I move the Second Reading. This is a Bill to amend the Courts of Justice Act, 1924, in some details which are of a somewhat technical character, since they deal principally with matters affecting procedure. It also makes provision for the establishment of two additional Circuit Court Judges and for the appointment of four Assistant District Court Justices to take the place of those who are now doing the work temporarily during the illness or absence on leave or holidays of the regular District Justices.
I will briefly go through the Bill, section by section, and explain, as concisely as I am able, the difficulties which this Bill is meant to meet. Section 1 is purely interpretative and nothing arises upon it. Section 2 is a section which enables the business, when the Chief Justice is either unable through illness or through absence from the Saorstát to transact it, to be transacted by the President of the High Court or, in the event of the President being prevented by illness or absence, then by the senior ordinary judge of the Supreme Court and if neither is available by the junior ordinary judge of the Supreme Court. The necessity for that section arises owing to the fact that a Chief Justice has certain powers such as those in lunacy or infancy matters in which he has sole control. In the original Act no power was given to anybody except the Chief Justice to decide these matters and make rulings thereon. It is impossible, without hindering the carrying out of these various matters, that a Chief Justice should leave the country or get any holiday at all. I might mention that the Chief Justice has not, I think since 1924, taken any holidays. This enables the authorities to be delegated and exercised by the other persons I have mentioned. Section 3 is this. In the Lunacy Regulation Act of 1871 certain powers in making rules are transferred to the Lord Chancellor. This simply gives the powers of making rules of that nature, powers which were formerly exercised by the Lord Chancellor to the Chief Justice. Section 4 enables the Chief Justice, instead of describing people who are in the custody of his court as lunatics or as persons of unsound mind, to style them "Wards of Court." I might say before leaving that there has been a slight transposition of words in Section 2 where there is a typographical error. In Section 2 of the Bill as it stands it reads "in the event of the said President being prevented through illness or absence from Saorstát Eireann from exercising the said jurisdictions and performing the said authorities and functions." It should be "exercising the said jurisdictions and authorities and performing the said functions."
Section 5 deals with the Court of Criminal Appeal in respect of three matters. The first is that the Court may, notwithstanding that they are of opinion that a point raised in an appeal might be decided in favour of the applicant, dismiss the appeal if they consider that no substantial miscarriage of justice has actually occurred. If I might give an illustration to the House it might happen that a Judge at a trial might allow in some evidence against the prisoner which was not according to the technical rules of evidence, strictly admissible, but if that evidence was of a very trifling nature and there would be plenty of evidence upon which the prisoner should be convicted apart from that, it would be quite wrong that a ruling of that nature on an unimportant matter should affect the administration of justice so that an obviously guilty man should escape the punishment which he deserves for his offence. Of course in that section it is perfectly clear that the court must be satisfied that there could not be any miscarriage of justice when they put the section into operation.
The meaning of (b) is this: It sometimes happens that a prisoner might be found guilty on various counts. He is found guilty on one count by a jury and the court is of opinion that there is not sufficient evidence to justify a verdict of guilty on that particular count, but that there was abundant evidence to find the prisoner guilty on another count. This section, then, enables the court to discharge the finding of the jury upon the count upon which they found him guilty and to enter a verdict of guilty and sentence him on the charge which there is evidence to support. I might take an example such as this: A man is charged with larceny and with receiving goods knowing them to have been stolen. Suppose the jury finds him guilty of larceny and the court comes to the conclusion that it was not clear that the man had actually stolen the particular goods, but that it was perfectly clear he had received them, knowing them to have been stolen, under this section it would be open to the court to discharge the finding of larceny and to enter a verdict of guilty of the lesser offence, that is, of receiving the goods knowing them to have been stolen. I would suggest to the House that that is a very right and proper power for the Court of Criminal Appeal to have. Sub-section (c) enables the Court of Criminal Appeal to order a new trial. If I might take the illustration which I gave a few moments ago, in dealing with sub-section (a), suppose some evidence has been wrongly admitted and the court cannot make up its mind as to whether the jury would have found the prisoner guilty or not guilty, if this evidence had been excluded, then the Court will order a new trial and the matter will go before a fresh jury without this illegally admitted evidence coming before it. The House will understand, of course, that these illustrations are not very exhaustive.
Section 6 simply says that in the case of a sentence of death or corporal punishment the sentence shall not in any case be executed until the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal has been made known. That is common sense, and, of course, has been acted on without any section of this kind. Section 7 says that interlocutory applications to the Court of Criminal Appeal may be made to one judge and not necessarily to the whole court. The court consists of three members, and questions of giving leave to appeal or of finally deciding the appeal will still be heard by the whole court. Applications such as to get the notes free of charge, to have the prisoner present in court or something of that kind are interlocutory applications, and not final applications. These will be heard by one judge instead of by three.
Section 8 deals with a matter coming up under the Courts of Justice Act. Rules were made for the High Court, and two interpretations of these rules might have been taken—one giving a considerable amount of power to the Master and the other a lesser amount of power. The Master and various members of the legal profession thought that the Master had wider powers. However, after he had exercised the wider powers, after some short period of time, the extent of his jurisdiction was raised by the court, and it was discovered that he had made certain orders—plain, ordinary, straightforward, matter-of-fact things, always undefended cases, which were really beyond his jurisdiction. This section simply puts matters right. The orders were the same as would have been made by the judge. There was always an appeal from the Master to the judge, but these were cases in which no appeal was taken.
Section 9 deals with the appointments of two additional Circuit Court judges. The necessity for this arises owing to the fact that in certain circuits judges have not been able to keep up with the work which has fallen considerably into arrears. Under the original Act power was given to appoint two temporary circuit judges. The period during which the temporary circuit judges could act has now elapsed. We come now before the House asking that two permanent circuit judges shall be appointed in addition to the existing one. One of the principal areas in which arrears of work have arisen is the city of Dublin. The arrears there are very urgent at present. There are considerable complaints, justly founded, by litigants that they cannot get their cases heard. These cases cannot be heard until we increase the number of judges. In the northern and midland circuits there are also considerable arrears of work, and there is naturally discontent amongst practitioners, and especially amongst the litigants, in these courts. These judges will not be attached to any particular circuit. They will be available to go round from circuit to circuit. It is a matter to which I gave very careful consideration—there is a good deal to be said on both sides—as to whether it would be better to carve out new districts and appoint judges to them or whether it would be better to adopt this procedure by which these additional judges might take up work in different districts. After very careful consideration and weighing the pros and cons as well as I could, I came to the conclusion that it would be better not now to carve out new districts, but to work the existing districts with this additional aid.
The reasons which operated upon my mind were probably this: At one time, in one area, there might be a great glut of work, and an assistant judge might be wanted there. At another time, in that particular area, there might be very little litigation, and possibly the spirit of litigation might have descended upon some other part of the country. For instance, let me say, at one time the courts in the western area might be very full of litigation, at another time they might be empty, and the northern courts might be full at one time and empty at another. The two periods might not coincide. As well as that, the amount of business transacted will be, to a certain extent, dependent upon the personality of the particular judge who is hearing the case. Some judges hear cases more quickly than others. It does not always follow that the quickest judge is the best judge, but, in fact, some judges are quicker than others. That, too, might lead to there being a varying requirement of judges in different districts. If it turns out that the original eight Circuit Judges are able to do the entire work without these two additional ones, it is not obligatory under the Bill that these two additional ones should be appointed. In fact, they are badly required at the moment, but possibly it might happen that they would not be required in the future, that eight would be sufficient. If that be the case, when one of the existing Circuit Judges retires the vacancy need not be filled up. I want to make it clear that power is given, but it is not obligatory that the entire number of judges should always be filled.
Section 10 is a very simple section. It states that whenever a Circuit Judge is personally interested in a matter which comes before his court, or knows parties well, another Circuit Judge may be assigned to hear that particular case. Section 11 deals with the question of Circuit Court appeals. It has become necessary owing to the fact that the original Act stated that an appeal should be grounded upon shorthand notes. Section 11 states that it shall be grounded on the evidence. Sub-section (3) gives certain power to the court in case an official stenographer's note is lost. At the present moment, if an official stenographer's note is lost, accidentally destroyed, or if anything of that kind happens, no appeal can be taken. That, I may say, did happen in one case. This section simply makes provision where a stenographer's note is not available, where it has been lost or destroyed, that the court shall have power to hear the matter. That is all this section does:
"The court may either determine an appeal by re-hearing the case, either on oral evidence or by affidavit or partly on oral evidence and partly by affidavit, or may order a new trial of the case to be had."
Sub-section (2) is, except for (b), merely the old section—Section 62 of the Principal Act—repeated. That is, power is given to re-hear the evidence of any witness whose evidence was contained in such report. It is very doubtful if a witness, having been examined once in court, could have been, as the law stood, examined again by the Court of Appeal. This section gives that power. Only additional evidence could have been given. It would be very doubtful if further questions could be put to a witness who had already been examined. B makes it perfectly clear that they can. It may seem to Deputies that some of these are very small alterations, but they are things which have actually occurred in practice.
Section 12 enables four additional Justices of the District Court, to be termed Assistant Justices, to be appointed. Under the Court of Justice Act there are a certain number of Assistant Justices, with certain areas assigned to them. When they are sick or when they go on vacation gentlemen are appointed temporarily to take their place, either barristers or solicitors. It is probably not a very good arrangement. It is not always very easy to get at very short notice a competent practitioner who will take up these appointments. It is better that men who can be appointed permanently should be appointed because, naturally a person who is doing business at a profession would take a permanent appointment more readily than he would take a temporary one which would interfere with the ordinary work of his profession. Also the District Justices would become specialists in that particular kind of work. There are a great number of people, both solicitors and barristers, who would know very little about this class of work. A man might be a very admirable barrister in a great number of ways and yet not know a single line of the Licensing Acts. Quite possibly a chancery lawyer would not know anything about the licensing laws or those sort of things which District Justices have to be very familiar with indeed. The salary of these Assistant Justices is to be £800 a year. They are eligible to become on promotion full District Justices.
Section 13, in the case of District Justices, does exactly the same as Section 10 in the case of a Circuit Judge. When there is a matter in which a District Justice is personally interested another District Justice can be called in to hear the case. Under sub-section (2), in the case of illness or absence of a Justice of the District Court, a neighbouring District Justice may be assigned to do his work.
Section 14 is necessary owing to a very ingenious and successful argument which was put up some time ago before one of the District Justices. It succeeded in ousting a very considerable number of houses from the jurisdiction of the District Court. It was this: £26 is the limit of the jurisdiction at the present moment of the District Justice. It was discovered that a house let at 10/- a week—and of course there are a very considerable number of houses let at 10/- a week—exceeded £26 a year. There being 365 days in the year the rent became about £26 1s. 5d. This section raises the figure from £26 to £27 and it gives jurisdiction under the section to District Justices in cases where the rent was 10/- a week. Ten shillings is rather a common figure.
Section 15 gives to the District Court the powers which the Civil Bill Courts exercise under Section 82 of the Civil Bills (Ireland) Act, 1851. That is in the case of permissive occupants. Under Deasy's Act, ejectment only lies in the case of a certain class of permissive occupants—herdsmen, caretakers or servants. The ordinary permissive occupants, or tenants solely at will, were dealt with by the Civil Bill Act, 1851. This section enlarges the powers of the District Justice in hearing permissive-occupancy cases.
Section 16 alters the appeal from the District Court very materially. There were various appeals from the magistrates sitting at Petty Sessions under various Acts, the principal one of which was the Petty Sessions Act. There were limits where an appeal lay. By the Criminal Justice Administration Act, 1914, these limits were taken away, and an appeal lay in every case. The Petty Sessions Act procedure was restored by the Courts of Justice Act, but I do not think that was a wise step. I would ask the House to hold that that was not a wise step, and that the giving of an appeal to a convicted person in every case is right. It is rather unfair, I should say, that somebody is sentenced to a fortnight in prison and that he cannot appeal unless he goes to the magistrate and adopts a rather foolish sort of fictitious procedure—that is to say, gets the sentence of a fortnight increased to a month. Under this section, an appeal will lie from a day's imprisonment. At the present moment, in order to appeal from a fine, the fine must exceed £1. It is quite possible that a man's reputation and character would be very seriously injured by a fine of even 1/- or 2/-. Somebody's reputation might be very much injured by a fine of 1/- for being drunk and disorderly on the public street. I would submit to the House that it is right in a case like that that there should be an appeal from the decision of the magistrate. Therefore, we purpose giving, as was the law prior to the Courts of Justice Act, a right of appeal in every case.
Sub-section (2) of Section 16 restores —or probably restores—the old procedure on appeal in the old class of cases in which an appeal lay. It is doubtful —I cannot say it is clear whether or not, under the Courts of Justice Act, appeals which are given by special Acts survive. The complainants in fishery cases, excise cases and illicit distillation cases can appeal from—from their point of view—an unsatisfactory decision of the District Justice. Whether the special sections of these Acts to which I have referred, which confer these special appeals, have or have not been swept away by the Courts of Justice Act, is not quite clear. One Circuit Judge has held that, in fact, they were. This section makes it clear that these rights of appeal still lie.
Under Section 17 the word "indictable" is taken out of Section 88 of the Principal Act. The reason of that is that under Section 88 of the Principal Act a Peace Commissioner has power to remand on bail a person who is charged with an indictable offence. He has no such power with reference to a person who is charged with a non-indictable offence. In the latter case, he can only remand in custody. An indictable offence is one which would be tried at the Central Criminal Court or at the Circuit Court. A case which is tried before a District Justice is not an indictable offence, with the result that a man might now be charged with manslaughter and a Peace Commissioner would be able to admit him to bail, whereas if he were charged with some offence against the road laws, or anything of that kind, the Peace Commissioner would simply have to remand him in custody. This enables the Peace Commissioner to grant bail in every case.
Section 18 deals with a matter of High Court procedure. A certain class of case, according to the present procedure, is tried without a jury unless the judge shall consider a jury to be necessary or desirable. The present practice is that application is made at the trial to the judge for a jury and he grants it, or does not grant it, according as he thinks right. If he grants it, it means that a jury has to be summoned. There is great delay, and witnesses are kept in court until the jury has been summoned. This section enables the application to be made to the court before the trial and before the date fixed for the trial. The court will decide as to whether a jury should be allowed or should not be allowed.
Section 19 puts the District Court in Dublin on the same footing as the District Courts in the rest of Ireland. Dublin, at one time, was under a completely different system from the rest of Ireland. It is now being brought into line with the rest of the Free State, and, accordingly, limitations which do not exist in the country are by this section done away with in regard to Dublin.
Section 20 merely mentions the name by which the Act can be cited. These are the entire provisions of this Bill. I am afraid that in explaining them I must have appeared rather dull to the House; but many things which are in this Bill are rather of a dull nature. I commend the Bill for Second Reading to the consideration of the Dáil.