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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 18 May 1993

Vol. 430 No. 8

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Office of Director of Public Prosecutions.

Gay Mitchell


5 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Taoiseach if he will review the legislation setting up the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions with a view to making it possible for the director where public interest so requires to make a statement setting out the reason he has not proceeded with a prosecution in certain cases of serious crime.

As the Deputy was informed in answer to a similar question by him on a previous occasion, such statements are not issued by the director because a policy of giving reasons would inevitably, in very many cases, mean inflicting distress and serious damage to the reputation of individuals. Before the coming into operation of the Prosecution of Offences Act, 1974, which established the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Attorneys General dealt with criminal prosecutions. They also considered themselves precluded from making any such statements.

As the Taoiseach rightly said, I have been raising this matter for some time and my question is not related to any particular case. Would the Taoiseach agree that independence is not necessarily affected by proper accountability procedures? Would he agree — for instance, where there has been loss of life, or multiple loss of life, in circumstances I came across in the past — that the Director of Public Prosecutions should be authorised in some way, even if it necessitates amending legislation, in the public interest, to give reasons he did not proceed with a prosecution since this matter gives rise to much public concern? Would the Taoiseach reconsider the matter?

Deputy Mitchell would be the first to agree that, if reasons were to be given in one case — even in circumstances in which public controversy surrounded such a case — such explanation would have to be extended to all cases. I do not think any of us — and neither, I am sure, would Deputy Mitchell — would want to interfere with the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions in such cases. Members should remember that we could be creating circumstances in which the perception of guilt could well be associated with somebody in relation to his or her conviction if one were to announce a particular reason for not proceeding with a prosecution.

There could be many reasons for the decision. For example, if a witness had disappeared from the jurisdiction and that was the reason given for not proceeding, some people could draw the conclusion — and this would be contrary to natural justice — that the person was guilty but the evidence was not available to convict him. One would want to tread very carefully before making changes in this area. I believe strongly in accountability but I have to be very careful in proceeding along a particular line. The reasons for non-prosecution do not necessarily relate to guilt or innocence and in that regard we should be concerned.

Does the Taoiseach agree that no one in Irish society should be so independent that he is not accountable? Further, does he agree that the DPP finds himself bound by legislation which he agrees should be changed? Is he aware that the then chairman and vice-chairman of the Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism, Deputy Woods and Deputy Gay Mitchell, were asked by that committee to meet with the Director of Public Prosecutions and that it was agreed at their meeting that some formula should be found where the public interest so requires, in the case of serious crime or loss of life, to show that justice is being done and is being seen to be done? I have been pressing this matter since 1986. Will the Taoiseach review the legislation or at least cause the DPP to be consulted on whether he agrees that the legislation should be changed?

Repetition is a luxury we cannot afford at Question Time.

I read the report in front of me and I could not draw the conclusion Deputy Mitchell has drawn in relation to legislation. The answers given at that time are not in accordance with what he now says — may be there is an inadequate report in front of me, but I doubt it. Having said that, however, I think the House will agree with me that withholding reasons for not proceeding with a prosecution is not based on a reluctance by the DPP to be accountable, but on policy. If we were to establish a policy of giving reasons in such cases, this could in many circumstances mean serious damage to the reputation of individuals. One has to be extremely careful in that area. This is the strongly held view over a long period of time. I know the matter was discussed at the Committee of Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism some time ago but I cannot see where the committee came up with a recommendation outlined by Deputy Mitchell.

Accepting the Taoiseach's anxieties in relation to individual cases, would he agree with me that the Prosecution of Offences Act, 1974, makes provision for the Attorney General to consult in certain circumstances with the Director of Public Prosecutions about the discharge of the Director's duties? Does he further agree that in certain cases, such as those Deputy Mitchell has in mind like dangerous driving causing death, at least the policy principles upon which it is decided to proceed or not with those prosecutions should be made clearly known so that people, generally speaking, can have confidence that the indictable offence of dangerous driving causing death is not set aside in favour of summary offences, where it is not appropriate?

I do not think any of us would point the finger at the Office of the DPP and say that in reaching such decisions he does not take full account of the circumstances surrounding it. If you once give a reason you cannot get away from giving reasons on subsequent occasions. There will be questions day after day in the House about reasons for this, that and the other. The issue of protection for the individual has to be very much in our minds when considering this issue and we should not rush into rash decisions.

Can the Taoiseach suggest the form of redress an individual citizen should have in circumstances where he feels aggrieved at the sentence passed on a driver who is engaged in dangerous driving resulting in the death of a relative and where he feels the prosecution has not been proceeded with fairly and he is not being treated fairly? What procedures can be put in place to deal with that situation, particularly in circumstances where the people concerned are not in a position, financially or otherwise, to pursue civil proceedings?

This is a separate matter. If the Deputy wishes to put down a question on new procedures I will certainly have it examined by both the DPP and the Attorney General.

The Taoiseach has explained why he is unwilling to accept public accountability by the DPP, but would he consider some form of private accountability, whereby after the event the DPP might be asked to account to three assessors, to whom complaints could be made on the decisions he has reached so that there would be at least some means of discussing the policy he has implemented, without the publication of the results in an individual case?

I do not know how feasible that would be. I will have discussions on the matter but I cannot give any undertaking that the situation will be changed.

As there is some concern among Members, will the Taoiseach ask the Attorney General to ascertain the view of the DPP on the suggestions made here today?

I will certainly do that.

Does the Taoiseach agree that the victim of crime must be satisfied that justice is seen to be done?

Of course.

Can we have some procedures for this?