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Dealing with virus laws delayed sexual-offences unit – DPP
Pic: RollingNews.ie

10 Nov 2021 / ireland Print

Dealing with virus laws held up sex-offence unit opening

The pandemic has created an enormous backlog of trials at Central Criminal Court and Circuit Court level, retiring DPP Claire Loftus says in the organisation’s annual report for 2020.

Loftus welcomes the appointment of additional judges to preside at trials, as well as the introduction of preliminary trial hearings as contained in the Criminal Procedure Act 2021.

Commencement awaits the finalisation of rules of court, the DPP points, but the new procedures will make the trial process more efficient and provide more certainty as to when a trial will proceed.


An enormous strain on the prosecution service resulted from a 27% increase in the number of files received requiring a decision on whether to prosecute, the DPP says.

The number of European Arrest Warrants received also effectively doubled between 2019 and 2020 – from 91 to 179. 

A total of 163 EAWs was issued in 2020, with 27 surrenders. 

There was also a 50% increase in the number of Mutual Legal Assistance Requests submitted to the office – from 602 in 2019 to 873 in 2020.

The requests were from: EU (241), UK (214), US (266), Canada (10), and others (83).

Following the end of the Brexit transition period at year-end 2020, the DPP relied on the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation agreement to apply for arrest warrants in the UK. 

As a result of increasing workloads, an additional 35 posts have been sanctioned for the DPP, bringing the total staff cohort to 260.


The DPP also points out that COVID-related offences were a significant and complex area of work that required “detailed attention”, given frequent changes to the regulations, the creation of new offences, and modification of others.

This workload delayed the opening of the dedicated Sexual Offences Unit (SOU), scheduled for the third quarter of 2020, though policy and preparatory work has been done.

The office obtained Government support to establish this unit in 2019.

All sexual offences prosecuted in the Central Criminal Court, and almost all categories of sexual offence in the Dublin Circuit Court, will be managed from beginning to end within the new SOU.

2019 saw a 12% increase in sexual offences, with an 8% rise in 2020.

Loftus refers to an “eventful decade for crime” in Ireland in the report’s foreword, beginning her tenure in the depths of the financial crisis, and ending it with the pandemic.

Complex cases

"Novel, large, and complex” banking trials were among the longest in the history of the State, the DPP points out. 

Cyber-offences have also globalised crime, with major challenges given the volume of material at issue, and the demands of data-protection obligations.

The 2015 Supreme Court DPP v JC  judgmentwhich ruled that evidence obtained unconstitutionally can be admitted where officers of the State have no knowledge of the breach, freed the DPP to prosecute cases that would not previously have gone ahead, the annual report says.


In 2003, the DPP received 14,696 prosecution files, rising to 17,111 in 2020. 

Solicitors at the Office of the DPP dealt with 1,110 District Court Prosecution files last year, as well as 1,270 appeals from District to Circuit Court, 2,133 High Court bail applications, and 140 judicial review applications.

In 2020, the DPP received 12,458 files requiring a decision on whether to prosecute, relating to 16,158 suspects. 

No prosecution was directed in 5,598 cases (34%), a prosecution on indictment was directed in 4,770 cases (30%), and summary disposal directed in 5,177 (32%).

A total of 613 matters (4%) remain under consideration.

Insufficient evidence is the main reason for a decision not to prosecute (4,427), while the injured party withdrew the complaint in 473 cases.

A total of 102 decisions not to prosecute were made in the public interest.

Lenient sentencing appeals

In 2020, the DPP applied for review to the Court of Appeal (criminal) in 26 cases, on grounds of unduly lenient sentencing.

In that year, a total of 50 applications were heard by the Court of Appeal. Of these, 34 were successful, 13 were refused and three were struck out or withdrawn.

Wages costs at the Office of the DPP topped €15 million in 2020, while fees to counsel ran at a similar level (€15.8 million).

The State Solicitor service cost just over €7 million, and office expenses ran to over €3 million. The total cost of running the office stood at just over €43.5 million.

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