asked the Minister for Justice if he is aware of the grave inconvenience and expense through loss of wages caused to persons who are charged with offences with which subsequent court proceedings show they have not been connected; and whether there is any method whereby such persons can obtain compensation for such losses.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Compensation for Acquitted Persons.
There is no specific provision for compensatory payments of the nature referred to in the question. However, if, in such a case as is described by the Deputy, a definite hardship was involved and an application was made to my Department in the matter, I would be prepared to consider whether the circumstances warranted a recommendation to the Minister for Finance for an ex-gratia grant. Before making such a recommendation I would have to be satisfied that the innocence of the person charged was clearly established and that the unnecessary court proceedings were due to culpable mistake or omission on the part of the prosecution and in no way attributable to default on the part of the person charged.
Will the Minister agree that this kind of case is pretty widespread, the type of case in which people are charged with offences of which subsequently they are found not to be guilty? Must we not presume that in all such cases the persons are innocent? If they suffer a financial loss as a result of being brought to court, does the Minister not agree there should be some general provision, apart from the procedure the Minister suggests he might take in this case, to protect such persons against this hardship?
In how many cases has compensation been paid?
Am I correct in saying that they could be numbered on the fingers of one hand?
There have been some. Deputy Dunne does not take into consideration any question of court jurisdiction in the matter of giving expenses or costs. Prosecutions fail for different reasons, not necessarily the innocence of the accused. However, if there are cases of the type I envisage the Deputy has in mind, they are limited in number. In a case where it is obvious the person was never involved and should not have been charged, there is an existing practice whereby expenses are given with the sanction of the Minister for Justice.
The Minister mentioned court jurisdiction to give expenses. Surely the Minister is not offering that as a way out of the problem? Is it not the position that up to six months ago the courts held they had no jurisdiction?
I take it the Deputy is referring to a Supreme Court decision.
I am having it examined.
(Cavan): I understood the Minister to say that some prosecutions fail for reasons other than the innocence of the accused. Does the Minister not consider that in adopting that line he is treading on very dangerous ground? Surely a person who is acquitted by a jury or by a judge is entitled to be regarded as innocent?
The Deputy is well aware that some people get out of the net even though they are guilty. I am quite sure the Deputy has experience of that just as well as I have.