Garda Equality Case Raises Urgent Issues

The Equality Authority has expressed concern on the outcome of a case taken under the Equal Status Act by a Traveller against the Garda Síochána.

The case involved the investigation and prosecution of an incident involving four wandering horses on a public road. The claimant, a member of the Traveller community, was prosecuted because he owned at least one of the horses. He accepted that he was guilty of the offence but claimed that he was discriminated against in that the other horse owners involved were not Travellers and were not prosecuted.

The Equality Officer considered that certain aspects of the service provided by the Gardaí may be covered by the Act – such as taking a complaint or witnessing a passport application. While this is important the Equality Officer also found that the investigation and prosecution of crime by the Gardaí are not services which are available to the public within the meaning defined by the Equal Status Act and that the complaint was outside the scope of the Equal Status Act. This is the source of the Equality Authority’s concern.

Commenting on the case Niall Crowley, CEO of the Equality Authority highlighted that “the Garda Síochána have already taken a welcome and serious proactive approach to rights issues through their human rights project, their multi-cultural office, and their training provision in Templemore. It would be wise and timely to build on this commitment through an explicit clarification in the Equal Status Act that its provisions cover the Garda Síochána in all aspects of their work.”

He highlighted that the case “raises matters that require an urgent response lest we run the risk of moving towards difficulties which have been the experience in other jurisdictions. The Stephen Lawrence inquiry in England for example demonstrates the extreme situations that can arise where police forces are not explicitly subject to equality legislation and therefore develop the practices that flow from this.”

He concluded that we “could take advantage of the lessons from the British response which was to change the provisions of the Race Relations Act to explicitly cover the police force. Now is a good time for us to take this example as we prepare to revise our equality legislation to incorporate the new EU directive on racial equality. This would assist policing approaches to be pursued and developed in a manner that ensures no discriminatory situations, like the experience of the Stephen Lawrence investigation, could happen here.”

The Equality Authority has written to the Garda Síochána to explore steps taken and steps that could now be taken, to ensure discrimination cannot arise in the investigation and prosecution of crime. Interim measures such as internal guidelines could assist. The Gardaí in the prosecution of offences have a certain degree of discretion. Guidelines covering the exercise of this discretion would assist in ensuring there is no discrimination in prosecution.