Anxiety in the Court

When joining An Garda Síochána, many are unaware of the courtroom realities that await them. Mairead Leen considers

 

The training that gardaí receive for dealing with the interrogation process that will face them during their careers is, it is suggested, at best, foundational. In Garda College, trainee barristers are drafted in to practice their cross-questioning skills, while the trainee guards must learn to master the tricky art of answering questions while under pressure.

For some, the courtroom is a place where they go regularly, but to say it is a baptism of fire is an understatement – particularly in smaller communities, where a solicitor may cross the threshold between questioning and rudeness. As gardaí, they have to roll with the punches so to speak; they will still have to deal with these solicitors on a regular basis, regardless of how they were treated on the stand.

The District Court is where gardaí are questioned most regularly and, perhaps, where the questioning can feel the most relentless. As Vicky Phelan recently explained, her husband suffered panic attacks and was ultimately prescribed Xanax, such was his anxiety surrounding the interrogation process. It is no different for gardaí and it can be a challenging part of the job. Every ‘I’ must be dotted and ‘T’ crossed to ensure that you don’t get tripped up. For some, it can be an overwhelming process and it must be questioned whether there are enough supports for gardaí who undergo these challenging interrogations.

For example, even upon researching this topic, all one will probably find are the rights of an offender during the questioning and interrogation process. There is little, if anything, on the safeguards in place for gardaí. That said, I’m not sure how helpful a workshop for example would be; experience and time, after all, are the greatest methods of learning how to deal with the cross-questioning process.

It must be asked though, is this an appropriate way of serving justice?

No-one is denying the stress of one of the most demanding jobs you can do. Stress, anxiety and depression are rampant among the ranks. It should not be simply accepted as an occupational hazard, but, rather, a risk that should not be allowed to continue to fester. An Irish Times article is particularly stark in this regard, where two gardaí, who only spoke on the basis of anonymity, said that they would be viewed as ‘unstable, weak and unfit for work’ if they sought counselling officially. ‘Unapproachable’ superiors combined with the stress of the job have a serious impact on the mental health of gardaí.
It appears that one of the most major anxiety inducing areas of the job, public speaking and cross- examination, has not been adequately examined, with regard to more supports for gardaí who are subjected to gruelling interrogations, particularly during high profile murder cases and the like. Another stark headline by The Journal reads – ‘Abandoned to the scrap heap’. This speaks to the overall difficulties that gardaí face while in this job, but it is still relevant to this specific area.

Maybe it has been accepted as part of the role for years; that you will be cross-examined. However, is it the only means of accessing justice? And more importantly than that, is it acceptable? Is it acceptable for a garda to feel attacked on the stand, to have growing feelings of anxiety and stress surrounding the courtroom? Is it acceptable to throw those on the Frontline to the proverbial tigers?

A Member on the stand must appear confident and detail-oriented, while being grilled in challenging circumstances, where every word uttered is heavily scrutinised. Simultaneously, they must remain calm and patient so as not to lose their temper when subjected to persistent or invasive questioning. It is a delicate balance to strike; one which is arguably impossible to achieve with regard to the numerous difficulties it poses.
You have been warned…


For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

subscribe button