Targets missed in at least 70% of GSOC complaints investigated by gardaí

Most cases handed to and completed by gardai last year exceeded time limits.

By Alice Chambers

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TIME LIMITS WERE met in only 23 GSOC complaints that gardaí were assigned and completed in 2022.

Ireland’s policing watchdog hands over a significant amount of its investigations into alleged Garda misconduct to gardaí to investigate.

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) is the independent body that handles complaints relating to police misconduct. Complaints are mostly brought by members of the public and are either criminal or disciplinary.

Noteworthy asked GSOC how many of last year’s cases should have been completed by the end of the year. A spokesperson said that GSOC’s case management system couldn’t automatically process this information but that it was aware of the gap and was working to fix it.

From 2022 complaints received and closed last year, Noteworthy found that just 30% were completed on time. This figure could be significantly lower as 410 of the 485 investigations assigned to gardaí were carried over to 2023.

The practice of gardaí investigating gardaí was brought in to prevent GSOC from becoming “snowed under” by “less serious” complaints. It has been widely criticised by policing experts, including by the UN.

GSOC previously stated it does not believe the practice “is conducive to the promotion of public confidence” and proposed it be discontinued.

“Such investigations are conducted by trained Garda investigators who are well aware of the importance of such investigations being conducted professionally,” a garda spokesperson said, adding that the gardaí have “a process in place to escalate any delays in such investigations”.

An Garda Síochána, gardaí of all ranks, Irish civil rights organisations, politicians and GSOC themselves have been critical of the slow pace of GSOC investigations. These figures show that there are delays in cases which gardaí themselves lead.

When we put this to the gardaí, a spokesperson said that “despite a variety of competing demands, An Garda Síochána strives to complete such investigations expeditiously”.

GSOC did not respond to this query in time for publication but it previously said that “timeliness has been a constant issue” for garda-led investigations. 

Timelines rarely met

GSOC assesses complaints and determines the type of investigation required. Disciplinary cases to be investigated by the gardaí are sent to the Garda Commissioner who assigns it to an inspector or superintendent.

These garda investigations are either supervised by GSOC staff or unsupervised, without GSOC oversight.

We asked for the number of complaints both received and investigated by gardaí in 2022 within the agreed timeframes.

Just 13 unsupervised and 10 supervised cases received in 2022 were completed on time last year, according to data released to Noteworthy under Freedom of Information (FOI).

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Unsupervised investigations should be completed within 16 weeks and supervised within 20 weeks of a Garda Investigating Officer being appointed. These timeframes may be extended with the agreement of GSOC on the provision of an interim report.

The gardaí did complete 608 GSOC cases in 2022 but almost 90% of them related to complaints received in previous years.

GSOC also measures the median time it takes to close cases. Noteworthy analysed this over the past decade. Annual statistics show median length of garda-led investigations have never been near the agreed timeframes.

This was an average of 38 weeks for unsupervised and 42 for unsupervised over the past decade.

Timelines for garda-led investigations are not statutory but were agreed between GSOC and An Garda Síochána as part of the memorandum they signed in 2013. GSOC-led cases do not have a time limit.

Resource data ‘not held centrally’

Through FOI, Noteworthy also asked the gardaí for the amount of resources needed to investigate GSOC cases but this request was refused.

“The records sought are not held centrally,” the garda response stated.

When contacted for comment, the gardaí also declined to give Noteworthy details of the GSOC caseload for inspectors or comment on the resources such cases take.

GSOC told Noteworthy that “in July 2021, as a result of a dispute over pay and allowances, some senior Garda officers withdrew from work they consider outside their core duties”. These included GSOC investigations.

When notified about this dispute, GSOC wrote “escalation letters [regarding a number of cases] to senior management in the guards saying the timelines have not been met”, said one of the body’s commissioners, Hugh Hume, in the Oireachtas last year.

The gardaí told GSOC this work resumed in February 2022 and “measures were put in place to alleviate any backlog resulting from the dispute”.

Watching the Watchdog

How is GSOC dealing with the public’s complaints?

Part two finds GSOC is handing half of its cases back to gardaí to investigate

Have a listen to The Explainer x Noteworthy podcast on our findings

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Investigative Reporter: Alice Chambers  Editor: Maria Delaney

This investigation was part-funded by you, our readers. The remainder was funded through support from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL). The investigation was fully editorially independent as outlined in our Fairness Policy.

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