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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 Jennifer Carroll MacNeill: Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill] Instead of the House accepting the amendment which, while appropriately highlighting the issue, will not solve it, could the Law Reform Commission be asked to develop a system through which appropriate reviews could be carried out? Perhaps that could be linked to the other issues of presentation to which I refer. For example, the Civil Partnership Act and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, or the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, which succeeded and fixed the civil partnership Act in many ways, are extensive items of legislation that just refer to other legislation such as that relating to pensions, employment and adoption, and references to "child" are put into them. That has happened again and again and legislators have raised for many decades the way in which we present legislation. Nevertheless, it is not a body of work for the Bill before us but for the Law Reform Commission and the Department of Justice more generally. It needs to be done because it is making it difficult to access the law and to know what it is at any given time, but I am not sure that this legislation is the place for it.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl As someone who has needed to be completely agnostic on the two amendments before us, I nonetheless want to make some reference to the important points a number of Deputies have made, including Deputy Howlin on the issue of Dáil reform. He is someone who has contributed significantly to the process of reform. I think we would all consider the introduction in recent years of pre-legislative scrutiny to be one of the most important pillars we have put in place. The respective committees on Dáil reform during the previous Dáil and the current one have recognised that post-legislative scrutiny is essential and we want it to happen because it should exist in a developed and effective parliamentary setting. We also have to face the reality that we will have to radically restructure our working week if we are to find time in the Dáil schedule to do this essential work. The public interest demands that we do it.

Deputy Helen McEntee: Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I fully agree with most of the comments that have been made. There is significant value in keeping our legislation under review. It is a crucial part of the process in ensuring that the laws we implement will impact and work for citizens as we intend them to. Deputies will be aware of the long history of this Bill, which has been drafted in close consultation with a number of key specific stakeholders, and it took considerable time to arrive at this proposal, one that is workable and legally sound. My concern, which is shared by others, is that mandating a formal review of the legislation after the proposed time could affect the embedding of the legislation and of practices provided for within it. Having said that, there is a one-year report system, although that should not be the only part of the review process. If reforms are needed post enactment on reports under Standing Orders, this should be a matter for the committee, not for legislation. As Deputy Howlin outlined, the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform is considering this. It is a wider issue that needs to be put on a more structural footing and to apply to all legislation.

I understand where Deputy Pringle is coming from but I will oppose his amendment because this legislation is particularly important and I want there to be flexibility. I want to ensure that before three years have passed, any problems with the legislation can be addressed, reviewed and amended, but putting a rigid provision in primary law may create a difficulty with that. I am satisfied the existing provisions and powers are sufficient without amendment, but I support the Deputy's calls for a more general review, which is needed. As Deputy Carroll MacNeill outlined, we should consider not just the review of legislation but also how we develop legislation, table amendments and pass legislation through the House. All of this could be examined through the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle I acknowledge the Minister's comments. What she outlined in regard to the review of legislation needs to happen, but it will not happen today, tomorrow, next week, next month or even in six months. It might happen in a year's time. That is the reality. The legislation before us is very important and, if enacted properly and in full, will have a very significant impact on how people get justice and so on. It is well within the remit of the Department of Justice to review that within the three-year period.

I have much respect for the Minister but I do not think she actually believes the arguments she is putting up against the amendment. They do not make sense. She indicated it would be okay to provide for a review in 12 months but not in three years because a period of three years might delay the implementation of the Bill and how its practices take effect. The three-year period is intended to ensure that the review works and that, if problems arise, they will be dealt with and sorted out. That is it.

As was mentioned by other Deputies, the Children Act 2001 is being amended now, 20-odd years later. We do not want such a situation to happen again. My great fear is that the 12-month review provision will miss an awful lot of issues and we could be in the same situation again 15 or 20 years down the road. Obviously, I will not be debating it, but someone else will be looking to review it. We can avoid that by having a proper review system. There has to be such a provision in this legislation because if it is anywhere else, it will not happen quickly enough. We need to do the other work as well.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I always listen carefully to Deputy Carroll MacNeill because she has great legal experience to bring to our debates, but it is a fact that we as an Oireachtas do not have a real focus on legislation once it has been enacted. We are the legislators; it is not somebody else's job. The statute law revision programme, which she referred to, was an ad hoc process I instituted at the request of the now Mr. Justice Humphreys. It was done on an ad hoc basis with the co-operation of the then Attorney General to get rid of swathes of defunct law, but it should be a normal process embedded in our systems.

  I know from the most recent Private Member's Bill I introduced, which thankfully has become law, that although one might present matters in simple language that is readable to most people, when it goes to Government it is put into legalese that is much more impenetrable. We need to reform that. The Minister and I have had this discussion. Law should be readable by everyone, not only by an elite corps of lawyers. All the issues that have been raised during this debate are important to ensure that we make law accessible, readable, understandable and relevant. Defunct law should be repealed and taken off the Statute Book, and the process of how laws are enacted should be reviewed to ensure they remain pertinent to the current time and do what was intended by the Oireachtas. The amendment will do no damage to the Bill by having it be reviewed in three years' time.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I am disappointed that the Minister is not engaging properly with this reasonable request to ensure good legislation and, more important, to ensure that all legislation that has been passed will be subject to a timely review and timely reports. A period of one year is certainly not enough. All legislation must be accessible and must deal with what it was intended to deal with. Any unintended consequences should be erased and amended, without waiting 20 years to do it. I reiterate that that is justice delayed and justice denied. There are other Deputies with much more expertise in legal matters than I have because of their legal backgrounds. Some legislation that is passed is gobbledegook and no ordinary person could read it without some legal interpretation. It makes the law very unfavourably disposed against ordinary people who try to get justice in the courts in a plethora of areas.

I am disappointed that the Minister will not accept the amendment but I will not delay the debate any further. I will support Deputy Pringle's amendment.

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