Publication of Hamilton Review Report
In announcing a new cross-government plan to tackle economic crime and corruption, the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD, who will head the cross-government initiative, has commented that "the State and its agencies must have all the powers available to clamp down and prevent white-collar crime".
The announcement comes following the publication of the "Review of structures and strategies to prevent, investigate and penalise economic crime and corruption" (Report), which was led by Mr James Hamilton, the former Director of Public Prosecutions.
Background to the Report
On 2 November 2017, the Government published its white-collar crime package. The package comprised of a suite of regulatory, corporate governance and law enforcement measures aimed at making Ireland's ability to combat corporate, economic and regulatory crime fit for purpose.
A key feature of this package included a commitment to "review and strengthen anti-corruption and anti-fraud structures in criminal justice enforcement".
In making this commitment, the then Minister for Justice appointed Mr James Hamilton to act as independent chair of a multi-agency review group. The review group was comprised of Government departments and the key State agencies charged with the responsibility for the prevention, investigation and prosecution of economic crime and corruption. In addition, a small number of experts from outside the public service were also appointed to the review group which met on a number of occasions and undertook a public consultation process.
Under-Resourcing in Key Areas
The Report identifies a number of strengths and weaknesses in the existing structures for dealing with economic crime and corruption in Ireland. It found that the key agencies tasked with investigating and prosecuting economic crime in Ireland function well given the limitations imposed from a resourcing perspective.
However, the Report highlights the serious under-resourcing of some key agencies, most notably the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) and the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) as being "the single overwhelming weakness in the existing system".
The under-resourcing of key State agencies in tackling economic crime is not a new issue. More than 20 years ago, the working group on company law and enforcement issued the "McDowell Report". The report highlighted the need for the establishment of a fully resourced State body, with the requisite skillset, to detect and investigate complex cases of economic crime or corporate wrongdoing.
Establishment of the Corporate Enforcement Authority
While the Company Law Enforcement Act 2001 gave effect to the recommendations in the "McDowell Report" in setting up the ODCE in November 2001, further recent proposals have been made regarding the establishment of a standalone agency to tackle economic crime.
The previously published General Scheme of the Companies
(Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill 2018 (Scheme), proposes a
number of amendments and additions to the Irish Companies Act 2014.
Most notably, the establishment of the Corporate Enforcement
Authority, a standalone agency to tackle economic crime in
We previously wrote about the Scheme here.
A key recommendation of the Report calls for greater resourcing for the prosecution of economic crime in order to meet anticipated additional demands arising from the Corporate Enforcement Authority Bill 2018.
When enacted, the legislation will provide the Corporate Enforcement Authority with greater autonomy and flexibility than currently exists in order to adapt to challenges in investigating and prosecuting economic crime in Ireland, including the ability to recruit specialist staff with the requisite skills and expertise.
Some of the review group's key recommendations are:
- Establishing, on a permanent basis, a cross sectoral, partnership-based advisory council against economic crime and corruption.
- Developing a multi-annual strategy to combat economic crime and corruption and an accompanying action plan.
- Establishing, on a formal and permanent basis, a forum of senior representatives from the relevant bodies in order to facilitate greater inter-agency coordination, collaboration and information-sharing.
- Conducting analysis, through a joint agency task force, on the precise nature and scope of any legislation necessary to facilitate the optimal exchange of information and intelligence between investigative agencies.
- Considering prioritising the GNECB with a substantial, sustained and ring-fenced increase in resources.
- Increasing the resourcing for the prosecution of financial crime.
- Developing formal and continuous training programmes for investigators of economic crime and corruption and developing judicial training regarding complex economic crime cases.
- Expediting the publication and enactment of the Criminal Procedure Bill.
- Expediting the reform and strengthening of ethics in public office legislation and strengthening criminal law in the area of public sector ethics.
The Department of Justice has issued a press release (found here) indicating that the Minister for Justice has received cabinet approval to bring forward an implementation action plan for the Report's recommendations. It will include set timelines for the introduction of a series of reforms to strengthen the State's capacity to prevent and prosecute economic crime.
The Report is a welcome step towards addressing some of the most pressing issues in the area of economic crime. However, in order to ensure Irish enforcement authorities are sufficiently resourced to successfully deal with economic crime in Ireland in the future it is necessary for the Report's key recommendations to be implemented. The Report can be found here.
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