Dáil Éireann - Volume 344 - 06 July, 1983

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Inquest Juries.

16. Mr. De Rossa asked the Minister for Justice if he has satisfied himself with the criteria at present used for the selection of juries for inquests; and if he will consider introducing amending legislation to enable inquest juries to be selected in accordance with the practice at present used for court juries.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): I am not aware of any dissatisfaction with the selection of persons for service on coroners' juries, which is made by the Garda in accordance with the provisions of section 43 of the Coroners Act, 1962 (No. 9 of 1962), and section 31 of the Juries Act, 1976 (No. 4 of 1976). An elaborate system for the selection of the jury such as that provided for court purposes would not appear to be necessary in the case of inquests, which are few in number even in Dublin, which serve a very limited purpose, namely to establish the identity of the person on whom the inquest is being held, and how, when and where death occurred: questions of civil or criminal liability are not permitted by law to be considered or investigated at the inquest.

Mr. De Rossa: Are there not problems in cases when people die in the custody of gardaí and when the Garda are responsible for the selection of inquest juries? I asked the question because in my constituency a person died in a Garda station. Though I am satisfied that the gardaí were completely blameless in that instance, does the Minister not agree it is inappropriate that the Garda should have the job of selecting inquest juries in such cases?

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): I am not aware of any particular dissatisfaction even in cases such as the Deputy referred to. I understand some concern has been expressed in Britain but I do not know of any concern expressed here.

[1767] Mr. De Rossa: I did not ask the Minister if he was aware of concern. I asked him if he considers it appropriate that the Garda in all cases should be responsible for the selection of inquest juries.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): It is provided by law at the moment and the present system has seemed to work well, without prejudice to the interests of anybody involved and without causing concern. If the Deputy has any point in mind which he would like to raise with me I will be happy to hear it.

Mr. De Rossa: In response to the Minister's request there is a recent case in which a person died in custody——

An Ceann Comhairle: I do not think the Minister meant you to respond instantly in the House. That is not appropriate at Question Time.

Mr. De Rossa: I am talking about a recent case of death by gunshot wounds and in both that and the case I mentioned earlier, the Garda were responsible for selecting the inquest juries. I am simply asking if the Minister considers that to be appropriate in all cases.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): About 50 per cent of inquests held by the Dublin City Coroner are held with juries. Normally, the coroner would know only a week or less in advance of the day when he could hold an inquest; on rare occasions he might have two weeks' notice. As soon as the date is fixed for an inquest the coroner's office notify the Garda who investigated the circumstances of the death and inform them that a jury is required. Under section 43 of the Coroners Act, 1962, it then becomes necessary for the Garda to assemble a jury. As a rule, the gardaí who investigated the case contact Store Street station and request them to assemble a jury. Therefore, it is not the investigating gardaí who assemble the jury. Juries normally consist of office workers, factory workers and shopkeepers from the inner city area. It seems to [1768] be working well and is appropriate at the moment.

Mr. De Rossa: Would the Minister at least undertake to look at whether it is appropriate, and perhaps take views from the Garda and the interested public?

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): I will look at it but there would be practical difficulties because of the short notice available for the coroner to assemble juries. If the normal court practice were adopted of giving six or seven weeks' notice and of assembling juries from the register of electors, it would not be appropriate. I will examine the point.