COURTS OF JUSTICE BILL, 1925—SECOND STAGE.

I move "That the Courts of Justice Bill, 1925, be read a second time." This Bill is something in the nature of a second thought. It proposes to dispense with portion of the machinery provided for in the Courts of Justice Act passed last year. It proposes to dispense with the Court of the High Court Circuit and transfer to the Central Criminal Court all cases that are outside the criminal jurisdiction of the Circuit Judge, including such cases as are now pending and were returned for trial to this Court of the High Court Circuit. The Committee which sat between January and June, I think, of 1923, to make recommendations on the judicial system recommended that all criminal matters should be dealt with by the Circuit Courts except comparatively trifling cases which would fall to be dealt with summarily by the District Justice and, at the other end of the scale, that the more serious class of offence, such as murder, attempted murder, treason and, I think, one other rather rare offence, piracy, should be dealt with by a judge of the High Court rather than by a Circuit judge. Proceeding on that view they recommended that Commissions of Assize should be sent as required to such centres and at such times as the Executive Council may determine for the amalgamated counties. There should be a Central Criminal Court for Dublin city, and the home counties system of Dublin, Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow, each judge of the High Court to be liable to serve in this court. It should have jurisdiction in all cases excepted from the jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts arising within Dublin city or the home counties and also in all cases sent forward to it from the Circuit Courts of such city and counties, or in which the venue has been changed to Dublin city.

The conception urged by this Judiciary Committee was that cases beyond the criminal jurisdiction of the Circuit judge should be dealt with either by the Central Criminal Court covering the area and jurisdiction of Dublin city and counties Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow, and for the rest of the country by a Court of the High Court Circuit, going out periodically in some such way as in the past winter assizes were held. In practice there seems little justification for this extra machinery of the High Court Circuit, and on reflection, having had the advantage of consultation with the judges, who acted on the Rule-making Committee, I am not satisfied that the Dáil would be well advised to proceed with constituting that Court, and I am asking in this short Bill that the Court of the High Court Circuit be dispensed with and that cases that were returned for trial to it should be dealt with by the Central Criminal Court. Possibly the committee which sat to consider the judicial machinery that would be necessary were sub-consciously affected by the condition of things in the country at the time and the amount of crime prevalent, but on examining the cases sent for trial to this High Court Circuit one sees that they are quite few and very widely scattered through the country. A list shows that there are four such cases from Cork, four from Mayo, four from Galway, two from Leitrim, two from Donegal, one from Longford, two from Limerick, two from Tipperary, one from Clare, two from Kildare, one from Carlow, eight from County Dublin, three from Offaly, one from Wicklow, one from Leix, one from Meath, and a total of thirty-nine cases.

If one were to say that to deal with these cases a judge of the High Court should go out on circuit and sit, say, at four, five or six centres through the country, it would be an inconvenience and expense out of all proportion to the number of cases that stand for trial, and when you remember that the list represents the situation which we had through the last year, and that reasonably one might be entitled to hope that major crime would even continue to diminish, I think there is justification for the course we are now taking in asking the Dáil to share the view that this Court of the High Court Circuit is an unnecessary portion of our judicial machinery and that cases outside the ambit of the criminal jurisdiction may well be tried by the central criminal court in the city of Dublin.

I have only one word to add. It is in connection with the position of jurors in the city of Dublin. A Bill is in draft in my Department which will probably be introduced early in the new year— I should hope shortly after the Dáil resumes sitting in January—which will enlarge the area from which jurors will be drawn for the Dublin courts. It is estimated that it will exactly double— not exactly, but approximately—the panel of jurors and that under a provision of the Bill when the extension is operative individual jurors will not be called upon for service more than once every three or four years. I think it is more likely to be four than three. That extension will more than meet the slightly increased burden which this proposal we are now considering places on the shoulders of the jurors of the city of Dublin.

I am glad to hear from the Minister that he has a Bill in contemplation that will, to some extent, relieve the heavy burden from which jurors in Dublin suffer. I would like to see, if it were at all possible, the Bill introduced during the present Session. If the Minister could only spare time to attend one of these courts he would see the enormous strain that is placed upon Dublin jurors, and I think, to a considerable extent, it is loss of time on the part of many of these jurors. If he could see his way to introduce that Bill at some period during this session, I think it would be a very welcome measure to the jurors of the city.

There are two other points I pressed on the Minister in connection with the administration of justice in the city, and to which he promised to give some attention. The first of these was, that at the present moment children who come under the provisions of the School Attendance Act, are brought up in what are now known as the District Courts. It is true, as the Minister has pointed out, that a special day or a special afternoon is reserved in one of these courts, but it is, nevertheless, true that these courts adjoin one another, and while one court may be reserved for the purpose of these younger children and their parents and friends, the other court is functioning immediately adjoining the Children's Court, and you have that very objectionable atmosphere and objectionable surroundings of what were known in former days as the Police Courts. That is a matter that should be remedied, and I was hopeful that the Minister could have done something before this to deal with that grievance. The House is unanimous on the necessity for such a measure.

I also pressed on the Minister that it was necessary to do something for the commercial community. At present the commercial community, when it is necessary for it to recover liabilities, is compelled to go to the Police Court and to bring, in many cases, the lady members of its staff to prove its different debts—to bring them into, as I have said, the objectionable surroundings of these courts. That is a procedure that does not exist in any other State, and one was hopeful that Commerce and the importance of Commerce would have led the Minister to alter these unsatisfactory arrangements when his attention had been drawn to them. I hope, before this Bill passes, that he will see his way to do something to remedy these two grievances which have been pressed on many occasions.

I, too, like Deputy Good, welcome that portion of the Bill which gives relief to Dublin city jurors. Within the past few days the question of relief for Dublin jurors has become rather a popular subject to tackle. I remember eighteen months ago putting the matter forward to the Minister and asking for relief for Dublin jurors, and that the jury lists should be extended to take in Rathmines and his own area generally. I was promised at the time that a Bill would be introduced. That is over eighteen months ago, but even now I am glad that the Minister is taking steps to relieve them. It is really an unfortunate thing that Dublin business men are called away from their business as often as they are at present. Regularly, every year, it appears to be one set of men who are called to give up six or seven weeks of their time.

There is another point which the Minister might consider and that is the question of granting exemption from service altogether to the proprietor of a one-man business. A case came to my notice within the past few weeks where a young man was called to serve on a jury and he informed me that he would have to close down his business while serving. I think exemption should be given in these cases. There was also a case brought to my notice in which a workman was four or five days on a jury, and at the end of the week he had no wages to get from his employer. I think there should be some method of seeing that no injustice is done to the families of men of the type I have just mentioned. I welcome the Bill now even though it is rather late.

Such criticism as we have heard has not been criticism of the Bill. Rather the Bill was used as a peg whereon to hang a general criticism of Court arrangements. Deputy Good, I am sure, is quite well aware that such minor inconveniences as he refers to are not matters calling for legislation. They do not arise from anything in the existing Act and it is not a question of the necessity of introducing something into the present Act to meet them. It arises simply from considerations of space and considerations of Court accommodation. The Deputy raised these matters on the Estimates of my Department last summer. I am fully conscious of the desirability of doing something to meet both cases which he mentions, the case of the Children's Court and the necessity of separating the civil business of the District Court from the ordinary Police Court business. At present we are actually in consultation with the Senior Justice and certain others concerned with a view to seeing whether the Children's Court can be held elsewhere than at Inns Quay. On the question of the grievance of the business community in being brought as witnesses to the District Court, I am afraid until the Four Courts is reconstructed and accommodation assigned there, it will not be possible to separate entirely the criminal and the civil jurisdiction of the District Courts but arrangements are being made in connection with the reconstruction of the Four Courts to ensure that we will be in a position to meet the point of view which Deputy Good expressed on this matter.

Deputy Byrne welcomed that portion of the Bill which gives relief to the Dublin jurors. Of course, if Deputy Byrne had read the Bill more carefully he would see that no portion of it gives relief to Dublin jurors, and that in fact, in so far as the current Bill affects Dublin jurors at all, it is to increase somewhat their already heavy burdens. I spoke of a Bill which will be introduced this year if possible—if not possible this year, then, certainly early next year—which will extend the area from which jurors are drawn to the courts that are held in Dublin city. It is proposed to take in the townships for jury purposes, and I think the effect will be to about double the jury panel. At present in Dublin I think the individual juror is called upon to serve about once every eighteen months. That is considerably more often than the individual juror down the country. I think in most counties it is estimated that a juror is called upon to serve about every three or four years. The proposed extension of the jury area for the Dublin courts will just about put Dublin jurors on a level with the country jurors as regards frequency of service. It will mean, I think, that they, too, will be called upon to serve every three or four years.

I am glad that in so far as there has been criticism, it was criticism in respect of sins of omission, real or imaginary; that no one finds serious fault with the actual contents of the Bill, and with the proposal not to proceed to set up this Court of the High Court Circuit. I am satisfied that the situation in the country with regard to serious crime does not warrant that step, and that the proposal that is embodied in this Bill will also be to some extent a financial economy.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, November 24th.