It seems to me that the amendment proposed by Senator O'Leary would introduce an additional complication into the procedure and delay quite substantially the consideration of oral complaints. There is a point there I will come back to in a moment. What it provides for is that a summary of the record of each oral complaint should be prepared by the chief executive of the board, sent to the complainant for authentication and signature by the complainant. Obviously, it could take some time between the moment when the complainant called to the local Garda station and the time he would receive the summary of the complaint in the post. A further period would elapse then after the complainant had received the summary, signed it and sent it back, assuming that he found it to be an accurate record of his complaint. Only then under the amendment proposed by Senator O'Leary could the investigation begin.
As Senator Eoin Ryan has pointed out before now, he was not alone on Second Stage in complaining about what he saw as the complexity of the Bill. He was indeed joined most eloquently by my friend Senator O'Leary on that point. I would think that the amendment can be criticised on the same grounds, that it would add a new element of complexity. Some oral complaints could in fact be of a fairly serious nature. We could imagine the case, for example, of a person in custody in a Garda station who complained of serious ill treatment. A complaint of that kind, and indeed there are others — just take that example — should be investigated without any delay. It should be of its nature investigated immediately. The draft treatment regulations which we discussed in this House only yesterday provide that in such a case the member in charge must arrange for the person making the complaint to be medically examined as soon as practicable. As for the Bill it would require any member of the Garda Síochána on becoming aware of the complaint to take any necessary steps immediately to obtain or to preserve evidence about the conduct being complained of.
You would have to do that without waiting for the complaint to go to the board and without waiting for a decision as to the admissibility of the complaint. You would be obliged to take that action immediately so as to ensure that the complaint, if it were deemed admissable, could be fully and properly investigated. Those considerations would indicate the need to have a system that allows us to deal very quickly with complaints and therefore the need to avoid anything that would cause delays. It would be somewhat anomalous, although I know there may be two views about this, to require oral complaints to be authenticated in this way and not to require the same kind of authentication of written complaints — written complaints which could conceivably be rather confused in some cases, where they are badly expressed and perhaps not very clear.
I think it is better that we should have a situation where the chief executive of the board would decide quickly on the admissibility of a complaint on the basis of what is presented to him, whether it is a written record or a record of an oral complaint, rather than to delay the whole precedure by looking for further and better particulars or for authentication. If he decides that the complaint is inadmissable he must say precisely why. He must say what condition or conditions of admissibility have not been fulfilled by the complaint. It would then be up to the complainant if he felt aggrieved by that decision to remedy any omissions there might be in the original complaint and ask the board to review the chief executive's decision. I would imagine that in practice most complaints would be likely to disclose enough information to allow the chief executive to make a decision fairly quickly as to whether the complaint is admissable or inadmissable. If there are omissions or inaccuracies in the account given in a letter of complaint or in the record of an oral complaint, then they can be adjusted at the time when the investigating officer comes to take a full statement. It seems that that is the correct point at which to look for an accurate account of the conduct complained of and then have it signed by the complainant.
I thought for a moment that Senator Durcan was going to support my point of view, although he seemed to take a slightly different track during the course of his remarks. What is clear is that in an ideal world — and this world, as we all know, is far from being ideal — all complaints should be in writing. I fully take the points made in that regard by Senators, including Senator Durcan. The fact is, however, that it would impose an unjustified disability on some potential complainants if we were to require that all complaints should be in writing. It is reasonable and essential to allow for complaints to be made orally. We had some discussion on Second Stage of the circumstances in which oral complaints might be made.
Senator Eoin Ryan's suggestion that an acknowledgment would be accompanied by a record of the complaint is certainly something that we could look at. There is another possibility also. I would imagine and I hope Senators will regard this as being something other than a purely bureaucratic concern, that the Garda Síochána in playing their part in this scheme would provide Garda stations with some kind of a standardised form on which they would record their complaint and that the acknowledgement could be accompanied by a copy of that form. I would have to discuss the details of implementation with the Gardai. There could be there an opportunity effectively to give the complainant that kind of record. The essential point I want to make is that to propose, as the amendment does, that the procedure could not start in any real way until this authentication had taken place could in many places unnecessarily delay the beginning of an investigation in a way that is unnecessary.