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High Court quashes sacking of detective garda

THE High Court has quashed a decision to dismiss a detective garda, who had admitted breaching garda rules concerning the handling of informants.

However, Mr Justice Iseult O’Malley said internal disciplinary proceedings against Limerick-based Detective Garda Brian Culbert from Sixmilebridge should be reheard by a garda board of inquiry established to investigate allegations he had committed serious breaches of discipline regulations.

The High Court heard that Culbert had been involved in the investigation of extremely serious crime in the Limerick area. As part of his work, Detective Culbert acted as a handler for an informant. During the course of his work, it was alleged the detective breached garda rules as to how informants are handled.

The detective was ordered by his superiors to stop. However, in what was a complex situation, he ignored those orders. As a result, Detective Culbert was charged with breaching garda disciplinary rules and an internal garda board of inquiry was set up to investigate the matter.

Detective Culbert admitted the breaches and pleaded mitigation before the board.

In September 2013, the board recommended he be dismissed from the force. In October 2013, the Garda Commissioner ordered that the detective be dismissed.

That decision was appealed, on grounds including the board had failed to conduct a proper hearing, that the sanction was unfair and disproportionate and he was not given the reasons for his dismissal, and a board of appeal was convened.

In advance of that appeal, the board of inquiry reconvened in February 2014 to deal with a request from the appeal board for a report outlining the reasons for the decision to recommend the detective’s dismissal.

The board of inquiry agreed to furnish a copy of its report to each member of the appeal board, as well as the detective.

In his High Court proceedings, Detective Culbert’s lawyers claimed the process was tainted and brought judicial review proceedings against the Garda Commissioner, aimed at preventing any further steps being taken in the disciplinary process.

He also sought orders quashing the appointment of both the board of inquiry and the appeal board and any decision taken by either body.

Paul  Burns, SC, for Detective Culbert argued the decision to provide the appeal board with a report when one of the grounds of appeal was a failure by the board of inquiry to give reasons meant the disciplinary process was beyond any possibility of correction.

The commissioner had opposed the application on grounds including the detective had admitted the allegations against him and the facts were straightforward, there was no need to give reasons.

In her judgment, Ms Justice O’Malley said she was quashing both the determination and recommendation of the board of inquiry in respect to the detective garda. The Commissioner’s subsequent decision to dismiss the detective must be treated as void, she said.

She considered it appropriate to remit the matter to be reheard by a board of inquiry.

She was doing this for reasons including that she did not know if the members of the board had a firm collective view as to what their reasons had been for the decision they made in respect of Detective Culbert when it reconvened three months after its original decision.

The judge said it would not be practicable for the same board to reconsider the matter, as it might lead to further complications. A differently composed board should be appointed.

The judge said in the circumstances of this case, she did not believe an order of prohibition of the entire disciplinary process would be appropriate. The detective admitted his guilt of the charges against him, the judge said. The hearing of the board of inquiry had been conducted on that basis and he had appealed against sanction.

Prohibition should only be granted in the rarest of circumstances, the judge added.

Aodhan O’Faolain

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