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Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Delay in Court Proceedings.

Tuesday, 25 January 1966

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 220 No. 1

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12.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne Zoom on Seán Dunne asked the Minister for External Affairs if he is aware (a) that a man is in custody in Italy for several months on a robbery charge in which two Irish citizens, resident in Dublin, were cited as witnesses; (b) that their evidence has to be taken in an Irish court; (c) that the High Court judge on 11th January, 1966, commented [9] that it was depressing that the Italian Embassy's request for evidence was dated 21st August, 1965, but that the matter had not left the Department of External Affairs until 2nd November and that it had taken until 11th January, 1966 to make application to the court; (d) that State counsel is reported as saying in court on 14th January that the delay was diplomatic and that the Chief State Solicitor submitted that the witnesses had been travelling and had taken some time to contact; and (e) that when this was refuted by counsel for the witnesses, State counsel withdrew his suggestion and said his instructions were inaccurate; and if, in view of the delay by the Department of External Affairs and the inaccurate statements of the Chief State Solicitor, he will institute a public inquiry to allay disquiet and put beyond question the State's concern for the preservation of the rights and liberties of the individual.

13.

Mr. Cosgrave: Information on Liam Cosgrave Zoom on Liam Cosgrave asked the Minister for External Affairs if he is aware of the concern at the delay in the proceedings of a recent case in which a non-national was charged with robbery and the delay in taking evidence from two Irish witnesses; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

14.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan Zoom on Richie Ryan asked the Minister for External Affairs the reason for the delay in acting on the request of the Italian Government to have evidence on oath taken in Irish courts; if he is aware of the concern caused by the long period which elapsed between the receipt of the request and the taking of the evidence; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

15.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan Zoom on Richie Ryan asked the Minister for External Affairs if, having regard to the widespread concern at the delay in having evidence on oath taken here at the request of the Italian Government, he will ensure that steps will be taken to prevent like delay in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Aiken): Information on Frank Aiken Zoom on Frank Aiken With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take [10] Questions Nos. 12, 13, 14 and 15 together.

I am aware of the circumstances of the case adverted to by the Deputies. The facts are as follows:—

The Letter of Request in this matter was issued by the Italian Court on the 21st August, 1965, and was received in my Department on the 23rd September, 1965, under cover of a Note dated the previous day from the Italian Embassy.

As there were no recent precedents for such a Request in criminal cases, it had to be examined in my Department with a view to determining whether it could be acceded to and, if so, the law and procedure to be followed. Subsequently, my Department had to get the agreement of the Italian Embassy to their being responsible for the expenses involved in securing the evidence and, as required by the Rules of Court, to obtain written sanction from the Department of Finance for the undertaking of this assignment by the Irish legal and judicial authorities. This having been done the relevant documents and translations were transmitted to the Master of the High Court on the 28th October, 1965.

On the 2nd November the procedure for obtaining evidence for the assistance of foreign courts prescribed by the Rules of Court was put in motion by the Master of the High Court writing to the Chief State Solicitor.

On the 3rd November the Chief State Solicitor wrote to the Attorney General requesting him to nominate counsel.

On the 5th November the Attorney General replied with nomination of counsel.

On the 10th November the Chief State Solicitor wrote to the Gardaí asking them to verify whether the witnesses were available.

On the 15th November the Gardaí confirmed that the witnesses were at their addresses.

On the 15th November the Chief State Solicitor instructed counsel.

On the 23rd November the Chief State Solicitor's Office wrote to the [11] office of the President of the District Court requesting the President to name a District Justice to be appointed by the High Court to take the evidence and to fix the time and venue of the hearing.

On the 23rd December the Office of the President of the District Court telephoned the Office of the Chief State Solicitor acknowledging the request and suggesting various dates for the taking of evidence.

On the 24th December the Chief State Solicitor telephoned the President of the District Court selecting 1st February for the hearing of the evidence of the witnesses.

On the 4th January the Chief State Solicitor swore an affidavit to support the application to the High Court.

On the 11th January an application was made to the High Court for the appointment of the President of the District Court as examiner and for the attendance of the witnesses before him.

On the 12th January the High Court made an Order appointing the President of the District Court to hear the evidence on 17th January.

On the 15th January the High Court heard counsel for the two witnesses.

On the 17th January evidence in the case was taken before the President of the District Court.

On the 19th January my Department received the documents from the Master of the High Court and on the same date forwarded them to the Italian Embassy.

My Department and the Attorney General's Office are considering suggestions for simplifying and shortening the various procedures required under present law and practice in cases of this kind. It is hoped to have these suggestions put before the Rules Making Committee at an early date. I see no necessity for adopting the course suggested by Deputy Dunne.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne Zoom on Seán Dunne Is it not perfectly obvious—and does the Minister not agree it is perfectly obvious from what he has indicated in detail in his reply—[12] that bureaucratic delays have occurred in this case which do not reflect in any degree the urgency which the learned judge of the High Court indicated was essential in this case and that, in fact, this matter was treated with negligence?

Mr. Aiken: Information on Frank Aiken Zoom on Frank Aiken The procedure is governed by the Rules of Court. One little part of the delay which occurred in my Department—we had it for nearly four weeks—was in getting specific sanction from the Minister for Finance for expenditure in this case as required by the Rules of Court.

I am not at all satisfied with the delay in coming to a conclusion in hearing the witnesses. But it is an important matter when two Irish citizens have to give evidence in a foreign criminal case and it might be that it would be refused here by our courts or otherwise. It is putting Irish citizens to an expense and has to be carefully examined. Let me say I am hoping that, following our consultations with the Attorney General, suggestions will be put to the Rules Making Committee, which is an independent body consisting of barristers and solicitors and other legal people, and that we will perhaps get the Rules of Court amended to enable us to cure some of the delay that occurred in this case.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne Zoom on Seán Dunne Can we take it that whatever rules there are will be amended to ensure that the Chief State Solicitor's Office will not misinstruct those who act on its behalf in the courts as has been admitted occurred in this case? Are we further to take it from the Minister's reply that the fault for this delay lay with the reluctance of the Department of Finance or the Minister for Finance to provide the moneys?

Mr. Aiken: Information on Frank Aiken Zoom on Frank Aiken No, it was not the fault of the Minister for Finance or his Department.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon Might I ask the Tánaiste is this the first occasion upon which recourse has been had by a foreign Government in our experience, or were there any precedents to guide the Department?

[13]Mr. Aiken: Information on Frank Aiken Zoom on Frank Aiken There were two previous cases in 40 years and that caused a little bit of a delay because a new officer had to get back and see what had happened before in similar applications. We get a number of applications for evidence in civil cases and these seem to present no difficulty because it happens often and the whole procedure is known. For the last 40 years there were only two cases that we know of.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon It is a very rare procedure?

Mr. Aiken: Information on Frank Aiken Zoom on Frank Aiken Very rare.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne Zoom on Seán Dunne Was there not a reflection on the Irish witnesses by reason of the incorrect instructions that were given?

Mr. Aiken: Information on Frank Aiken Zoom on Frank Aiken What happened in the courts is a matter for the courts.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne Zoom on Seán Dunne The Minister cannot get out of it that easily. It is a matter for the Chief State Solicitor. Apparently the Minister for Finance is responsible for it all.


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