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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 15 Feb 1962

Vol. 193 No. 2

Short Titles Bill, 1961—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The object of the Bill, which has been prepared in the Statute Law Reform and Consolidation Office, is to assign short titles to certain statutes, principally in order to facilitate their citation. The statutes in force here fall into four different catagories. Firstly, there are the Acts of the Oireachtas, secondly the Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament (1800 to 1922) applying in Ireland, thirdly the Acts of the pre-Union Irish Parliaments, and lastly Acts of the pre-Union English Parliament applied to Ireland by specific pre-Union Irish Acts.

Deputies will be aware that all Acts passed by the Oireachtas have short as well as long titles. However, the practice by which each statute is provided with its own short title was not generally adopted until the 1880's. Short Titles Acts passed by the British Parliament in 1892 and 1896 assigned short titles to earlier British statutes. The present position, generally speaking, is that all our own Acts and all statutes of the United Kingdom Parliament applying here may be cited by a short title. No provision has hitherto been made for the statutes of pre-Union Irish parliaments or for pre-1800 English statutes applied to Ireland. The Six County Parliament passed in 1951 a Short Titles Act conferring short titles on pre-Union Irish statutes in force there. The present Bill goes further in assigning short titles to the pre-1800 English statutes extended to Ireland and will, therefore, enable any statute applying here to be cited by a short title.

A secondary but useful purpose which the Bill will serve is to provide a convenient guide to the extant pre-1800 statute law and to the condition in which it stands today on the Statute Book. This involves a first step in the much needed process of statute law revision. As pointed out in the White Paper on Law Reform the purpose of such revision is, firstly, the publication of a Chronological Table of all the statutes which affect or have in the past affected the territory which is now the State as well as a Comprehensive Index of all the statutes now in force, and, secondly, the ultimate publication of a modern edition of the entire body of statute law such as was published in the Six Counties in 1956. The most recent edition of the pre-Union Irish statutes is that prepared by William F. Cullinan, Irish Office, Westminster, and published in 1885. That edition reprints from the full and authoritative Folio edition of the Irish Acts printed pursuant to an order of 1762 such of the Acts as were unrepealed and contains a chronological table of all the statutes of pre-Union Irish Parliaments. The body of statute law in Cullinan has, of course, been since further reduced. Many statutes have been repealed in whole or in part by subsequent legislation. Many of them are long since spent. Many were already clearly obsolete when that edition was being prepared. Others, for example those relating to the Crown, Parliament, High Treason, and the Courts, are repealed by implication as being inconsistent with the Constitution of Saorstát Éireann or the Constitution of Ireland, or have been superseded by our own Acts. There remains, however, a body of statute law which, though in some respects archaic, is nevertheless regarded as being in force; and it is clear that its publication in an up-to-date revised edition is a matter of considerable importance. As I have already said, this Bill is a first step in that direction.

In this Bill, statutes that have been repealed are naturally not included. Statutes which, although not expressly repealed, are clearly obsolete or which are repealed by implication (as being inconsistent with the Constitution) are not included either. Where, however, there appears to be any doubt as to whether a statute is obsolete or not it has been listed. The assignment of a short title to any particular statute should not, therefore, be taken as implying that it is still operative. If, having regard to subsequent legislation or to the Constitution or for any other reason, the particular statute is no longer alive, its inclusion in this Bill will not operate to revive it. Conversely, the omission of a particular statute will not affect the question as to whether or not it is still in force. Local and personal Acts are not included. A further Bill providing for the repeal of such obsolete or unnecessary pre-Union Irish statutes or parts of such statutes has been prepared in the Statute Law Reform and Consolidation Office, and I hope to be in a position to introduce it later this year.

The statutes to which short titles are being assigned by the Bill are set out in three Schedules. The First Schedule contains the pre-Union Irish statutes, i.e., Acts passed by a parliament sitting in Ireland at any time before the coming into force of the Union with Ireland Act, 1800. I do not propose to comment on the individual statutes which are given short titles; there are 132 of them. The Second Schedule contains certain English statutes which are regarded as having been applied to Ireland by Poynings' Act, 1495. Perhaps a few words about that Act would be appropriate. Poynings' Act is one of a series of Acts passed by the Parliament convened by Sir Edward Poynings, Lord Deputy, at Drogheda in 1494-5. This Parliament was called to assist the Lord Deputy in his task of reducing Ireland to "whole and perfect obedience". The terms "Poynings' Law" and "Poynings' Act" have been employed ambiguously both by historians and lawyers. Sometimes they are applied to the whole series of statutes passed at that Parliament, sometimes to one of those statutes—Chapter 4 of 10 Henry 7 (Ireland)—which provided that no Irish Parliament was to be held until the proposed legislation had been sent by the Lieutenant and the Irish Council to the English Council and returned under the English great seal; at other times, they are used to indicate the statute Chapter 22 of 10 Henry 7 (Ireland). The latter is the statute to which the present Bill refers and to which the short title "Poynings' Act, 1495", is assigned, putting an end to the ambiguity so far as legal usage is concerned. This Act provided for the application to Ireland of all English statutes "concerning or belonging to the common and publique weal of" England. The interpretation of the Act has been the subject of a good deal of historical and legal controversy but the generally accepted opinion today is that it had the effect of applying to Ireland all English statutes passed before 1495 which would now be classified as Public General Acts. In the Second Schedule to the Bill the Acts so applied are classified into those dealing with distress (i.e. the taking, without legal process, of a personal chattel of a wrongdoer by the person aggrieved as a pledge, e.g., seizure of cattle for non-payment of rent), administration of estates of deceased persons, infants' land, forcible entry on lands and fisheries.

The Third Schedule to the Bill lists the English statutes applied to Ireland by an Act of 1634, now to be cited as the Maintenance and Embracery Act, 1634. All the statutes in this Schedule deal with maintenance, champerty and embracery. Maintenance has been defined as "an officious intermeddling in a suit which no way belongs to one by maintaining or assisting either party with money, or otherwise to prosecute or defend it". Champerty is maintenance in consideration of an interest in the subject matter of the action. Embracery consists in attempting, by bribes or other corrupt means, to influence a juror.

In addition to Poynings' Act and the Maintenance and Embracery Act, the Act to which we have given the title, the Calendar Act, 1781, in the First Schedule is also of special interest. This Act is often known as Yelverton's Act and it extended to Ireland the provisions of the English Calendar Acts, which rather belatedly introduced the Gregorian Calendar. Deputies will remember from their history books the agitation concerning the cry "Give us back our eleven days" which, in fact, led to riots. Yelverton was a member of Grattan's Parliament and the measure had Grattan's strong support.

I should like to draw particular attention to subsection (2) of Section 2 of the Bill, which provides that column 2 of each Schedule will not form part of the proposed Act. Instead of setting out the long title of each statute, we have given the subject matter of the statute as unrepealed, indicating specifically those sections of the statute still on the Statute Book. This is for information only and will, I trust, be of assistance to practitioners and students. In many cases the long title would, indeed, be misleading, as will readily be seen by reference to Cullinan's Edition.

As I have already said the Bill has been prepared by the Statute Law Reform and Consolidation Office. It is the result of considerable historical and legal research. I take this opportunity of complimenting the Director of that Office on the high standard of the work carried out and on the initiative that he and his late predecessor have shown in tackling this difficult task of revising the statutes. I look forward to submitting to the Oireachtas, in due course, the further measures which will be necessary to bring that work to fruition.

I commend the Bill to the House and ask that it be given a Second Reading. I trust that Deputies have found the explanatory memorandum of assistance in studying the Bill.

There are, incidentally, two minor errors in the print of this Bill, which the House can correct at a later stage. On page 5, column 1, the heading 1739 should read 1749, and on page 8 (Part II of the Second Schedule) a similar heading 1257 should read 1357.

I do not propose to say anything on the Bill. We are accepting it.

I move the adjournment of the debate. I want to read this folklore.

Can we have the Second Stage?

I want to find out what it is all about. This chap Poynings has not been on the scene for a long time, and I want to familiarise myself with his 1962 depredations, if necessary.

We can go fully into that on Committee Stage.

Very good.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 22nd February, 1962.