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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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An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Does anybody else wish to speak?

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I too listened quite carefully to what the Minister said and I support the amendment. I agree with what Deputy Howlin said. I imagine that is true of any of us who have had experience of a jury trial. I thank everyone who does jury service because it is an onerous task. It is a fair and good system. Courts, and by extension jurors, can be held up for months. In most cases, people do not get remunerated while they are on jury service. Public service workers do, but those in the private sector do not. One can understand the reason for that, given that cases could last for 20 or 30 days or however long. There is an impact on jurors and their family life. People are restricted and must understand and accept the ground rules of jury service. Quasi legal issues should be tidied up and out of the way before a court sits because when a case commences a jury can be delayed. When juries are sworn in, they should be able to proceed without occasionally being sent home for two days or sent home on a Thursday and told to come back on the following Tuesday. People have lives to live, so it is very important that justice is done and seen to be done.

  I support the amendment. In most cases a person is considered innocent until proven guilty. That is the most important part of a prima facie case, but jurors must be respected as well. Technical legal arguments can be involved and judges can adjourn to consult and get some guidance, for the want of a better word.

  We also need to look at refresher courses for the Judiciary. I recall Deputy O'Dea talking about that a long time ago when he was a Minister of State in the Department of Justice. It is very important when a trial commences that it would be efficient and that there would be a clear understanding of the ground rules. The less room for equivocation or lack of clarity the better. We must be able to review legislation. Deputy Howlin referred to the Children's Act, which we are amending now. There should always be a sunset clause or review date on legislation because, although there are people in here who are much more learned than I in this area, there can be unintended consequences. There must be a mechanism to review legislation after a settling in period. Goodness knows, six months or 12 months is a short time when it comes to issues concerning the Courts Service. We must make haste slowly. The amendments have been tabled for good reason and there is good support for them. I support the amendments.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy I will be very brief. The Bill is important for streamlining how the courts operate. There will be a significant reason for that because of the delays that will arise as a consequence of Covid. That is all the more reason for the Bill to be enacted. I am generally supportive of the sentiment behind the amendment, but I specifically want to hear what the Minister has to say on it. I agree with Deputy Howlin in that regard.

In terms of judges interpreting what the Oireachtas means, what the Minister says in the debate is really important because if judges are wondering how they should interpret something we give them markers. The Minister in particular gives markers on what is intended. It is important that this point is specifically addressed for that very reason. If the amendment is not taken, it may well avoid this problem arising in the first place, so it is really important that we hear that.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins I will be very brief. I support the amendments because they are made in good faith to ensure that the Bill is strengthened. As Deputy Mattie McGrath stated, everybody is innocent until proven guilty. Young people are sometimes convicted for small-time crimes. Crime is bad and many great community groups such as Business Watch are trying to help to fight crime. In no way do I condone crime, but many people's lives have been ruined because of a conviction from 20 or 30 years ago and they could have lived an excellent life after making a slip up. Anything that can help in any way to get young people back on track again and to show there is a way forward through a very difficult time would be welcome.

Previous speakers referred to insurance claims and difficulties with community and voluntary groups. It has been said that changes are coming, but they cannot come quickly enough. People are being penalised and massive amounts are being paid out on claims which results in terrible difficulties for the community and voluntary sector. I have seen some quite dubious claims going through.

Previous speakers spoke about juries being sworn in. I live in a rural community and many people there are getting called to Cork for jury service. While many like to do their duty for the State, it is an area that requires close scrutiny. People's employers do not want to let them go, as they cannot pay the costs that will be incurred while they are out of their employment. They may have to travel 70 or 80 miles in each direction and a case could go on for a long period. A case might be put off for a week or two and people's entire lives can be turned upside down when they get called for jury service. It is nearly worse than being asked to a wedding for a lot of people. The system must be examined and streamlined regarding how people are picked based on where they live geographically and the availability of transport to get to a court. It should not be a letter of terror when one is called for jury service. Close consideration should be given to how people are properly compensated and how their employer is looked after while they are off work.

I support the amendment. I hope we will be able to make lives a little bit different. Peace commissioners and commissioners for oaths must also be considered in any legislation that is introduced because they carry out an important service for people on a voluntary basis and nobody ever seems to compliment them or thank them for the work they do. I have often had to call on them through my office. They are often called out at night to fill in forms and they are not recompensed. Like jurors, that is an area that has been overlooked and it should come under the Bill we are discussing.

Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny I take the Minister's point that if a pretrial hearing occurs, if the defence does not notify the court at that stage of evidence relating to the previous sexual conduct of a victim, witness or anyone else and the trial proceeds, that it is not appropriate for the defence to seek to introduce evidence at that point. We want to see that happening at the pretrial stage. We say that if it does happen, it can only be done to facilitate the expeditious and efficient conduct of proceedings. The discovery of new evidence does not contradict that. I do not think anything would contradict it and, if anything, it would enhance it, bring more certainty and ensure that we get the right result and that people are aware they are not going into the process thinking that at the end of the day the defence can revert to a particular line of questioning without due process allowing for that to happen. This amendment is required to give that little bit of extra security for victims, in particular victims of serious sexual assault, and to ensure that the judge and those involved get a note on the interpretation of the legislation from this House.

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