unlawful arrest.
The general public may take civil actions against members of the Garda Síochána for compensation for alleged wrongs and personal injuries inflicted on them by Garda members in the performance of their duties. The highest percentage of these types of civil actions against the Garda Síochána is in relation to assault and unlawful arrest. The majority of these cases have been settled for far less than €25,500. The settlement of cases takes place on the advice of the Chief State Solicitor’s office, the Attorney General and State counsel.
The Garda Commissioner informed me, that incidents that result in successful claims against the State in respect of the actions of gardaí, are examined with a view to identifying and implementing operational strategies to eliminate or reduce similar claims in the future. The Garda Commissioner has also informed me that the Garda Síochána (Discipline) Regulations 1989 are invoked in appropriate cases where the actions of individual Garda members come into question. One of the principal aims of the Garda Síochána Bill 2004 is the establishment of a new mechanism for dealing with complaints against members of the Garda Síochána that will secure public confidence and address the acknowledged shortcomings in the existing law and procedures on complaints.
|Year (Total Amount)||Assault||Unlawful Arrest||Other|
|2001 €1,619,746.83||Awards||1,904.61 (1)||20,950.68 (2)||22,220.42 (1)|
|Settlements||123,164.59 (5)||33,965.49 (3)||162,782.25 (9)|
|2002 €1,240,388.40||Awards||1,270 (1)||3,809.21 (1)||56,500 (2)|
|2003 (Provisional) €1,276,127.55||Awards||11,000 (1)||10,000 (2)||4,870 (2)|
|Settlements||75,000 (4)||303,011 (5)||112,814.84 (4)|
|2004 (Provisional) €559,044.25 As of 29/10/04||Awards||15,000 (1)||0||3,215.06 (1)|
|Settlements||10,000 (1)||219,007 (7)||27,500(1)|
Mr. Costello: Is that last point not the reason so many cases are being taken, that no new mechanisms have been put in place and the existing complaints mechanism is so inadequate it does not function?
Regarding the cases the Minister listed and the costs of those cases, is it not a fact that in respect of assault and unlawful arrest, which make up the majority of the cases, and the other cases also, the majority are settled at the door of the court and the largest proportion of costs are legal costs because they go to the door of the court? Who is responsible for deciding that a settlement will be made? Who is responsible for deciding that the majority of settlements that take place do so at the last moment? Can we get clarification on the reason the taxpayer faces such a huge bill every year in respect of compensation cases arising from Garda misconduct of one type or another?
Mr. McDowell: What happens in these cases is that the Garda Commissioner and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform act on the advice of the Attorney General in regard to these claims. It is not always the case that they are brought to the door of the court. Frequently, that is not the case but I cannot inform the Deputy that it does not happen on occasions that they are settled at the door of the court. That is an endemic feature of Irish litigation practice. I agree with the Deputy that it is preferable that there should be a proper case management system and a proper estimation of the liability and quantum issues far earlier in these cases so that legal costs are minimised but in cases of “He did, he did not”, which is frequently the kind of case we are dealing with, it is sometimes very difficult to know precisely the relative quality of one’s own evidence until the matter comes into sharp focus and one is aware of the proposed evidence that is likely to come before a court. It is very easy to fall into the trap of not being able to estimate whether a case will be won or lost until a fairly late stage in the procedure, for obvious reasons. Where the facts are in dispute it is difficult to come to a conclusion as to which side is likely to win.
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