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 Header Item Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020 [Seanad]: Order for Report Stage
 Header Item Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages
 Header Item Criminal Procedure Bill 2021: Order for Report Stage
 Header Item Criminal Procedure Bill 2021: Report and Final Stages

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1005 No. 2
Unrevised

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Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020 [Seanad]: Order for Report Stage

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy James Browne): Information on James Browne Zoom on James Browne I move: "That Report Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy James Browne): Information on James Browne Zoom on James Browne I thank Deputies for supporting the Bill. The contributions made and points raised have been very useful and I am grateful for the consideration Deputies have given the matter. The Bill, while short and technical, is important legislation that will enable Ireland to give full effect to the directive on the fight against fraud on the European Union's financial interests by means of criminal law. Fraud against the EU's financial interests affects everyone and the Bill reflects an important update of Ireland's already strong regime against it.

Tackling economic crime and white-collar crime is a priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána. The Department published the findings of the Hamilton review group on 3 December 2020. As the Minister, Deputy McEntee, pointed out, these crimes damage the economy, breed cynicism in society and are a threat to our international reputation. The Department is leading a cross-government initiative to tackle these crimes and to ensure all agencies have the resources they need.

  Bill received for final consideration.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly When is it proposed to take Fifth Stage?

Deputy James Browne: Information on James Browne Zoom on James Browne Now.

  Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin As the Minister of State outlined, this is a short technical Bill that has garnered support across the House. However, as it relates to a very narrow set of circumstances, as was recognised during the debate, I believe we need wider legislation to deal with matters outside the remit of the Bill.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I too am happy to speak in support of the Bill. I did so during its passage through the House. I welcome it. Deputy Tóibín raised an issue today but the Leas-Cheann Comhairle stopped him from pursuing it. She was correct in that regard because we must protect people. However, all is not well in the Department of Justice. I have been writing to the Minister of State, the senior Minister and the Secretary General about issues in the Prison Service but my letters have not even been an acknowledged. Members of this House are elected representatives for the time being and we are thankful for that.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly The Deputy should address the content of the Bill.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I accept that totally. I wanted to raise this issue because we elected representatives are not getting answers and that is very bad.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly A message will be sent to the Seanad acquainting it accordingly.

Criminal Procedure Bill 2021: Order for Report Stage

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy James Browne): Information on James Browne Zoom on James Browne I move: "That Report Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Criminal Procedure Bill 2021: Report and Final Stages

Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny I move amendment No. 1:

In page 9, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:
“(9) In respect of relevant offences to which this Act applies, where an application under section 3 of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981 is made during a trial, having not previously been requested or notified at a preliminary trial hearing, the trial court must be satisfied granting any application is likely to—
(a) facilitate the expeditious and efficient conduct of the proceedings, and

(b) result in the least disruption to the jury and witnesses in the trial of the offence.”.

I will try to simplify the amendment. Section 6(8)(b)(iv) of the Bill provides that any order made under or pursuant to section 3 of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981 must be addressed in the Bill. This issue relates to preliminary hearings. The language in the Bill suggests that, for instance, at a preliminary hearing of a serious sexual crime case a defence team could seek leave to cross-examine the witness or victim, depending on the term one wishes to use, regarding their previous sexual experience. All Members know that in many of these cases there may be issues around consent and so on which can be teased out. That may be appropriate in certain very limited circumstances but under the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981, the judge is obliged to be very cautious in that regard.

 The O'Malley report suggested that one of two models be used in this regard. One of the models involves the intention to make such an application being notified at the pretrial hearing and then heard during the trial. However, the way the Bill is phrased suggests that such applications could be decided and happen at the pretrial hearing. If that were to be the case, one would have a situation whereby the victim in a sexual assault case would be the same as any other witness from the point of view of the law. The prosecution would prosecute the case, the defence team would defend and the victim would simply be a witness in regard to that.

  I believe that in order to protect these persons, who in many of these circumstances are very vulnerable, every effort should be made to ensure that they have a voice. The Minister would recognise that one of the flaws in the system is that, too often, victims are simply treated as witness, have no voice or representation and find it very difficult. That is why many of them do not pursue rape or serious sexual assault claims. They feel they are simply lost in the system. Leaving aside the legislation that is before the House, there is more work to be done to consider and deal with that issue. The O'Malley report dealt with it in some detail. That is why Sinn Féin believes we should press the amendment.

  Although the amendment does not deal directly with judges' decisions and cannot influence them in that regard, it does put extra emphasis on the particular point that the notification should be given in the pretrial hearing but the actual decision should not be made until the trial, at which stage there is adequate time to deal with the issue and ensure the victims in these cases do not feel subjected to, in effect, a double trial by virtue of being cross-examined at a pretrial hearing and then further cross-examined at the trial itself. That situation has occurred in certain other jurisdictions. We do not want people to be traumatised again in those circumstances and that is why I believe the amendment is needed. I tabled it on Committee Stage but withdrew it with the intention of resubmitting it on Report Stage.

  This is an issue that should be addressed. I hope the Minister will accept this small amendment, which adds a particular emphasis in respect of this issue.


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