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Conway on Budget 2010: The Irish Criminal Justice System

This post is contributed by our regular contributor Dr. Vicky Conway. You can read about Vicky on our Contributors page.

The most apparent implication of Budget 2010 for the criminal justice system has been the threat of strike action by members of the Garda Representative Association (covering circa 12,000 members of the force), on the basis of the public sector pay cuts. The government, on the advice of the AG has warned of the criminal implications of such action, a statement reinforced by the Garda Commissioner. Prof Dermot Walsh has argued however, that there is in fact no legal bar on strike action, only on joining a trade union. The GRA does not appear, at the time of writing, to have made a statement on the Budget, but given AGSI’s response, that it is ‘an attack on its members’, we may well see a ballot of GRA members on strike action in the coming weeks. Let’s not forget other workers, such as prison officers, who may also choose to strike. In the past prison strikes have required Gardaí to serve in prisons, which clearly is problematic if they too are striking.

Beyond this point there are a wide variety of implications from Budget 2010 for the criminal justice system in Ireland.  The Justice Group is to make savings of €49 million for the year. When individual offices are looked at some interesting figures emerge. The DPP’s office is to make savings of 6.9%, the Chief State Solicitor’s Office 7.6% but both of their budgets show that fees to counsel are being reduced by just 1-2%. The Department of Justice is to save 8.7%, An Garda Síochána 8.8% and the Prisons 5.5%. The CSO, which produces all crime statistics, and the Courts Service are both receiving increases of over 16%. The Department of Defence, which through recent legislation is being given a greater role in intelligence gathering in the State (e.g. the Surveillance Act 2009 gives the Defence Forces powers to conduct surveillance on the grounds of national security), also takes a cut of 8.9%. The budget of the Secret Service is increased by 11%.

The Law Reform Commission budget from the AG’s office is down by almost a third. Within the Department of Justice figures we can see that the Human Right’s Commission’s budget remains untouched, but criminal legal aid is down 15%. The budgets for a variety of services have not changed, including the Prisons Inspectorate, the Parole Board, the Criminal Assets Bureau or funding for services for victims of crime. The Forensic Science Lab has its budget increased by 78%, presumably in line with government plans to introduce a DNA database. The budget for crime prevention measures is reduced by a staggering 58%. The budget for the Ombudsman Commission has been increased by 11% and the budget for the Garda Inspectorate is unchanged. The operating costs of the Probation Service have increased by 57% but treatments to offenders are down 15%. The Youth Justice Service has its allowance increased by 19%.

The budget for an Garda Síochána is as interesting for the increases as the decreases: telecommunications is up 28%, consultancy 31%, the Garda Reserve 20% and the Witness Security Programme 141%. Down by in and around a fifth are travel, incidental expenses, office equipment, while clothing is down 75% and transport 31%. Within the Prisons Service buildings are down 18%, but prison services are up 33% and education to offenders is up 19%.

This overview is perhaps surprising. Given the nature of the budget one may have expected to see even more sections of the system feeling the pinch, instead quite a number have retained existing expenditure levels. It is encouraging to see additional money is being given to treatment of offenders in prison but the reduction in similar services within the Probation Service is inconsistent. The reduction to crime prevention work is questionable given the international experience that in times of recession property crime increases, much of which could be avoided through effective crime prevention strategies. The reductions in an Garda Síochána are unsurprising but the increase in the budget of the Garda Reserve will undoubtedly add fuel to the fire of members of the GRA. Consultancy payments most likely relate to continuing work on garda reform which has seen numerous management consultancy firms employed over the last numbers of years to assist in this work. The reduction to the criminal legal aid bill, of 15% is most worrying and risks jeopardising the standard of representative afforded to persons accused of crime. It worsens the disparity between them and the State, particularly given that fees to counsel for both the DPP and Chief State Solicitor’s office are down just 1-2%.

Levels of crime grew substantially in Ireland during the recession of the early 1980s. The same may well happen in Ireland over the coming years. This budget protects and improves a number of aspects of the criminal justice system but the cuts to criminal legal aid may place many people at risk of poor representation, infringing on rights to a fair trial.

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