An overview of those who have come into contact with the criminal justice system for drug-related offences can be obtained from Garda crime statistics published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), and in the annual reports of the Courts Service, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) and the Probation Service.
The only source that reports separately on the offence of drug possession for personal use is the CSO’s quarterly crime statistics on recorded crime incidents. Statistics on court proceedings report on drug offences as a whole but as offences relating to possession of drugs for personal use tend to be dealt with in the District Court, these data are described as well.
Recorded Crime Incidents
The data, for 2020, reveal that drug possession for personal use represents well over 70% of all controlled drug crime incidents recorded in Ireland (see table). Incidents reported or which become known to members of An Garda Síochána are recorded when, on the balance of probability, a Garda determines that a criminal offence defined by law has taken place, and there is no credible evidence to the contrary.
Recorded Crime Incidents in the Controlled Drug Offences category, annualised total to Q4, 2020*
10c) Possession for sale/supply
10d) Possession for personal use
10e) Other (forged or altered prescription offences and obstruction under the Drugs Act)
Source: CSO statistical release, update October 21, Recorded Crime Quarter 4, 2020, Table 1
* The annualised figure for a given quarter is the total number of crimes recorded in the 12 months prior to end of that quarter
Writing in his book The Irish War on Drugs (2008) about the criminal justice response to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, the late Paul O’Mahony stated that the vast majority of drug cases were treated leniently in the judicial system, in that they were dealt with in the District Court, rather than the Circuit Court, where the maximum sentence available is 12 months. A majority of the people proceeded against in the courts for drug-related offences, moreover, ‘tend to receive a fine, probation, community service or dismissal under the 1907 Probation Act’.
The most recent figures available suggest that the criminal justice response has not changed much. As outlined in the table below, in 2020, 1,313 drug-related offences were summary offences (triable by a District Court judge without a jury), tried in the District Court; a further 15,143 indictable offences (which may be or must be tried before a judge and jury) were also dealt with summarily in the District Court; and just 1,779 were sent forward for trial in the Circuit Court. There were 224 drug related offences dealt with by the Children's Court.
Number of Drug Offences dealt with in the Children’s Court, District Court and Circuit Court, 2020
Taken into Consideration
Source: Courts Service Annual Report 2020, pp. 87–91