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The Prosecutor

Under the Prosecution of Offences Act 1974 most criminal prosecutions are in the charge of the Director of Public Prosecutions (“DPP”). Some offences are assigned to other legal persons (e.g. Government Ministers) for processing in prosecution by the statute under which they are created.

In fact most criminal prosecutions are brought by members of the Garda Siochana in the name of the DPP.

Before the 1974 act the prosecutor was the Attorney General. Consequently, it was, before 1974, a social fiction imposed on the nation that the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute was taken by the Attorney General without regard for the fact that he was a highly politicised figure, held his post at the behest of the Taoiseach and was the confidante and counsellor of the Governement and its members.

The DPP has no role in the investigation of crime. He (or she) receives a file from the Garda Siochana. The file contains the available evidence. The DPP decides, on the evidence in the file, to prosecute or not to prosecute and whether to prosecute on indictment (in the Circuit Court or Central Criminal Court) or summarily (in the District Court).

Prosecutions on indictment are “contracted out” to barristers in private practice. It is a valuable connection to be on the panel for work coming from the DPP.

Ideally, such a person would have considerable experience in criminal cases. That experience can be gained only when working in defence of prosecutions (otherwise the prosecution of offences would be placed in the hands of inexperienced practitioners and that, it is submitted, ought not to happen).

Experience, it is hoped, should dampen zealotry. It is not the job of a prosecutor to “win”, but to facilitate in doing justice. The steady presentation of the available evidence is the job of the prosecutor. That evidence must be such that there is left no reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant.

In fact, the DPP has issued “Guidelines for Prosecutors”. stressing the need for the prosecutor to act honestly, fairly, impartially and objectively. The Guidelines enjoin the prosecutors to;

“(k) carry out their functions honestly, fairly,
consistently impartially and objectively
and without fear, favour, bias or prejudice;”

This is fine in theory, but the decision to prosecute is often made in circumstances where the complainant, sometimes inevitably, has a private grudge against the accused. It is, in such circumstances more important than ever that the circumstances in which the prosecutor got his or her experience qualifying him or her to get work from the State, should have no bearing on whether the private grudge can be advanced at the expense of the public purse and at no risk to the complainant and great risk to the accused.