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03/11/2021 12:00:00 AM


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McEntee, Helen

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Bills

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Criminal Procedure Bill 2021

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Report and Final Stages

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1005

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Criminal Procedure Bill 2021\Report and Final Stages
Bills\Criminal Procedure Bill 2021\Report and Final Stages

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Amendment No

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Criminal Procedure Bill 2021

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Report and Final Stages

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Not applicable

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Senator


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Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee)

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Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee)

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Helen McEntee

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Snippet Contents:

I apologise for not being here at the start of the debate; the previous Bill moved faster than I expected. I thank the Deputies for putting forward this amendment. This legislation is being introduced for a number of reasons, the first being to create greater efficiencies, particularly for jury trials. It is to create greater efficiencies in the swearing in of juries and the process and challenges that entails. It is to ensure, as recommended in the Hamilton report, greater efficiencies for trials around economic crime, fraud and corruption. The Bill is also specifically designed to support victims and vulnerable persons who are going through sexual assault and rape trials, as was clearly recommended in the O'Malley report. That report sets out a number of things that we want to do and, clearly, part of that is contained in the Department's implementation plan, Supporting a Victim's Journey. The intention is to make sure that we do everything to support the victim or vulnerable person as he or she goes through this process. That is what the legislation is for.
I fully appreciate and welcome the spirit in which this particular amendment is intended but, unfortunately, I have difficulties with how it would operate in practice. This amendment would effectively mean that where the defence has not dealt with an application under section 3 of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act at a preliminary hearing, there would be only two circumstances in which the court could permit this particular issue to be raised. The first would be to benefit the expeditious and efficient conduct of proceedings, in other words, to make the running of a case more efficient in procedural terms. The second would be to help to avoid disruption to the jury and witness. The issue here is a very serious one because there may be valid circumstances in which it is simply not foreseeable at the preliminary stage that an application such as this would be needed. An example that I mentioned on Committee Stage is where new information that was not foreseen or known by either side comes to light in the course of a trial. That is only one example. One needs to be able to take into account the overall general interests of justice but also the emerging evidence piece. A court's hands would be tied by the imposition of restrictive reasons and we need to allow flexibility.
Having said that, there is a clear obligation to raise matters as early as possible in a trial process, as is set out in section 6(17) of the Bill. The whole intention of the preliminary trial hearing is that these issues are raised as early as possible. I have engaged with the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions on this matter and believe that we cannot risk compromising the right of the accused person to a fair trial. I fully accept the spirit in which this amendment is being made. The intention is that all of these issues would be raised at a preliminary trial hearing. I think that to be so restrictive as to the reasons it could potentially be accepted later on in the trial does not take into account the fact that things happen and new evidence emerges. That can often happen later on in a trial and, in the interests of justice, an application may need to be accepted at that time. I am sympathetic to the Deputies' position on this matter but those are the reasons I cannot accept the amendment.