Courts Service (No. 2) Bill, 1997: Report and Final Stages.

Wednesday, 11 February 1998

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 154 No. 3

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An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly I remind Senators that they may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply. Each amendment must be seconded on Report Stage.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, in the name of Senator O'Meara, are out of order. Amendments Nos. 4, 5, 9, 10 and 12 are related and may be taken together.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, not moved.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara I move amendment No. 4:

In page 7, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

“(3) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) the Service shall ensure that all of its services and facilities are available through the medium of Irish and English.”.

[193] It is not necessary to repeat everything I said on Committee Stage. However, in reintroducing these amendments on Report Stage I wish to underline the importance of enshrining bilingualism in legislation rather than paying lip service to our notions of a living Irish language. On the Order of Business we congratulated the Glór na nGael winners which were announced last night. That is an example of actively keeping the language alive. As public representatives and legislators we are failing in our duty if we do not use every opportunity to pursue the clearly stated aim which is supported by all political parties. This amendment presents an opportunity to do so.

Having examined the legislation I do not think this amendment would impose an onerous responsibility on the Courts Service. We are establishing a service which will be efficient and professional and able to bear an additional load such as this. The main objective of these amendments is to give legislative effect to our stated aim and ambition.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor Zoom on John Connor I second the amendments in the names of Senators O'Meara, Costello, Gallagher and Séan Ryan. I have nothing to add to what I said on Committee Stage on this issue. The Minister should give his reasons to the House if he is refusing to accept these amendments. In the past, Fianna Fáil had three or four fundamental aims, most notably the restoration of the Irish language. One wonders what objections the Minister can have to these amendments in the light of that “enunciated principle”.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald Aontaím go bhfuil sé an-tábhachtach go mbeadh na haáiseanna agus na seirbhísí a bhaineann le na cúirteanna ar fáil tré mhean na Gaeilge, go háirithe do daoine gur mhian leo Gaeilge a labhairt sna cúirteanna. Is ceart bhunúsach í agus cuirim ar a son go deimhin. Im' thuairim tá na háiseanna sin tar éis a chur ar fáil ar an Aire. Tuigim go n-aontaíonn sé leis na cuspoírí atá faoi bhun na leasaithe seo. Mar sin ní fheadair céard atá i gceist ag na leisaithe ionas go bhfuil an cospóir a chur i bhfeidm ag an tAire.

The objectives of these amendments are more than laudable — they are and should be a basic right. This is affirmed by the Constitution. Senator Connor rightly stated that Fianna Fáil has and always will be supportive of this aspiration.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor Zoom on John Connor If that is the case, the Senator should vote for the amendments.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald However, I am at a loss as it is my understanding that the Minister has decided that services and facilities of such a sensitive nature in courts should be provided through the medium of Irish where so requested. That is a fundamental right which must be responded to. I [194] do not know why such a strong stand is being taken at this stage.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue Chuir an Seanadóir O'Meara na leasaithe ar fáil seachtain ó shoin agus tá siad cosúil le na leasaithe atá ag Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge. Dúirt mé cheana go bhfuil an-suim agam agus an Rialtais ár dteanga a chuir ar aghaidh agus chuir mé leasaithe ós chomhair an Tigh seo seachtain ó shin.

Senator O'Meara's amendments were tabled last week and they are the same as those proposed by Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge. I am on record as saying that the Government and I have a deep interest in promoting the Irish language where possible. That is the reason I tabled amendments on the Irish language last week. My Committee Stage amendment, which is now subsection 7(2)(d), provides that the strategic plan for the Courts Service will have regard to Government policy on promoting bilingualism. It requires that regard be had to the need to ensure that an adequate number of staff of the service is competent to provide a service in Irish and English. This is a practical approach which goes a long way towards meeting the concerns of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge as expressed in these amendments.

Last week I made it clear that I fully recognise the importance of the Courts Service being in a position to deal appropriately with people who wish to transact their business in Irish. The difficulty with the detail of the amendments is that, in practice, they would place too great a burden on the service, at least in the short term. If we had to ensure that the Courts Service was in a position to comply with all these requirements, the effect of accepting some of the amendments would be to delay the establishment of the service for a considerable period. I simply could not countenance that.

As regards the Senators' amendment relating to the board of the service I would be reluctant to amend its constitution in the manner proposed. The board comprises members specifically representative of groups or bodies with a direct functional relationship with the Courts Service and gives direct effect to the recommendation of the working group, chaired by Mrs. Justice Susan Denham, on a courts commission.

The requirements inserted by my amendment in section 7 will, of themselves, ensure the board of the service will have the effective delivery of services through Irish on its agenda. Overall, my response to the Senators' amendments is that I consider the current legislative provisions and the case law relating to the use of Irish in legal proceedings, taken together with section 7(2)(d), to be sufficient to ensure that persons wishing to conduct their business through Irish in the courts can be appropriately facilitated. That provision arises from consultations with my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Arts,

[195] Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy Ó Cuív, who has responsibility for both the Gaeltacht and the State's policy on bilingualism.

I am satisfied that section 7(2)(d) is a practical recognition of the importance of the Irish language and that this approach would not result in delays in the establishment of the Courts Service which would be the unintentional effect of the Senators' amendments. Senators will be aware that the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, has announced that work has commenced on a Bill on the provision of Irish language services by State agencies. That legislation will provide the House with an opportunity to revisit the issues involved here on a wider front. In those circumstances, I ask the Senators to withdraw their amendments.

Ba mhaith liom a rá arís go bhfuil mé an-bhuíoch do na Seanadóirí as ucht an méid atá ráite acu ar son ár dteanga sa Teach seo. Tá sé anthábhachtach agus ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil dóibh.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara The amendment tabled by the Minister last week on Committee Stage in response to this set of amendments is purely aspirational and its effect is to state the aspiration that the strategic plan shall have regard to Government policy on bilingualism. Unfortunately, I do not believe that will have an effect on the ground in the Courts Service and it falls far short of recognising a person's right, as an Irish language speaker first and foremost, to have a case heard in his or her native language.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 5 not moved.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Amendment Nos. 6, 14 and 20 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor Zoom on John Connor I move amendment No. 6:

In page 8, line 27, after “judges” to insert “or County Registrars and any other person who has a judicial or quasi-judicial function according to law.

We debated this issue at length on Committee Stage last week. We now ask the Minister to reconsider this amendment in which we ask that county registrars would get a specific mention alongside judges. We have improved the wording of the amendment by saying “and any other person who has a judicial or quasi-judicial function according to law”. That covers the difficulties raised by the Minister last week when he pointed out that it would be necessary to include everybody who has a judicial or quasi-judicial function. By rewording the amendment in this way, we believe the Minister should have no difficulty in accepting it.

[196] County registrars have very important judicial and administrative functions under this Bill and they will carry out many of the administrative functions of the courts. However, when they step outside of their administrative role, as they will in many ways whether in relation to the register of electors or sittings delegated to them from the Circuit Court requiring them to make orders of discovery and so on, effectively they will be acting as judges. The Bill must clearly state the distinction between the functions of the county registrars.

On Committee Stage I spoke about the doctrine of the separation of powers on which we pride ourselves as a democratic country. Any legislation which deals with people who have both administrative and judicial functions should state that clearly.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald I listened to the arguments on this issue on Committee Stage and again today. The amendment now includes the words “and any other person who has a judicial or quasi-judicial function according to law”. These seem to seek to accommodate the fact that there are other officers involved in this area and that by being more embracing, this amendment would be more relevant.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor Zoom on John Connor They make the amendment more amenable.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald I have no objection to the term ‘amenable’. My interpretation of the principle contained in section 9(b) is that it protects the independence of a county registrar, Master of the High Court or any other person whose functions, to a greater or lesser extent, would be in the quasi-judicial area. If that protection is afforded to their independence, surely, as the Minister pointed out on Committee Stage, the inclusion of today's amendment would be superfluous. A person's independence is either protected or it is not. The Minister is obviously satisfied, from his own careful interpretation of the section, that protection is afforded and is foolproof and sacrosanct in so far as that can be determined.

Section 30, in transferring the functions of the county registrars to the Courts Service, only does so in so far as those functions relate to the functions of the Courts Service which are, in the main, administrative. If that is the case, functions that do not apply to the Courts Service are still retained and protected under section 9(b). It does not seem sensible to insert additional phrases into the Bill without justification, notwithstanding the principle which Senators are rightly attempting to establish.

Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I second this amendment. The Minister has recognised what we have been attempting to do in relation to county registrars. Section 9 states that no function conferred on, or [197] vested in the service, the board or the chief executive, under this Act shall be exercised so as to interfere with the conduct of that part of the business of the courts. If the Minister were to accept the amendment and add “county registrars and any other person who has a judicial or quasi-judicial function according to law” at that point, paragraphs (a) and (b) could be deleted. It is a straightforward amendment which makes common sense and inserts the title “county registrar” in the Bill, which is why I support it.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn I support Senators Connor and Burke. It is important we give recognition to the tone and tenor of the speeches made by the Minister on Committee Stage. They indicated goodwill and commitment to recognising the special functions of the county registrar — quasi-judicial, judicial, sheriff and returning officer. This is an opportunity to give official recognition to them within the structure of the Bill. The Minister will have no difficulty accepting this amendment as it is in line with the sentiments he expressed on Committee Stage. Neither does it not cause any difficulties, legal or otherwise. I am sure he will show his goodwill and good nature by accepting this amendment in the spirit of goodwill and rapport evident in the course of the debate to date.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor Zoom on John Connor The Minister is a good natured man.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Absolutely.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara I urge the Minister to be conciliatory in this area considering the level of debate on it in the House last week and the efforts on all sides to reach an accommodation. It is important, as my colleagues on this side of the House have indicated, that the position of county registrar be put in a proper form in the context of this legislation. These amendments present the opportunity to do so.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue I thank Senators for their contributions on this set of amendments. Amendment No. 6 proposes the inclusion of a reference to county registrars and other persons with judicial or quasi-judicial powers in section 9. Amendment No. 20 proposes to insert a reference to county registrars in section 40. The sections are similar. Section 9 provides for the independence of judges and the exercise of judicial business and that of persons exercising quasi-judicial functions. Section 40 makes similar provision in respect of the transitional provisions of the Bill.

I stated on Committee Stage that, in addition to their courts administration work, county registrars exercise a wide range of quasi-judicial functions as well as certain functions, such as returning officer, which are unrelated to the courts. Before Committee Stage, Senators expressed concern that the Bill may not [198] adequately safeguard the independence of county registrars, especially in the exercise of their quasi-judicial functions. In response to those concerns, I brought forward an amendment, section 30, to ensure county registrars are part of the courts service only in so far as their functions relating to the administration of their court office are concerned. Their quasi-judicial functions are excluded from the effect of the provision by reference to section 9 which ensures the service, the board or the chief executive will not be in a position to impugn the independence of a person who exercises such limited functions of a judicial nature conferred on them by law. A county registrar is such a person exercising limited functions of a judicial nature conferred by law. That is the position as a matter of fact and as a matter of law.

County registrars exercise limited functions of a judicial nature conferred on them by law in accordance with the 1937 Constitution. I am fully satisfied, therefore, that both sections 9 and 40 provide for the independence of county registrars in the exercise by them of quasi-judicial functions and I see no grounds for specifying the persons, be they county registrars or any other person, comprehended by the provisions of those sections. I fully subscribe to the view expressed by Senator Liam Fitzgerald that the amendments are, to that extent, superfluous. It is clear the proposed amendment is redundant in this regard.

It is surely beyond doubt that paragraph 9(b) encompasses the relevant functions of county registrars. It also does so in a way preferable to the formula of words used in the proposed amendment which refers to quasi-judicial functions. While that is a phrase used in ordinary debate, the phrase “limited functions of a judicial nature”, contained in paragraph 9(b), is a more appropriate phrase to use in law in that it reflects the wording used in Article 37.1 of the Constitution which deals with such powers. I am satisfied the changes made to the Bill last week adequately meet the concerns expressed to me by representatives of the county registrars. For the reasons I have outlined I oppose this amendment.

The amendment proposed by Senator O'Meara and her colleagues appears to have the objective of recognising the special position of county registrars in the exercise by them of quasi-judicial functions. Article 37 of the Constitution provides for the exercise of limited functions and powers of a judicial nature in matters other than criminal matters by any person or bodies of persons duly authorised by law to exercise such functions and powers. The amendment seems to me to state the current position under the Constitution and the law that county registrars may exercise functions of a quasi-judicial nature and that in the exercise of these functions the decisions of county registrars may be appealed to the Circuit Court. The Court and Court Officers Act, 1995, provides a wide range of quasi-judicial functions which country registrars may exercise and which may be [199] appealed to the Circuit Court. I see no necessity for such an amendment.

Subsection (2) of the Senator's amendment would have the effect of conferring additional powers on county registrars corresponding to those of the Master of the High Court. The powers of county registrars and the area of quasi-judicial business are being kept under review. The Court and Court Officers Act, 1995, represented a major overhaul and extension of the powers of county registrars. At this point, it would be premature to further extend these powers conferred under the 1995 Act until their full impact is assessed. It is doubtful that additional powers of a quasi-judicial nature could be conferred by way of rules, which is what the amendment seeks to do. In the circumstances, I ask the Senator to withdraw her amendment.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor Zoom on John Connor I am very disappointed by the Minister's attitude. Before he left us last week, he gave the impression he would look afresh at this. We got the impression he would concede this point. I know he received legal advice on this issue, but so did we. We are pressing the amendment this far because our legal advice is it cannot be expressed often enough in this Bill and that every opportunity which presents itself in the legislation should be taken to confirm the independence of county registrars and other persons who have a judicial or quasi-judical role. We appreciate that section 9 deals with the points the Minister made. Nevertheless, the amendment is not superfluous, as he states, and our legal advice confirms it is not superfluous that the desired words are added in the sections requested. We have not, as the Minister seemed to imply towards the end of his contribution, sought additional powers for county registrars other than those given to them under the Court and Court Officers Act, 1995. We merely seek to ensure this separation is clearly stated at every opportunity in the Bill. There is nothing superfluous about that. We do so on the basis of what we consider good legal advice.

Amendment put and declared lost.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly Amendment No. 7 is in the name of Senator O'Meara. Amendment No. 8 is related and may be discussed with Amendment No. 7 by agreement.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara I move amendment No. 7:

In page 9, line 31, to delete “nominated by the Chairman” and substitute “elected by the members”.

These amendments are self evident. We simply want to allow for where Bar and solicitor representatives are elected by the members rather than nominated by the chairman. This principle is similar to that of promoting the use of Irish and ensuring the rights of Irish language speakers are [200] protected. As legislators we should take such principles into account when drawing up legislation. A further example is that of gender equality. This Bill does not seek the promulgation of gender equality in the judiciary, although it is something which others like me might like to see.

The principle in this amendment is important. It ensures a level of democracy through the election of Bar and solicitor representatives. There is an important distinction between representatives being nominated by a chairman as opposed to elected by the members. It might seem a small issue but the principle is very important. We have an opportunity to include such a principle in the Bill and I would like the Minister to accept it and also include it in other legislation.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue This is similar to the amendment tabled by Senator O'Meara on Committee Stage. Section 11 sets out the composition of the board of the Courts Service. It includes a practising barrister nominated by the Chairman of the Bar Council and a practising solicitor nominated by the President of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland. These amendments propose that, rather than using the nomination procedure provided for in the Bill, it should be specified that members of the board should be elected by the council and the society respectively. It seems reasonable that it should be left to both groups to make their own arrangements in relation to their representation on the board of the Courts Service. In these circumstances I regret that I do not consider it appropriate that the legislation should specify that these people should be elected.

As I indicated on Committee Stage, the present provisions are those which are standard in other legislation and I see no good reason to depart from that approach. In the circumstances I ask the Senators to withdraw the amendments. The Chairman of the Bar Council and the President of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland will make the nomination. This is not to say, however, that I am directing that only these people, without consultation, should make the nominations. Both can make their own arrangements as to whom they nominate and they would appreciate being given the latitude and independence to so do. This is why I ask the Senators to withdraw the amendment.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara The Minister said he is leaving it to the groups to make their own arrangements. I am glad to hear the Minister saying he is not adverse to the notion of consultation. However, the legislation does not allow this to take place, and while it might be the Minister's aspiration and wish, we can assume it will not happen if such a provision is not included in the Bill. The reason for tabling these amendments is to ensure there is consultation.

Amendment put and declared lost. [201] Amendments Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, not moved.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly Amendment No. 19 is an alternative to amendment No. 11 and amendment No. 24 is related. Amendment No. 23 is consequential on amendment No. 24. Therefore, amendments Nos. 11, 19, 23 and 24 may be discussed together by agreement.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara I move amendment No. 11:

In page 13, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

“19. (1) The Chief Executive shall be an ex-officio member of the Superior Courts Rules Committee, the Circuit Court Rules Committee and the District Court Rules Committee.

(2) An ex-officio member of a committee referred to in subsection (1) may delegate his or her membership of the committee—

(a)in the case of a judge, to another judge of the court of which the judge is a member; or

(b) in the case of the Chief Executive or another member of staff of the Courts Service, to another member of staff.”.

Am I correct in thinking that amendment No. 19 accepts the principle of amendment No. 11?

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue Yes.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara In that case I am delighted to see it there. In effect the Minister has accepted what we are trying to achieve in amendment No. 11, namely, that the chief executive be a member of the rules committee. This was proposed by Justice Denham in her reports. It is an important amendment and I am delighted the Minister has accepted it through amendment No. 19.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor Zoom on John Connor I second the amendment.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald I commend Senator O'Meara. I did not have an opportunity to examine this on Committee Stage. I am delighted the Minister has taken it on board. It is logical and makes common sense that a chief executive of any organisation is at the coalface at all times when important decisions are made. Important decisions are made on an ongoing basis by rules committees. I assume the chief executive will be a member of the Superior Courts Rules Committee, the Circuit Court Rules Committee and the District Court Rules Committee.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue The House will recall that during the debate on Committee Stage I undertook to bring forward an amendment on Report Stage dealing with the position of the chief executive vis-á-vis the rules committees, the subject of Senator O'Meara's amendment. Both the Senator's amendment and mine are intended to [202] give effect to a recommendation contained in the second report of the working group on the Courts Commission which said that, when the Courts Service is established, the chief executive or his or her nominee should be a member of each of the rules committees and that the necessary legislative steps should be taken to enable this.

As the Bill deals with the functions of the chief executive, I am satisfied it is appropriate to include a provision making the chief executive a member of the rules committee. Accordingly, my amendment provides that the chief executive will be a member of the Superior Courts Rules Committee, the Circuit Court Rules Committee and the District Court Rules Committee. The amendment also provides that the chief executive may derogate his or her membership of these committees to a member of the staff of the Courts Service and that he or she may revoke such derogation.

The effect of the Senator's amendment is also to make a general provision for the designation by ex-officio members of the committee of their membership. In particular the amendment provides that a judicial member could derogate his or her membership to a judge of the same court. This is to make more general provision relating to the composition of the rules committee. It goes beyond the scope of what is necessary in the context of legislation dealing with the establishment of the Courts Service. Further changes which might be made to the operation of rules committees should await another courts Bill. For this reason I ask the Senators to withdraw their amendments in favour of the Government amendment.

Amendment No. 24 also relates to the rules committees and adds section 44 of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act, 1961, to the Second Schedule. Section 34 of that Act provides for the ex-officio membership of the District Court Rules Committee and, in particular, that the Minister may nominate a District Court Clerk to be secretary of that committee. The effect of the Government amendment is to transfer to the Courts Service the function of nomination of the secretary of the committee. Amendment No. 23 is a consequential drafting amendment.

The service should have this function especially as, under the previous amendment, the Bill will provide for the direct relationship between the service and the rules committees in terms of the committees' membership.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 12 not moved.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara I move amendment No. 13:

In page 15, line 6, to delete “member of the staff of the Department of” and substitute “officer of the Minister for”.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn I second the amendment.

[203]Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue Section 24 deals, inter alia, with the transfer of staff from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the Courts Service. The amendment would replace the reference to a member of staff of the Department with a reference to an officer of the Minister. On Committee Stage, I undertook to have the drafting of the subsection considered in consultation with the parliamentary draftsman. I have done so and my view has been confirmed that certain staff might not technically be officers of the Minister. For that reason the term “member of staff” is preferable. I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 14 not moved.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor Zoom on John Connor I move amendment No. 15:

In page 15, between lines 41 and 42, to insert the following:

“26.—The Board will establish that every office to be rented in the service has the appropriate planning permission to enable the functions to be carried out therein.”.

Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I second the amendment. It refers to planning permissions for courthouses and other buildings used by the service. Recently a number of cases were thrown out by a court in Donegal because there was no planning permission for the premises to be used as a court. This amendment seeks to prevent a recurrence of that.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara When this amendment was discussed on Committee Stage, the Minister of State said temporary courthouses were exempt from planning permission. Members were concerned by that remark and the Minister of State said he would clarify the matter on Report Stage.

The underlying principle of the amendment is extremely important and I am anxious to support it.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn I support the amendment. As Senator Burke said, many cases were recently dismissed because of the illegal status of the building in which the court was held. It would be unfortunate if the administration of the law were to be hindered because proper planning procedures were not applied to the buildings in which courts were held and if decisions of such courts were to be null and void.

The amendment is a practical and sensible measure in view of recent court decisions. It should not cause difficulty since all public bodies are bound to apply for planning permission for their premises. Such permission was not required previously but the situation is different now. However, it is important that recent case law be enshrined in statute law and this amendment offers such an opportunity. I hope the Minister [204] will see the good sense and practicality of the amendment and accept it.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald I am extremely confused by this amendment. Am I to take it that the Courts Service, presided over by a Supreme Court and other judges, is being asked to obey the law of the land?

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor Zoom on John Connor They were caught out before.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald The law provides that planning permission must be obtained by local authorities——

Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Strange things happen in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald ——and other State bodies. Can Members conceive of circumstances in which the Courts Service, presided over by such senior judicial figures, could even contemplate ignoring the law?

Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke It has happened.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald I do not wish to provoke controversy but if that is the correct interpretation——

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Look at the recent record.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald ——the amendment is daft in the extreme.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue Senator Fitzgerald is most perceptive. This amendment was put down on Committee Stage. Section 2 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1993 provides for developments which are exempt from requirements relating to planning approval. Such developments include courthouses, but the Act does not explicitly include temporary courthouses. Recent planning decisions have indicated the desirability of ensuring that the exemption that already applies to a permanent courthouse should equally apply to temporary courthouses. Section 32(2) achieves this by redefining courthouses to include a temporary courthouse.

Senator Fitzgerald is correct with regard to the terms of the amendment. It amounts to saying that the Courts Service should obey the law. It would be most unusual, to say the least, to include such a provision in legislation. The wider issue regarding planning permission is addressed by section 32(2) so I cannot support amendment No. 15.

It is a while since I studied Latin but I recall the phrase quis custodiet ipsos custodes——

Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Minister was an altar boy then.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue ——which means “who will guard the guards?”. A number of tremendous amendments have been put down by Senators [205] and I am aware of how difficult it is to draft them. I was in Opposition long enough to know how much work is involved. However, this amendment is similar to asking why there is only one monopolies commission in the country. It is a bit like expecting John Wayne to miss.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor Zoom on John Connor John Wayne did miss.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue I do not believe these are the sort of things one would envisage. Nor do I believe John Wayne ever missed.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I ask the Minister to show true grit and stay with the issue.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue I do not believe there should be a provision in this legislation that the Court Services should obey the law. As Senator Liam Fitzgerald said, it is presided over by the Chief Justice. There are nine judges in the Courts Services——

Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Wigs on the Green.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue ——and they are joined by various luminaries from the legal profession.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Practicality is not their strongest point.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue If it is the view of Senators that it has to be a statutory imperative that they obey the law, I cannot go along with that. I expect them to obey the law, particularly since they make much of that law themselves. In the circumstances, while I accept there have been some tremendous amendments put forward by Senators, with much work put into them, this amendment is superfluous and should be withdrawn, as Senator Fitzgerald sensibly suggested earlier.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor Zoom on John Connor The Minister lectures us on this side of the House that the very courts that administer the law could not contemplate finding themselves sitting in a building without proper planning permission. In Donegal courts were held in buildings were there was no proper planning permission. Decisions made in such courthouses were found not to have the force of law. We are trying to ensure that kind of farce is not repeated. I am sorry the Minister seeks to trivialise it in his reply. He has not addressed the fact this has already happened. He has not acknowledged that is our reason for seeking this protection.

Amendment put and declared lost.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Amendments Nos.16 and 17 may be taken together by agreement. Agreed? Agreed.

[206]Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I move:

In page 16, line 33, after “authority” to insert “and without any cost to the local authority”.

I spoke about this on Second and Committee Stages. I regret amendment No. 18 has been ruled out of order as it has a financial connotation. These two amendments have financial considerations also.

It is hard to believe that when this Bill was drafted no consultation took place with the local authorities. How can we pass a Bill under which property will be handed over from one Department to another without any consultation with the relevant authorities? We are introducing a Bill and saying everything else will be sorted out afterwards. There will be serious problems. I expect the local authorities will hold out in this case to the end.

Senator Donovan said on Committee Stage he was delighted courthouses were being taken over by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform as it would remove a burden from rate payers and local authorities. In many areas the local authority area engineer's office is in the same building as the courthouse and many local authority functions are carried out there. When the day of reckoning comes all the property the Minister has outlined in this Bill will be vested in the Courts Service. In areas where the courts and the county council have property jointly, will the local authority have to pay rent for the use of facilities which will be in the ownership of the Courts Service? In County Mayo there are many area engineer offices and many county council functions are carried out in the courthouses. Will the Minister explain what will happen after vesting day? In Castlebar, the county council will be required to move out of the courthouse. What will happen to county council offices on vesting day when they have no alternative but to leave?

There are many questions to be answered and that is why I and the other Fine Gael Senators tabled these amendments. County councils will have to be compensated where they have been using a courthouse alongside the new service body at no cost to the local authority.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor Zoom on John Connor I second the amendment. Some of our finest public buildings are courthouses. They are an important part of the built heritage of the State. James Gandon's masterpiece, the Four Courts, is one of the finest public buildings in the country. James Gandon has another minor masterpiece in Kinsealy, but there are Gandon courthouses in many towns. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has spent very little on the upkeep of these buildings. Many of them have been kept by local authorities on a shoestring budget with no support from the Department. Local authorities found themselves in the position of caretaker. I do not wish to see these buildings made redundant, although the Department would do this. It would close down many court services in towns such as Boyle, Westport [207] and Ennis. The previous Minister for Justice commissioned a report clearly giving instructions to recommend a paring down of court venues. That is what the politically late Máire Geoghegan-Quinn implied when giving officials their terms of reference.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn No sexist remarks please.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor Zoom on John Connor If any of these buildings is to be made redundant it should revert to the local authority. The Courts Service may be good at providing a court service but it could prove to be a philistine in the matter of our architectural heritage. They might dispose of an architecturally important building to a body which might do something inappropriate with it. Local authorities could be relied on to ensure that these buildings would be maintained architecturally intact and would continue to be used as public buildings and not turned into shopping malls. The courthouse is the focal point of town squares and diamonds throughout the country. The finest public building in County Roscommon is the courthouse in Roscommon town. The finest public building in Boyle is the red sandstone courthouse, built in 1827, on the Crescent. The same is true of Castlebar. There is a fine Doric court building in Ennis.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly Let us not go around the whole country.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor Zoom on John Connor It must be stated clearly in the Bill that if the Courts Service wishes to dispose of a court building it should hand it back to the local authority for appropriate use and maintenance.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Senator Connor has impressed upon the Minister the fine architectural heritage that we have in our courthouses. I hope the Minister appreciates the importance of these buildings to local communities and to local authorities. It is important that no cost is incurred by the local authorities because of the formation of the Courts Service. In many towns courthouses have dual functions. This varies from area to area. Clare County Council chamber, for example, is in the courthouse in Ennis. The motor taxation office is also situated in Ennis courthouse. These two important local authority functions are carried on in Ennis courthouse. If the Courts Service takes over Ennis courthouse, will Clare County Council have to find an alternative chamber or will they have to ask the permission of the Courts Service to maintain their position within the courthouse? These are practical issues.

The luminaries in the Minister's office who are dealing with this matter might find it difficult to comprehend these basic practicalities but I hope the Minister will bring our concerns to the attention of those who will administer the service. If a local authority were obliged to vacate a court building and had to build or rent an alternative [208] building, an additional cost would be incurred by the local authority. This would unacceptable. The Minister, in establishing the Courts Service, must ensure that this does not happen.

Senator Burke, in amendment No. 17, proposes, in the event of any courthouse premises used for the purposes to which the functions of the service relate, becoming redundant, that premises shall revert without cost into the ownership of the local authority. It is extremely important that it is recognised that these buildings have always been owned by the local authorities who maintained them, often with great difficulty. It is important that local authorities should not be charged commercial rents by the Courts Service.

Many small courthouses or courtrooms are also used by local authority officials. It is important that the spirit of co-operation which has existed between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the local authorities should continue. It is fundamental that no cost should be incurred by local authorities in the form of rents to the Courts Service or in the provision of alternative accommodation.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald I commend Senators Burke and Connor on these amendments. I agree with almost all they have said. The Dickensian conditions in many of our courthouses is an appalling testimony to the disgraceful attitude of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to court facilities. We have heard judges complain that they cannot conduct court business because of the poor conditions in some courthouses. It would be extremely high handed of the Courts Service to take over court buildings and dispose of them at will. Senators Burke and Connor have, rightly, demanded that the Courts Service will not be given carte blanche to dispose of court buildings. Some court buildings are in an extreme state of dereliction but many are fine buildings in prominent locations in our towns and cities. It is imperative that the Minister ensure that adequate sensitivity is shown to the architectural importance of our courthouses. I laud these amendments and I encourage the Minister to accept them.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue It would appear from Senator Fitzgerald's contribution that he is a gamekeeper turned poacher. Amendment No. 16 would provide that land vested in, or leased by, a local authority would vest in the Courts Service without any cost to the local authority. It relates to land dealt with under the provisions of section 26(2)(b) of the Bill which covers land, or court buildings on that land, in mixed use — that is, used partly for purposes to which the functions of the service relate and partly for the purposes of the local authority. Typically this means a council office which houses a court venue. [209] The policy underpinning the Bill in regard to court buildings is that they will be transferred from the Commissioners of Public Works or local authorities to the Courts Service under a vesting order to be made by the Minister. That vesting order can be made on a building housing both local authority offices and a courtroom only with the consent of the commissioners or the local authority. I hope this addresses the concern expressed by Senator Taylor-Quinn regarding the council chamber in Ennis which doubles as a court venue.

It will be for the Minister and the local authority concerned in the context of this process of consultation to settle any cost issue which might arise in respect in the proposed vesting of a courtroom in such circumstances. Where a central feature is the consent of the local authority, it would not be appropriate to include in the Bill a specific provision on costs. These are matters proper to negotiations which would take place. This Bill does not give the Minister power to vest premises where the consent of the authority is not forthcoming. This is important in addressing another concern expressed by Senators.

Amendment No. 17 appears to deal with a situation where the Courts Service has ceased using a court premises subsequent to that premises having been vested in the service. I cannot rule out a court becoming unoccupied because a new replacement venue has been built. The final details of the arrangements relating to the vesting of premises in the Courts Service will be dealt with in the context of the consultation procedures provided in the Bill. The question of whether a premises will revert to a local authority if no longer required as a courthouse could be dealt with on an individual basis in the consultation process prior to its vesting.

Not all courthouses are vested in local authorities, although the amendments envisage all courthouses which have become redundant reverting to them. It may be that during a period when a courthouse is vested in the service, much capital investment may be put into it. It would seem inappropriate in such circumstances to provide [210] definitively that no cost should be incurred by a local authority on the reversion of the premises to it.

Broader policy questions relating to the acquisition and disposal of courthouses which could not be appropriately addressed in the Bill will be considered by the Minister in the context of the strategic plans produced by the Courts Service.

I hope this explains the situation. There is no question of rule by diktat. A consultation procedure is provided for and local authorities are treated fairly under the terms of the legislation. For those reasons I cannot accept the amendments.

Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke It is clear the Minister has been sucked in by the Department. In fairness to Senator Liam Fitzgerald, he can see what we are trying to do. The amendments are simple and self-explanatory. Under amendment No. 17 courthouses no longer required by the service revert to the local authority who can dispose of them. There is no better organisation than a local authority to do this. Locally elected people and the county manager can decide on the future use of a courthouse.

Under amendment No. 16, there is no doubt the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform will have the upper hand in negotiations. It is closing the door when the horse has bolted. We will pass this legislation and then the Courts Service will consult with local authorities on a matter which is already decided. There will be difficulties for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform trying to conclude the final handover of property following its vesting. Local authorities will rightly dig in their heels because they owned the property for many years.

In such cases as the Ennis courthouse, will the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the local authorities be jointly responsible for the upkeep of the building?

I am disappointed with the Minister's response. These are simple amendments which will safeguard properties which should revert to local authorities, to the benefit of the community.

Amendment put.

The Seanad divided: Tá, 20; Níl, 27.

Coghlan, Paul.
Connor, John.
Coogan, Fintan.
Cosgrave, Liam T.
Costello, Joe.
Doyle, Avril.
Doyle, Joe.
Gallagher, Pat.
Hayes, Tom.
Manning, Maurice.
McDonagh, Jarlath.
Norris, David.
O'Dowd, Fergus.
O'Meara, Kathleen.
Quinn, Feargal.
Ridge, Thérese.
Ryan, Brendan.
Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Níl

Bonner, Enda.
Callanan, Peter.
Cassidy, Donie.
Chambers, Frank.[211]Fitzgerald, Tom.
Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
Gibbons, Jim.
Glynn, Camillus.
Keogh, Helen.
Kett, Tony.
Kiely, Rory.
Lanigan, Mick.
Dardis, John.
Farrell, Willie.
Finneran, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Liam.[212]Leonard, Ann.
Lydon, Don.
McGowan, Patrick.
Mooney, Paschal.
Moylan, Pat.
Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Ormonde, Ann.
Quill, Mairín.
Walsh, Jim.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Burke and Taylor-Quinn; Níl, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Keogh.

Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 not moved.

Government amendment No. 19:

In page 18, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following:

“30.—(1) Subject to subsection (2), the Chief Executive for the time being shall be a member of the Superior Courts Rules Committee (established under section 67 of the Courts of Justice Act, 1936), the Circuit Court Rules Committee (established under section 69 of the Courts of Justice Act, 1936), and the District Court Rules Committee (established under section 71 of the Courts of Justice Act, 1936).

(2) The Chief Executive for the time being may, from time to time, delegate in writing his or her membership of any of the Committees referred to in subsection (1) to a member of the staff of the Service and any such delegation may be revoked at any time by the Chief Executive.”. and Court Officers Act, 1926, will transfer to the Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 20 not moved.

Acting Chairman (Mr. R. Kiely): Information on Rory Kiely Zoom on Rory Kiely Amendment No. 22 is related to amendment No. 21 and both may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara I move amendment No. 21:

In page 21, between lines 29 and 30, to insert “The Master of the High Court.”.

I am attempting to clarify the status of the Master of the High Court. It appears from amendment No. 22 he is not to be included among the transferred officers. Will the Minister clarify the position?

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue The Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, indicated last week that I wished to have time to consider for Report Stage the matter raised by the Senator's amendment. The First Schedule sets out details of officers who will be transferred to the Courts Service on its establishment. It includes every principal officer within the meaning of Part I of the Court and Court Officers Act, 1926. I am advised that formula would include the Master of the High Court and to that extent the Senator's amendment would be redundant.

However, in light of the amendments to the Bill agreed last week in regard to county registrars I am now satisfied that it is appropriate to amend the Bill in terms of the position of the Master of the High Court and the Taxing Masters. The Master of the High Court has a wide quasi-judicial jurisdiction and Taxing Masters are concerned with the taxation of legal costs. These are not functions for which the people involved could be expected to be responsible to the chief executive of the service. The effect of my amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage was to exclude the quasi-judicial functions of county registrars from the remit of the Courts Service. Accordingly, I find it no longer appropriate either to include the Master of the High Court or the Taxing Masters in the Schedule as members of the Courts Service.

The effect of my amendment is that all the principal officers referred to in Part I of the Court Courts Service on its establishment day with the exception of the Master of the High Court and the Taxing Masters. Senators may agree this exception is consistent with the overall purpose of the Bill and, in particular, with amendments already made relating to the position of county registrars under it. I am indebted to Senator O'Meara for bringing the matter to my attention.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara I may have succeeded in bringing it to the Minister's attention but I am not sure it succeeded in achieving what we want. I thank him for his clarification, but it is a pity that we are dealing with this level of detail on Report Stage and do not have an opportunity to come back to it and tease it out further.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Government amendment No. 22:

In page 21, to delete lines 30 and 31, and substitute the following:

“Every principal officer within the meaning of Part I of the Court Officers Act, 1926, other than the Master of the High Court and the Taxing Masters.”.

[213] Amendment agreed to.

Government amendment No. 23:

In page 22, line 35, 3rd column, to delete “section 41.” and substitute “section 41,”.

Amendment agreed to.

Government amendment No. 24:

In page 22, between lines 35 and 36, 3rd column, to insert the following: “section 44,”.

Amendment agreed to.

Bill reported with amendments and received for final consideration.

Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue I am grateful to Senators for their contributions. While we may not have agreed on every detail — and clearly we could not — significant changes have nonetheless been made to the legislation and it is better for that. It is one of a number of Bills I have introduced in the Seanad in recent times and I look forward to progressing these and other measures in future with the co-operation of the House.

I am sure all Members will join with me in expressing appreciation to Mrs. Justice Susan Denham and the working group on the courts commission for their contribution in laying the groundwork for this landmark legislation. Mrs. Justice Denham has been most co-operative, helpful and knowledgeable. Senators have played their part in ensuring we will have a Courts Service which is well equipped and will respond effectively and efficiently to the demands which undoubtedly will be made of it as we face into the new millennium. In particular, I thank the spokespersons and other Senators who contributed so forcefully and knowledgeably to the debate.

The legislation has been improved as a result of its passage through the House and that is a tribute to Members.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn I am pleased a number of substantial amendments have been made to the Bill since it was first published. I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill in this House, making it more relevant in the process. I also thank him for agreeing to a number of amendments tabled by the Opposition and for introducing others to accommodate concerns expressed during Second and Committee Stages.

The Bill has been much improved. When the Minister brings it to the Lower House, he might consider further some of the amendments which he could not accept here. He might like to remove a number of sections from the Schedule, particularly those relating to the division of the [214] circuits which should be a political rather than an administrative issue. I hope the Courts Service will not decide on that in the future. That aspect has not been fully addressed.

Acting Chairman: Does the Senator intend to discuss the Bill all over again?

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn No, I am just talking about different aspects which have not been fully dealt with.

The Minister might keep within his remit the power to appoint temporary county registrars. When one buys something, one is advised to read the small print. It is important to read the details in the Schedule to a Bill. There are some sections in the Second Schedule to the Bill from the 1926 Act which——

Acting Chairman: The Bill has been passed.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn I am just prompting the Minister to address these issues which relate to sections 34, 40(1) and 42 when he brings it to the Lower House.

Acting Chairman: All that has been discussed.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Not too satisfactorily.

Acting Chairman: We cannot go back over the Bill.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn As this Bill will be debated in the Lower House, the Minister will have further opportunities to improve on it. When he reflects on the fine contributions which were made in this Chamber, he will have food for thought and he might convert those into further amendments in the Lower House.

I thank the Minister and his staff for their co-operation. The county registrars' association seems happier with the Bill as passed by this House than as initiated. Officials of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform co-operated with the association and held a number of satisfactory meetings with them, and I thank the Minister for responding positively to the concerns the association outlined.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald On behalf of Senator O'Donovan, the Fianna Fáil Party spokesperson on this Bill, who cannot be here today, I compliment the Minister and his staff on the manner in which the Bill was introduced here.

This is a radical reforming Bill. It represents a legal milestone in the history of legislation, addressing problems in the courts. There is no doubt that a new direction has been taken.

I join with the Minister and others in commending Mrs. Justice Susan Denham. She produced four reports of her extensive investigations, research and review into the operations of the courts. No doubt the fruits of her work, as borne out mainly in this legislation, will stand the testimony [215] of time as a radical and effective move in the reform of the courts, taking account of the modern needs of the speedy pursuit of justice into the next century.

I pay tribute to the Opposition spokespersons for the excellent debate. Despite the elements of mirth, most of the debate was serious, well researched and informed and, despite the forcefulness and assiduousness of Opposition spokespersons and Senators, it was always constructive. That is a great tribute to all concerned. I pay tribute to the Minister for the open manner in which he received all amendments, even though he could not accept many of them. He was constructive in the way in which he approached amendments and careful to point out his reasons in detail when he was unable to accept amendments. He went out of his way to facilitate with his amendments, where that was needed.

In complimenting Mrs. Justice Susan Denham, I am aware that she is also involved in drawing up a report on the drugs courts. I am sure all sides of the House eagerly look forward to the publication of that report and to the Minister's response to it, where we, in turn, will have an opportunity to have our say.

I thank the Minister for initiating this important landmark Bill in the Seanad. It is a tremendous tribute to the Minister that the Seanad was honoured by its initiation here. We look forward to many such Bills — tomorrow there will be another — where the Seanad is first to deliberate important justice, equality and law reform Bills.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara I add my thanks to the Minister and his officials for their work on this Bill and also to the public service of Mrs. Justice Susan Denham in bringing forward her reports which the Minister and his officials formulated into legislation which we are happy to debate in this House.

I would not call it a radical Bill by any means but it is sensible and necessary. It is a common sense Bill and it is will make a major difference. The modernisation of the Courts Service is long overdue.

In particular, I, like other Senators, thank the Minister for initiating the Bill in this House. In so doing, he gives us an added relevance and continues the trend set by his predecessor in the then Department of Equality and Law Reform, Mervyn Taylor. I was pleased to work with the Minister and to feel that we, on this side of the House, had made a contribution to improving the Bill. I am sure that work will continue in the Lower House. I thank the Minister and look forward to seeing him here again.

Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I compliment the Minister on initiating this Bill in this House. He knows how a Bill can be thoroughly debated here and the value of that. I compliment him on the many amendments [216] he accepted. This Bill will be very effective. It will streamline the courts and that is what it is all about.

Mrs. Justice Susan Denham worked extremely hard on the production of the working document on a commission for the courts and she is to be complimented. I compliment the staff of the Department and the House for accepting late amendments also.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 5.30 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.


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