DPP to prosecute Fishery Offences

Change of Prosecutor

As and from the 1st August 2009, the Attorney General, has been replaced by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The changeover means several things in relation to sea fishery prosecutions. It is best to explain the changes in the context of how a sea fishery prosecution progresses.

Where the Navy detains a vessel, the Navy communicates this to operations in Haulbowline and to the SFPA.

The boarding officers remain on board the sea fishing vessel until such time as they reach the designated port as determined by the Navy. The navy are obliged by law to pick the most convenient port and not necessarily the most convenient port for the Navy.

Having arrives at port, the boarding officers will then be relieved when the vessel is handed over to An Garda Síochána for the purpose of having statements prepared by the Naval Officers who detected the alleged offence.

These statement are then sent to Haulbowline, who in turn disseminate them to the SFPA and the relevant State Solicitor.

Where it is a quayside inspection and the Sea Fishery Protection Officer believes that they have detected an offence, the investigation completes and at the end of that, the vessel is detained by the Sea Fishery Protection Officer and again, the vessel will be handed in to the custody of a member of An Garda Síochána. At that time, again, statements are prepared and this time they are sent to the.

Statements are then gathered as to the valuation of the catch and gear, the Guard to whom the vessel is handed over must make a statement that they have received custody of the vessel and then all of these statements are given to the local State Solicitor. That State Solicitor traditionally would transmit these to the Attorney Generals office where there was a designated team of six officials who could deal with the file that was presented by the State Solicitor to them. They would then sit down and make decisions based on their own guidelines as to what constitutes a minor, moderate or serious infringement.

At that point, they would then make a decision as to what they need the State Solicitor to do, namely, to issue a written warning, issue proceedings in the District Court only or issue proceedings in the District Court with a view to having a prosecution take place in the Circuit Court.

With the changeover from the Attorney Generals office to the DPP, one of the consequences is that the store of knowledge since 1959 when the Attorney General commenced prosecuting fishery offences, the staff and personnel who had been dealing with those offences all through the years are no longer the same staff that will be making the decisions in the DPP’s office. The DPP’s office has received much training in advance of the handover on the 1st August. Previously, it was possible to discern in advance what the Attorney General was likely to do. With the handover, obviously, some of that certainty has now been removed.

It again places huge emphasis on the vital importance of making representation in those early first few hours with reference to precedent and past decisions.

The second issue that is likely to arise will be in relation to the speed at which these prosecutions will move. Whereas before, the Attorney General’s office was a well oiled machine in respect of making decisions, it is not known how quickly they will move in respect of prosecutions now that it is the remit of the DPP. By this, I am referring to the fact that where the DPP decides to send the matter forward to the Circuit Court, a Book of Evidence will have to be produced. While it is possible, to circumvent the need for a Book of Evidence to be served, the DPP may not be in a position to have that Book of Evidence ready by the conclusion of the 48 hour detention order. Accordingly, it now may necessitate a return to the District Court on one or more occasions.

Furthermore, it is also not known what will happen now in respect of valuations of catch and gear.

Finally, in respect of the final court, be it the District or the Circuit, it is also not known what approach the Director will instruct the State Solicitors to take to various types of fisheries offences. While it would have been known (to those of us who practice law in the area of fisheries offences) what the Attorney General was likely to do, it is not so certain with the DPP.

For More information contact Dermot Conway on 021 4901000 or dermot@conways.ie