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Criminal Procedure Bill 2021: Report and Final Stages (Continued)

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1005 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] There is a cost to the Exchequer associated with parliamentary questions as well, and they are quite onerous for Departments to answer. It is a nonsense to suggest going down that road. We have so many bodies, or quangos as I call them. We need some oversight of legislation once it has been passed and signed into law by the President - or not - and its outworkings. We should be told if parts of legislation are not enacted and given reasons for that. There must be some kind of annual report. That is a big job of work but we need oversight of legislation once it leaves the Oireachtas regarding how it is bedding in, whether it has been used and the outcomes. There are enormous challenges in this area. A year is wholly inadequate because, as I said, legislation may not be tested in the courts within a year or a case under an Act may not be heard within a year. That is a weak argument from the Minister. I know personally how a case can go on and on. There is a possibility that a court case could go on for ten years and never be heard. There have been such cases. We definitely need some sort of oversight, whether that means the legislation going back to the Joint Committee on Justice or wherever. I am not too interested in the creation of another quango, but we need some oversight of legislation once it has been enacted regarding how it is bedding in, whether there been many cases, if we have case histories and if good or bad precedents have been set. We need a review.

I return to what Deputy Howlin said about the Children Act 2001. We are amending that legislation today, some 20 years later. That is just too slow when we are dealing with crimes against children, heinous crimes, sexual crimes or any crimes for that matter. Justice delayed is justice denied. I am fearful that if this amendment is not accepted, the legislation will gather dust. Parts of it might be implemented but there may be parts that are not suited to officialdom or whatever. We are the representatives elected to make legislation and we are accountable to the people.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I do not intend to use my full seven minutes. I support Deputy Pringle's sensible and practical amendment. If we are serious about learning from mistakes and processes, the least we can do is to make a review system fit for purpose. The cursory system in place after one year is not fit for purpose. I know more resources and finance will be involved, but it will be much cheaper in the long term to do something like what has been suggested in this amendment.

What comes to mind in this regard is the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015. Six years later, we are still making people wards of court when the whole purpose of that legislation was to stop that awful process, which goes back to dated legislation. This is particularly important legislation concerning how a trial is run and how a victim is treated. I had mixed views on the previous amendment and I heard the point the Minister was making in that regard. If that amendment had gone to a formal vote, I am not sure how I would have voted because I could see the argument from both sides. The very point being made in the Sinn Féin amendment should be part of the review in three years' time, when potential problems and difficulties have emerged and have been highlighted.

I was a member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for a short time. The lack of ongoing reviews of existing legislation, whether after three or five years, was brought into acute focus in the committee. The legislation in question was the legal aid Act. The exact point now escapes me, but the lack of a proper review came into acute focus. Legislation either never became operative or very good sections of legislation were never used. If my memory is correct, más buan mo chuimhne, the issue was that there were not enough resources available for legal aid to allow a particularly positive section in the Act to be used.

I ask the Minister to look at this amendment because it is really sensible. I agree completely with Deputy Howlin and I will not repeat what he said about the Houses having pre-legislative scrutiny but no scrutiny of Acts after they have passed, or none that makes any sense.

Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny I also support Deputy Pringle's amendment. What the Minister is saying is that this is a timing issue and three years is too long to wait. The argument has been well made that three years is probably the appropriate time to allow legislation of this nature to be enacted and work in practice for some time before assessing the workings of preliminary hearings.

A reassessment of what has been achieved by legislation of this nature would address issues similar to that raised in our amendment, for example, the practice of examining the previous sexual conduct of victims. Another issue, which was brought up earlier, concerns the counselling notes of a victim of sexual abuse. I refer to a situation where a person who has gone through a very traumatic experience has gone to a counsellor and the notes then become evidence which the defence can seek to see during the trial. I refer to whether that is appropriate and the issues in that regard.

Many of us will be aware that, as politicians, we often play the role of counsellors as well. We speak to people in a private capacity and assure them that conversations are very much within the four walls. In a formal counselling setting, that would certainly always be stressed. Yet, here we have in legislation a situation where counselling notes can be used in a trial. There are issues around all of that which means that an adequate review of the legislation in an appropriate time will be necessary. Deputy Pringle is correct that three years would be adequate to gather enough knowledge from practitioners in law firms and jurors to decide whether the legislation is working or what are its failings. We could consider what representations we might get from victims, many of whom feel left out of the process.

The suggestion that a year would be adequate does not stand up because few, if any, preliminary hearings will be up and running within a year to allow us to make a proper assessment. The three-year period is appropriate, and I suggest that under these circumstances the Minister reconsider her position and accept the amendment.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins I will be brief. I fully support this amendment. We talk about careful pre-legislative scrutiny of proposals here in the Oireachtas and that is certainly the way it should be. I have seen some cases where that has not happened, and that is unfortunate and something which should not have been allowed.

In general, we must change the way in which some criminal proceedings are carried out. Many cases would not go before the courts if the local garda had been left in local communities. It is unfortunate that local gardaí were taken away from society. They lived in the local village and always nipped crimes in the bud. Those cases never got to the point of being heard in court.

A certain case in west Cork with national relevance has been going on for five or six years. That is scandalous. It is baffling, to say the least, to see the length of time that people are waiting for cases to go before the courts for a judgment. I will support Deputy Pringle's amendment.

Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill: Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Regarding legislative development generally, of course we need a review procedure. I am not sure this Bill is the place to bring that in. We have a series of difficulties with our legislation, which make much of it generally impenetrable to people who need to access it and who do not have access to lawyers. It is even difficult for lawyers to read our legislation because of our dependence on textual and non-textual amendments and the way that we stick things into miscellaneous provisions Bills which amend completely different Acts. It is very hard for anybody to know what the law is on a given subject at any time.

The Law Reform Commission has put great effort into revised and annotated Acts and that project has gone some way in this regard. We have also had the statute law revision project, which has got rid of many Acts which were no longer relevant. A major textual body of work remains to be done on how we draft legislation, present it and make it accessible to people. The review of legislation needs to be part of that.

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