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 Header Item Confidence in the Government: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)
 Header Item Written Answers Nos 1-65
 Header Item Courts Service Issues
 Header Item Joint Policing Committees Remit
 Header Item Proposed Legislation
 Header Item Garda Investigations
 Header Item European Court of Human Rights Rulings
 Header Item Crime Prevention
 Header Item Court Accommodation Provision

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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  12 o’clock

Written Answers Nos 1-65

  The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].

  Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, answered orally.

  Questions Nos. 8 to 50, inclusive, resubmitted.

  Questions Nos. 51 to 58, inclusive, answered orally.

Courts Service Issues

 59. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter his plans to address delays in the Courts Service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54479/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I am informed by the Courts Service that the primary objective in the current economic climate is to maintain the delivery of front line court sittings and, in this context, over the past few years the Service has radically altered the way in which they manage the resources available to them. Measures introduced to date include the creation of multi-jurisdictional court offices (14 such offices have been combined to date); centralisation of processes; review of resource allocation including redeployment to front line services; rationalisation of court venues and offices; standardisation of court procedures; and increased use of technology, including online payments and video link, to support court services.

The Deputy may be aware that last year, following consultation with the Chief Justice, I established a cross agency Working Group to identify and implement efficiency measures with a specific focus on the high volume Circuit and District Courts. The Group, which includes representatives of the judiciary, has recently reported to me on initiatives introduced to date. These include a pre-trial procedure which is operating in the Dublin and the Midland Circuits on a pilot basis from 1 December 2012; increased use of video links between courts and prisons; and the provision of same-day probation reports. The amount of time Gardaí spend waiting in court is also being actively managed and reduced. An Expert Group on Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights has also been examining procedural measures with potential to speed up court proceedings and I expect that Group to report to me in the near future.

The Presidents of the various courts are determined to achieve improvements in waiting times and they are working with the Courts Service to target judicial resources at the areas with longest waiting times. It should be noted, for example, that in 2011 there were 674 weeks of Circuit Court sittings in venues outside Dublin. This has increased to 767 weeks in 2012 and the President of the Circuit Court plans to increase capacity to 888 weeks during 2013, a 30% increase over 2011. The additional weeks will be provided across crime, family law and civil matters. The President of the District Court is also concentrating judicial resources in the areas of greatest need.

Waiting times in the High Court have generally reduced considerably. While the waiting time for asylum and pre-leave applications is high, the allocation of more judges and, particularly, more research support for judges has helped to reduce the waiting time for post-leave applications to four months, its lowest level in over two years. Despite significant pressure, the waiting times in all other High Court lists have either remained the same or reduced. The President of the High Court has introduced initiatives such as reorganising sittings of the High Court outside Dublin and arranging for additional court sittings during court recesses to reduce waiting times. In addition, the delegation to court officials of administrative functions previously dealt with by High Court judges has increased judicial availability for trial work.

The Supreme Court, however, continues to experience lengthy waiting times of up to 40 months at present. Although considerable efforts are being made to manage this, the issue of capacity in the Supreme Court can only be fully resolved through the establishment of a Court of Civil Appeal. The Government is committed to the holding of a Constitutional referendum on Article 34 which is necessary to achieve this and work has commenced in my Department in this regard.

Finally, in the context of new work for the courts as a result of the Personal Insolvency Bill, I am introducing amendments to allow for a small new cadre of specialist judges to facilitate the speedy consideration of insolvency applications by the Circuit Court. Rather than incurring additional costs to the Exchequer, the Government has decided that eligibility for these new judgeships will be initially confined to serving County Registrars with the necessary legal qualifications and practice experience. This will have the effect of ensuring that the creation of this new cadre will be largely cost neutral as, if a serving County Registrar is appointed as a Specialist Judge, he or she will not be replaced thus creating the necessary extra judicial resources and maximising the contribution of these existing office holders at very little additional cost.

Joint Policing Committees Remit

 60. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter his plans for the future of joint policing committees; his view on broadening their remit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55484/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The functions and powers of Joint Policing Committees (JPCs) are set out in the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which provides for a Committee in each local authority area. The Act provides that JPCs operate under guidelines issued by the Minister for Justice and Equality after consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The current guidelines were issued in September, 2008.

The Programme for Government makes a commitment to build on existing community policing partnerships and forums to enhance trust between local communities and their Gardaí. In the spirit of that commitment I initiated a review of the operation of the Joint Policing Committees. My Department, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and An Garda Síochána commenced work on the review during 2011 and canvassed opinions from existing JPC members, which helped to inform the preparation of a discussion document. I published this discussion document on 29 November this year to open the matter for wider consultation. The present consultation process is open until the end of January 2013 and I am seeking views from the Garda authorities, local authorities, Oireachtas members, community organisations as well of course from the general public. I have made a specific request that each JPC would consider the document at one of its meetings and notify my Department of the outcome of its discussions.

I look forward to the outcome of this consultation process and in that context I certainly welcome the Deputy's views on the role and functioning of the JPCs. It is important to bear in mind, however, in considering any changes to the remit of the JPCs, that they are intended as a forum for engagement to promote more effective action by the various stakeholders and not an additional administrative structure. Their essential role is to provide appropriate advice to the Gardaí and local authorities and to support collaborative engagement among stakeholders in relation to local policing issues. The Deputy will also appreciate that the review process will need to take into account the broader developments with respect to local government reform which are underway and the implications of this reform for the operation of JPCs.

Proposed Legislation

 61. Deputy Sandra McLellan Information on Sandra McLellan Zoom on Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the date on which a new Mental Capacity Bill will be published. [54481/12]

 321. Deputy Terence Flanagan Information on Terence Flanagan Zoom on Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the position regarding the status of the Mental Capacity Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55140/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I propose to take Questions Nos. 61 and 321 together.

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce a Bill that is in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Bill is at an advanced stage of drafting and work is ongoing to properly align the provisions of the Bill with the principles contained in the UN Convention on supporting people with impaired capacity in making decisions and exercising their basic rights. I envisage that the title of the Bill, The Assisted Decision - Making (Capacity) Bill, will reflect this approach.

The Bill proposes replacement of the Wards of Court system with a modern statutory framework to support persons with impaired decision-making ability. The Wards of Court system is regarded as unsuited to modern conditions and incapable of coping with projected demographic growth and increased need for the management of the affairs of persons who lack capacity. The terminology and concepts used in the existing legislation of 1871 are inappropriate to the modern understanding of mental illness and legal capacity.

The main proposals under development in the Bill are to provide a legal framework to support persons with impaired decision-making capacity to better manage their personal welfare, property and financial affairs; change existing law on capacity from the current all or nothing status approach to a functional one, whereby decision-making capacity is assessed on an issue- and time-specific basis; provide that the Circuit Court will have jurisdiction to deal with determinations of capacity and to make orders consequent on such declarations, including the appointment of suitable persons authorised to take decisions on specified matters in support of the person lacking capacity; provide, in circumstances where it is not possible for a person to exercise their capacity even with support, that another person appointed by the Court may act as their representative; clarify the law for carers who take on responsibility for persons who lack capacity; establish an Office of Public Guardian, with supervisory powers to protect vulnerable persons; and subsume into the Bill the provisions in the Powers of Attorney Act 1996 on enduring powers in order to bring them into line with the general principles and safeguards in the Bill. Drafting of the Bill is being finalised with a view to publication early in the New Year.

Garda Investigations

 62. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter further to Parliamentary Question No. 8 of 20 June 2012, the position regarding the Garda review of the murder of Fr. Niall Molloy at Clara, County Offaly, in July 1985; if he will accede to the request by the family for an independent inquiry into the priest's death; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54353/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I am advised by the Garda authorities that the examination referred to by the Deputy is ongoing. The Commissioner has assured me that each and every line of inquiry is being or will be pursued. Upon receipt of a final report from the Commissioner I will review the situation. I am fully aware of course of the many issues of concern which have been raised in the public domain surrounding the circumstances of Father Molloy’s death and the context in which some form of inquiry has been considered desirable. But what needs to be considered first and foremost at present is that the matters at the heart of the Garda examination relate to potential criminal liability and, in that context, possible charges. I sympathise greatly with Father Molloy's family and understand that the officers carrying out the examination are continuing to keep the family updated on progress. However, the best form of justice for the family would be for anyone who has any criminal liability in relation to Father Molloy's tragic death to be brought to account through facing charges. It would therefore be deeply inappropriate to do anything which could prejudice the possibility of that happening. It is also of crucial importance that the Gardaí receive the fullest co-operation from any individual who can provide any information of relevance to the enquires being conducted.

In any case where criminal behaviour is suspected it is only through a Garda investigation, and where evidence of criminal wrongdoing is available, through the submission of a file by the Gardaí to the Director of Public Prosecutions, that persons can be brought fully to account before the Courts. A commission or judicial investigation, or journalistic inquiries, cannot do this, nor can any other type of review, no matter how thorough or independent. I therefore hope the Deputy will agree that, in the first instance, we need to allow the present Garda examination to proceed to its conclusion.

European Court of Human Rights Rulings

 63. Deputy Michael Colreavy Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if his attention has been drawn to the decision in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in MM v United Kingdom, ruled that the indefinite retention and disclosure of minor criminal records infringed Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which protects private and family life; and his plans to address same in the context of the recently passed National Vetting Bureau Bill. [54478/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter My Department is aware of the decision of 13 November 2012 in the European Court of Human Rights in regard to the case of MM V United Kingdom. The decision relates to a caution issued in Northern Ireland in the year 2000. The Court highlighted the absence of a clear legislative framework for the collection and storage of data, and the lack of clarity as to the scope, extent and restrictions of the common law powers of the police to retain and disclose caution data. The Court also noted that the limited filtering arrangements made no distinction on the basis of the nature of the offence, the disposal in the case, the time which has elapsed since the offence took place or the relevance of the data to the employment sought. The cumulative effect of these and other shortcomings was that the Court was not satisfied that there were sufficient safeguards in the system for retention and disclosure of criminal record data to ensure that data relating to the applicant’s private life have not been disclosed in violation of her right to respect for her private life.

The National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill will provide a clear legislative framework for disclosure. There is provision for the disclosure of information of a person’s caution for an offence, which would constitute “specified information” as defined in the Bill. Such information could only be disclosed if it was considered that the information led to a bona fide concern that the person concerned would pose a threat to a child or a vulnerable person, and that a disclosure of the information is relevant, proportionate and “the rights of the person have been considered and taken account of in a manner that is consistent with fairness and natural justice." The Bill is not inconsistent with the principles of this judgement and I do not consider that the Bill requires any amendment to address this issue. It may however, be necessary to separately establish administrative procedures to delete records regarding a caution after a certain period of time. My Department is considering this issue in consultation with the Attorney General.

Crime Prevention

 64. Deputy Sandra McLellan Information on Sandra McLellan Zoom on Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter his plans to emphasise and resource diversion measures to help at-risk persons make better choices and stop or avoid offending behaviour. [54482/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I must presume that the Deputy’s question is about the Diversion Programme which relates to youth crime. The Diversion Programme operates in accordance with Part 4 of the Children Act 2001, as amended, and under the general superintendence and control of the Garda Commissioner. The aim of the Diversion Programme is to deal with juveniles who offend, by way of administering a formal or informal caution, thus diverting the offender away from the courts and minimising the likelihood of further offending. The programme embraces, whenever possible, the principles of restorative justice and it pays regard to the needs of the victims of youth offending. It is supported by the Garda Youth Diversion Projects.

The work of the Garda Juvenile Liaison Officers under the Diversion Programme is supported by the Irish Youth Justice Service (IYJS) through the funding and oversight of 100 Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDPs) across the country. I wish to inform the Deputy that I continue to maintain responsibility for the diversion and community aspects of the work of IYJS, while my colleague the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has responsibility for the Children Detention Schools in Oberstown. I will consult closely with my Ministerial colleague and with the Garda Commissioner in the continuing development of programmes to tackle youth crime.

The programme has shown to be successful in diverting young offenders away from crime by offering guidance and support to the young people and their families. I am committed to continuing the Diversion Programme this is reflected in the 2013 budget which remains similar to 2012. Other Departments do not have a direct role in the delivery of the Diversion Programme, but they can support it indirectly by the provision of services to children in the groups most at risk. The focus of my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, is on harmonising policy issues that affect children in areas such as early childhood care and education, youth justice, child welfare and protection, children and young people's participation, research on children and young people, youth work and cross-cutting initiatives for children. An Garda Síochána, the Probation Service and the Irish Youth Justice Service contribute to this work by membership, where appropriate, of various structures under the umbrella of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs including Children Services Committees and the National Children's Strategy Implementation Group. I also have 2 nominated representatives on the National Children's Advisory Council and a representative on the National Education Welfare Board.

An Annual Report of the Committee appointed to monitor the effectiveness of the Diversion Programme is published each year which gives details of the resources deployed by the Commissioner in relation to the Programme. There are 123 Juvenile Liaison Officer (JLO) posts created comprising of 115 Gardaí and 8 JLO Sergeants. It is the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner to decide on the prioritisation and allocation of resources within the force.

Court Accommodation Provision

 65. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter his plans for the closures of court buildings across the country; the total number of buildings closed by location since March 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55470/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter As the Deputy is aware, the Courts Service Act 1998 provides that management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in exercising its functions, which include the provision of accommodation for court sittings. However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and have been informed that the Courts Service has been reviewing all aspects of its organisational and operational structures throughout the country with the specific objective of ensuring that the Service can continue to maintain the delivery of front line court services and an appropriate level of service to court users. I understand that no court venue has been singled out for or indeed exempted from the review process. In this context a comprehensive review of venues has recently been completed, the purpose of which was to establish a general framework within which venues could be considered for closure taking into account a range of criteria such as caseload, proximity to an alternative venue, physical condition of the building, availability of cells etc. The likely impact on other Justice agencies, such as An Garda Síochána and the Irish Prison Service, is also taken into account. The review identified a range of venues nationwide which, based on the criteria applied, could be considered for closure subject to a detailed assessment and the preparation of a business case in respect of each identified venue which has now commenced.

The Service has advised that the identification of venues as part of the review process does not conclusively mean that the identified venues will close. I am informed that no decision will be taken on an individual venue without prior consultation with local stakeholders and I understand that this consultation will be undertaken at an early stage in the assessment process so that all views can be fully reflected in the decision making process. It should be noted that the final decision will be a matter for the Courts Service Board. Under the statute I have no role or function in the matter. It should be noted that since the Courts Service was established in 1999, 151 court venues have been closed. I am informed that a total of 16 venues have been closed since March 2011, in the following locations: Enniscorthy, Athenry, Ballymote, Borrisokane, Boyle, Castlecomer, Castleisland, Castletownbere, Claremorris, Ennistymon, Kiltimagh, New Ross, Portarlington, Roscrea, Shannon, and Templemore.

The Courts Service has informed me that decisions to close a particular venue are generally taken due to its poor condition, some of which present a health and safety risk which would cost a great deal to rectify. The absence of holding cells in a number of cases is also a significant factor. The need to operate more efficiently, particularly with regard to freeing up judicial, staff and Garda time currently spent travelling to multiple locations, is also a consideration. I am informed that the Courts Service Board's rationalisation policy has gained operational efficiencies, saves time and continues to improve speed of access to justice.

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