Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 15 Feb 1951

Vol. 124 No. 2

Criminal Justice Bill, 1949. —From the Seanad.

The Dáil went into Committee to consider an amendment from the Seanad.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in this amendment:—

In page 7, after sub-section (4), a new sub-section as follows inserted:—

(5) Where a disqualification for holding a driving licence under the Road Traffic Act, 1933 (No. 11 of 1933), is remitted, in whole or in part, under this section, notice of the remission shall be published as soon as may be in Iris Oifigiúil.

Is there any objection? The Minister would like to take the amendment now.

There is no objection to taking it now, but I want to say something about it. I am glad the Minister has gone so far, though he has not gone as far as I expected he would go. I want to make one suggestion: I think it would be advisable for him to consider the possibility, before he remits any disqualification in respect of an offence against that particular section of the Road Traffic Act, of his strengthening his own hand by having some sort of advice, such as the advice of the President of the Circuit Court, or a judge of the High Court. I suggest he should not do this by his own Order but on advice given to him by a competent authority as to whether he ought or ought not to do it. I make that suggestion purely as a matter of administration. A very serious offence is involved under this section; it is an offence about which the public generally are becoming very alarmed. The Minister knows that there is a demand for more drastic treatment to be meted out to those people who drive cars while under the influence of drink. The Minister has taken power which no other Minister has ever had hitherto. That is a very serious step for him to take. I ask him for his own sake and for the sake of those who will come after him to fortify himself in his position by having some sort of advisory body; that body may consist of only one judge, but if he has that advice he will safeguard himself and put himself in the position of being able to stand over everything that he does. I admit that the Minister has gone a good distance in agreeing to publish notification. That is a useful amendment. The matter will be published in Iris Oifigiúil.

I think, however, that the Minister would be well advised, to set up some machinery of the kind I am suggesting. I think it is desirable he should have some person to advise him, the President of the Circuit Court or a judge of the High Court, as to whether he ought to remit the disqualification under this section.

I am glad the Minister has decided to accept this amendment. I think it meets the Bill. I would not advise the Minister to go as far as Deputy Boland suggests he ought to go. In matters of this kind I think it is well sometimes to leave the decision to a competent Minister. There is considerable public feeling, as has been stated, concerning the proper punishment of persons who drive motor cars while under the influence of drink. That very natural reaction has in some cases worked in such manner that there has been an inequality of punishment in respect of the same offence.

I welcome the amendment because I think it protects the Minister. I hope that one of the results will be that the Minister will ensure that in cases where the punishment is altogether disproportionate to the crime some mitigation of the penalty can be sought. Those who offend under this particular section fall into two categories. There is the private driver, perhaps a wealthy driver, whose livelihood does not depend on his licence to drive; in all such cases I would be very slow to suggest to the Minister that he should interfere under any circumstances. To my own knowledge, however, there have been punishments meted out which have had results not contemplated by the judge imposing the punishment and which have been altogether disproportionate to the offences committed.

I would like the Deputy and other Deputies to look at the amendment before the House, which is simply that notice should be published in Iris Oifigiúil.

The point I am trying to make is this, that I think the amendment is desirable because I believe the publication is a protection for the Minister and will enable him to examine the type of case to which I am referring. In the particular type of case to which I refer, publication in Iris Oifigiúil protects the Minister. It would enable the Minister to do what, so far as I am aware, the Minister has not yet done, namely, remit a portion of a sentence involving a suspension of a licence to drive. I have in mind the type of case of the individual who has been disqualified for a period of years and whose living depends on driving a car or driving a lorry and who, as a result, may be forced to leave the country. I know of at least two cases where men who have driven all sorts of vehicles for a number of years in England and who have come home have still been unable to get the Minister or the officials of his Department to agree to any reduction in the period of suspension. In so far as the amendment protects the Minister against misrepresentation; in so far as it will encourage the Minister that disproportionate punishment is not meted out in respect of such persons, I think the amendment is useful.

While we all agree with this amendment, I would like to ask whether, in the publication in Iris Oifigiúil that a disqualification had been remitted, the circumstances surrounding the case or cases will be published. That is a very important thing.

The grounds on which it was remitted?

Not merely the grounds, but the circumstances of the case, so that people would know exactly the type of case it was and the circumstances under which the remission was granted.

That would not be practicable.

Having originally thrown out the suggestion of publication, and it, like some of the other suggestions I throw out here from time to time, not being accepted, I am very pleased to know that somebody else has succeeded in convincing the Minister that this was a wise thing to do.

Oh, no; you had your part.

However, it is good to know that one has bright ideas now and again. I am glad that this is done, but I do not like the approach of Deputy Kissane. I think Deputy Kissane should look on this not just from the point of view of the particular Minister who is in office at the moment but from the point of view of any Minister for Justice in the future. It is obvious that before a Minister for Justice exercises this power he will have consulted the Guards and the judge. He will be fully advised of all the circumstances, and, having fully considered all those circumstances, if he desires to remit, the fact of publication in Iris Oifigiúil will be important, because it will, in the final analysis—it has been laid down very often that not only must justice be done but it must appear to be done— be an indication to the people who read it—and they will not be very many—that the matter has been judicially considered by the Minister, that he has exercised his functions and that he has, on good grounds, remitted the punishment. I think that the very fact of publication will prevent any Minister coming to a decision to remit without giving very serious consideration to all the matters and factors involved. I am glad that this amendment has been agreed to, as it apparently is being agreed to by the House, and I think it does mean that the Bill as a whole has the complete approval of everybody in the House.

Deputy Lehane said —he more than implied—that I was suggesting that the decision would not be the Minister's. I did not make any such suggestion. There was no question of taking a decision out of the Minister's hands.

I have always understood that the position was that the Minister acted on advice in these cases.

It generally is the case.

I would agree with this amendment, but I am afraid I could not agree with the Deputy who required the assistance of a judge or a justice. As the matter stands, the Minister gets the assistance of the justice or the judge and also from the Garda, and the matter is thoroughly considered by the competent officer in the Department itself. On the opinions of those various people, the Minister has to make up his mind. I think that is a very good safeguard. I also think that the question of publication in Iris Oifigiúil is one that we should all support. In many cases, the very fact of publication there in itself would be a form of punishment, so that I am sure there will be certain people who will have to decide whether they will go forward with their sentence quietly and without any publicity, or appeal to the Minister, knowing that if they succeed they will have the publicity of publication in Iris Oifigiúil. That, in itself, is a form of sentence and will be such to certain people.

I should like to ask whether the Minister has considered the contents of this notice which he is empowered to insert in Iris Oifigiúil. I think that is what was exercising Deputy Kissane's mind when he put the question whether the circumstances surrounding the offence and the removal of the disqualification would be set out in the notice. The amendment is obviously being accepted and provision is being made for publication of the notice in Iris Oifigiúil. I suggest that the minimum of information should appear in that notice. I assume the Minister has considered the form and contents of the notice, but I do not think it would be out of order to suggest at this stage that the bare essentials only be given. It is obvious that the name and address will be given, as well as the date of the disqualification and the period for which the disqualification was made, but, apart from these bare essentials, I think it important that there should be no undue verbosity, so to speak in the notice. With all due respect to officials preparing these notices, there is a tendency to say more than need be said.

To say less with more words.

Quite, and while I approve of the idea behind the amendment, and, for the reasons given by other Deputies, think it a good thing, I urge the point of view that the minimum of information be given. As Deputy Cowan has said, there are not very many constant readers of Iris Oifigiúil, and, save and except the individual concerned, I do not think many people will be aware of the publication of this notice at all.

Major de Valera

Deputy Timoney has put a bad thought into my head about this section. I, like the rest of the Deputies, was prepared to accept this proposition as a very desirable thing from the point of view of counterbalancing the temptation to a Minister to favour his political friends; but it struck me from what Deputy Timoney said with regard to the contents of the notice that the amendment will not mean very much if we are to get a notice something like this: "The disqualification imposed by sentence of the Circuit Court, Record No.—is hereby remitted." That is not going to be much good. We would like to have the Minister's assurance that the notice will contain the name and address of the person disqualified and whose disqualification has been removed.

That should be in Irish.

Major de Valera

I think these notices are published bilingually. The purpose of this section is to remove or to obviate the temptation, or, what is very important, to obviate the appearance of temptation. We all know the old adage that it is not sufficient that justice should be done— it is necessary that it should appear to be done. That is a very important principle of administration and I ask the Minister in making this gesture to us of having the appearance of justice done, in addition to having justice done, to give us an undertaking that the notice will set out the name and address.

Deputies will remember that, when this section was before the House, I undertook to re-examine the question of giving publicity to the remission of forfeitures and disqualifications granted under the section. The case was made very strongly by Deputies and I came to the conclusion that there was something to be examined. I undertook to make that examination and I moved this amendment in the Seanad as a result, to meet the wishes of Deputies. I think I have gone a long way to meet them. This amendment deals only with the Road Traffic Act and in reply to Deputy de Valera, here is what it will do. The notice in Iris Oifigiúil will show all interested parties—licensing authorities, insurance companies and so on—that the disqualification is taken off, and therefore the name and address of the person whose disqualification has been removed will have to be stated. The only thing I am not going to say is the reason why or what the offence was. I am just going to say: “The disqualification imposed upon X of such an address on such a date has been removed.”

Let me point out, once and for all, that the power given in this section is given to the Government to carry out all the remissions. Perhaps I should read the section again.

You need not bother; we know it by heart.

Will you, then, please interpret it as it can be and will be interpreted by the Government? "The Government may delegate all or any ...". Can you not visualise a situation in which, in regard to cases like this, the Government would not delegate this power to me at all?

Would they not trust you so far?

Suppose, as I said here already, it were a power I did not like. What I said to the House was that the power must be vested somewhere and it is being vested under this section in the Government, and the Government may delegate that power to the Minister for Justice. Everybody is so anxious to protect me and future Ministers, and I have made such a case against it, that, if the Government read the Dáil debates, as I hope they do, they will say: "To protect the Minister, we will retain this power to ourselves."

They would be very wise to do that.

And instead of the Minister removing the disqualification, the same procedure would have to be adopted as is adopted in the case of the commuting of the death penalty. Now, it is argued that this power was not there. I say it was there and I say that there was no disqualification that the court put on, even including capital punishment, that the Government could not advise the President to remove it. It is true that none of my predecessors exercised the power— neither did I. We did remove the disqualification in certain cases—I cited them last year and need not weary the House with them again—when my predecessor removed one very quickly and I removed one later, after ten years; and I think they were both correct cases. Under these circumstances, what is the point in hampering the Minister for Justice, protecting him, while the section says: "The Government may remit in whole or in part" various things and sub-section (3) says: "The Government may delegate." When Deputy Boland was putting in this amendment, I thought he would say "shall" and make it mandatory on the Government to delegate the power to me, but he used "may" and left it permissive. The Minister is not taking any power that was not already in existence. I want to get that point over for all time.

I have gone a long way to meet the wishes of the House and I may say at this stage that I feel the Bill has been vastly improved from its initiation. The way the House has dealt with this Bill shows the value of the deliberative assembly getting down to work upon a measure of this sort. It would be a great thing if every measure introduced here could be approached in the same spirit. I want to thank all and sundry for the help they gave us in carrying the measure through.

Question agreed to.

Amendment reported and agreed to.

The Seanad will be informed accordingly.