I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach in the House looking very refreshed after his holiday so that I can bring him up to date on what is happening in the constituency we were both elected to represent at the last general election.
Courts Bill, 1977: Second Stage (Resumed).
Is the Deputy sure he knows so much about it as I do?
I know considerably more about it. This Bill is designed to increase the number of judges in the various courts, including increasing the number in the District Courts from 34 to 39. I am not satisfied this will deal with the problem of crime.
As I know Deputy Briscoe's contribution will be stimulating, I should like to call for a House.
A worthy contribution from the Opposition spokesman on how the plain people of Ireland should be educated.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present.
I was about to quote a line from a musical show—here's to a record wave of crime. That is what we have here today. I know this to be true. An associate of mine told me the other day an American visitor told him he would prefer to walk through Central Park in New York than through O'Connell Street at night. That gives some indication of how serious the position is with regard to law and order.
Deputy Toal was critical of Press reporting of court proceedings. It is only fair to say that from the reporters' point of view not all counsel are clear and the facilities for Press reporting are wholly inadequate. If people feel there should be better coverage of court proceedings the Minister must ensure when new courts are being built or courts are being renovated that there are proper Press facilities.
I have always considered that the primary obligation of any Government is to protect citizens in their homes or on the streets. Unfortunately, this is not happening here and I am not exaggerating when I say that. At every opportunity I have been advocating the setting up of night courts to deal with motoring offences because many such offences take up a great deal of valuable court time and they could easily be dealt with at night.
Would it be called cúirt an mheán oíche?
It could. I also believe that night courts should be set up to deal with young vandals. I would be very happy to introduce the Parliamentary Secretary to constituents who have caught vandals red-handed, held them until the gardaí arrived, saw them taken away in squad cars and two hours later they were back on the streets because the gardaí do not have the power of detention: they cannot detain them overnight. That is why I urge the Minister to introduce night courts.
If necessary, the Minister should create temporary district justices to deal with these vandals when they are caught red-handed. As the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are aware, bail cannot be refused. This means that these young people are released on bail and cannot be detained because of the Supreme Court decision of 1966 which stated that you cannot assume somebody is going out to commit another crime. We all know that when many of these people are out on bail they commit further crimes and that when they eventually come before the court again they are sentenced for the crimes subsequently committed, the sentences to run concurrently. In my view it is very important that the Minister ask the Supreme Court to have another look at the 1966 decision as soon as possible to see if it can be reversed.
When a person signs a bail bond he does not have to pay the money—the average bail is about £40. If the defendant does not show up in court, the bailsman will then have to pay and forfeit the £40. If he had to put his hand in his pocket immediately the court sets the bail, he might think twice about it. I realise the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is about to tell me I am straying from the Bill but I ask him not to do so because this is very important.
It is important to keep to the Bill.
I appreciate that. I understand that judges can impose legal sanctions against parents of young people who get into trouble. It has happened that when young people were found guilty of committing crimes the parents have been made to pay. In the Criminal Justice Bill which we were about to introduce and which died with the last Dáil, one of the changes we proposed was that certain penalties would be imposed on people who committed acts of vandalism. It was suggested that the money should be deducted from their social welfare cheques, or at source from their salaries to pay for the damage. At the moment the State is paying for damages.
It is very important that judges use the powers they already have. Not many people are aware that the birch is still on the Statute Book. Judges stopped sentencing people to birching because of the outcry by the public and the media. Lately when speaking to groups I asked people what their feelings were about crimes of violence against the person and whether they were in favour of the birch being used. In one case where there were 200 people present, 60 per cent put up their hands in favour, 30 per cent were against it and 10 per cent were undecided. At another meeting of 29 people, almost all said they were in favour of the birch being used for those crimes. I am not trying to make a case for the return of the birch but I am saying that people have lost faith in the implementation of the law. They see crimes being committed, the culprits being caught and being released soon afterwards.
When we adjourned at lunchtime in the corridor the Minister said he knew I would talk about the intensive care units and the high security prisons for hardened young criminals which no institution will take. We may criticise our judges for not sentencing consistent offenders and letting them out on our streets again but what can they do if no institution is available to take them?
We closed Marlborough House when we were in Government and I believe we were right to do so because it had long served its purpose. At the moment there is no place of detention for young offenders and we must do something about that. That is why I urge the Minister to give consideration to night courts. Talking to those people the other night I told them— and was interested to know whether they were in agreement with me—that I considered a bigger issue than prices was law and order.
Was this the Tory Party conference in Bournemouth?
No, it was a group of people from Parnell Road in Harold's Cross we met in the senior citizens' centre in Clogher Road, who had written to me of their concern about vandalism and the breakdown of law and order. There were also a number of other people from the area, including a member of the clergy, whose house was broken into twice in a period of two weeks, who is satisfied that nothing is being done to help the Garda. In Sundrive Road Garda station the strength is approximately 40 gardaí. It works out approximately eight men per shift. But in fact two of those men are sent down to Green Street court, two more somewhere else. Allowing for weekends, illness and holidays, it averages at approximately three men for a population of 49,000. There is no protection for those people. I do not want to overdramatise the situation. I am not; I am stating the position as it is.
I am amazed that the media have not carried out independent surveys among ordinary people in the various Dublin areas. Politicians have become suspect among media people as well as perhaps the ordinary man in the street. Sometimes I say to people "Do not call on me to speak about this on the radio or elsewhere because I will be accused of making a political speech about it. Talk to someone who knows the problems, somebody in authority, a member of the church or somebody else, somebody who is in touch with the people."
One of the big planks of this Government was law and order. In its popular interpretation today law and order means protecting the State from subversive organisations. This is something to which we fully subscribe. As the Government are well aware, nobody on this side of the House has given any support or succour, as it were, to the present crisis over the hunger strikers. I am a person who believes in the free will of the individual and, if people of their own free will want to go on hunger strike, that is their affair.
The Deputy is straying very far from the Bill.
No, I do not want to get into that. Some such people who fell into the hands of these people did not have the right of exercise of their free will. But law and order is a two-way business. It has to do not merely with subversion by illegal organisations but subversion also from within the community itself. Unless we provide more men on the beat our gardaí will become more and more demoralised. I know for a fact that there is only one patrol car in Pearse Street.
I did not follow what the Deputy was saying a moment ago about people not having free will. Who did not have free will? Would the Deputy mind repeating what he said about people not having a free will?
What I am saying is that the victims of these people did not have the right to exercise their free will—the people who were shot, murdered or nearly murdered. I think we are on the same wavelength as far as that is concerned. I deplore as much as anybody else in this House—as has been said already this morning—attacks on elected public representatives. But I know that the feeling of the man in the street can be one of "Maybe now that person knows how I feel when all the windows of my house are knocked out simply because the law is inadequate in bringing these people to trial." Recently outside a house in Harold's Cross a man caught people throwing a cider bottle through a car. There was a gang involved. He went out and gave one of them a bang with a rake. The guards were called, the people were taken away and a couple of hours later released. Every window in that man's house was broken that night. Three nights later—after he had replaced those windows—they were broken again. The police knew who did it. They had the people. There was nothing they could do because of the inadequacy of our courts system.
This is what I might describe as a God-given opportunity for me to impress on the Minister that he should go further than the appointments. There has been talk about patronage, about this person and that person. I want to see courts manned. I want to see people there who can administer justice. It has to be administered immediately when these hoodlums and vandals are caught so that our people can have some sense of security.
I am not trying to interrupt the Deputy or make little of what he is saying but will he support in due course proposals from this side to try and amend the law of bail by referendum?
I certainly would, yes. In fact I know my party are in favour of it. Deputy G. Collins said this on a Private Members' motion in November last. We had hoped—as I think had the Minister—that the Supreme Court might even review the earlier decision to save a referendum. I hope such will happen because people are demanding that it will. I know they will certainly support such a referendum if it goes before them. The courts have the most important function because they are the defenders ultimately of the people's right to liberty and protection. They are appointed; they act independently of us.
Reference was made this morning to malicious damage claims and to the amount of court time taken up with them. I was talking recently to the law agent of Dublin Corporation, a very learned gentleman, who told me that for quite a while now they have been seeking power from the Government through legislation to allow minor claims to be settled out of court, that they did not have to go to court, that they could have independent assessors. There is the person who has £200 or £300 worth of damage done to his house—as happened to one of these gentlemen I should be glad to introduce to the Parliamentary Secretary, a constituent of his—who may have to wait two, three or even four years before he gets his money back on a malicious damage claim. By that time, allowing for inflation even at a modest rate of 10 per cent, the compensation is worth far less. This would be a progressive step that I am certain— without even conferring with my colleagues—would have the support of this party. One of the biggest bones of contention is that of windscreens of cars, row after row being smashed in with owners having to wait two or three years for settlement of their claims. Such claims should not go before judges or into the courts. They are minor cases.
Reference was made to family courts where family law cases might be heard. These should be set up. Deputy Esmonde was against the suggestion of Deputy O'Kennedy that they should do away with the formality of the robes and wigs. Deputy Esmonde's argument was that in order to retain proper public respect for the courts it is well to have those awe inspiring ladies and gentlemen appearing in their wigs and robes. My submission is that there is no need to intimidate people when they come into court. I have been in courts in the United States where justice is being administered in a most informal way, and expeditiously. A friend of mine who is a federal court judge in Chicago invited me to his court. I sat beside him on the bench and heard the mohair suited lawyers addressed by the judge. He said to them: "Bob and John, can you guys not get together and come back in a fortnight? I will adjourn this case for two weeks to see if you can come to some arrangement."
Lawyers would be only too delighted to get agreement.
Of course, and if judges here were to adopt that attitude——
Not as informally. Occasionally I go to a court here to see what is happening, or I may have an interest in a case, or I may go in as a character witness, and I have noticed this definite barrier. It does not help to get cases through quickly. In the Chicago court I saw the same judge saying to the lawyers: "You were before me two weeks ago. Have you reached agreement?" The reply was that they had.
Did Deputy Briscoe throw in any advice while he was on that bench?
This Bill is confined to increasing the number of judges and justices.
I am afraid the Chair may hold me in contempt, but most of the Bills we have had on this subject have been terribly confining, although of great public interest, and I think there should not be any objection if we stray a little. I objected a little at the beginning of Deputy Esmonde's speech because I believed that what he was saying was more appropriate to UCD or Trinity College than to this House. I am not a lawyer, and at the end of the debate it will be interesting to count the number of lawyers and laymen who have spoken. It is no harm for lawyers to hear what laymen think about them and what the public at large feel about the law. If a priest has the collar on a person will not talk to him as freely as if he were in mufti.
The person might be slower to tell him a lie. That is very important.
If people know they are talking to a lawyer they may try to impress him. Deputy Kelly is an academic lawyer rather than a practising one.
I have been both.
No doubt he will be on the bench as a judge wearing a very stern expression one of these days. People have begun to regard the legal profession as a private enterprise business more interested in the technicalities of the law than in dispensing justice. For instance, if a statement had been taken before 4 p.m. rather than after it, even though the person had pleaded guilty he might get off on a technicality. That is not justice and it diminishes respect for the law. If the Parliamentary Secretary would accompany me in my constituency I could introduce him to people who would tell him their feelings in this regard. In Britain the House of Lords is the final appeal court but here there is no such appeal lying with the Seanad. Judges are independent of the public and perhaps it is important to preserve division between the Judiciary and the Executive so long as justice is seen to be done.
I do not think this Bill goes sufficiently far in an effort to deal with the inadequacy of the number of judges and justices. It is necessary to have increased numbers to deal with the current crime rate. It is also necessary to make buildings available and if necessary to turn existing buildings into courtrooms. With all sincerity I ask the Government without delay to look into the suggestion to establish night courts in which district justices could take cases. I also appeal for the establishment of centres in which to keep people appearing before the courts. To use a horrid cliché, people are very uptight and feeling is very high in regard to these matters. If a number of temporary bench appointments can be made the Government should make them quickly.
The gardaí are very restricted in regard to what they can say—quite rightly there is a very strict discipline on them. These men are at bursting point because they are on the receiving end of the abuse. Their job is becoming intolerable. Whenever I get the opportunity I endeavour to get an officer of the Garda Síochána to meet members of the public and point out to the people that the gardaí want to help them, that they understand their problems and I encourage the people to make citizen arrests. Another matter which worries people is the book of evidence, which has replaced the old system of the taking of depositions. Those who witness a crime are in terror of giving evidence because the person who is charged can ascertain the address of the informant or the person who intends giving evidence from the book of evidence. If the informant's name is given it can be dangerous and it would work against the Garda.
Deputy Brennan referred to the need for recreational facilities. A professional youth worker who attended a meeting in my area recently agreed that there was a need for more gardaí and stricter controls and sentencing, but he also felt we should provide recreational facilities. The Parliamentary Secretary is aware of the problem in our constituency in relation to a gym in the school at Clogher Road. Because of the lack of money gymnasiums are not included in schools being built and as a result there is no outlet for the natural energy of young people.
In increasing the number of judges we are getting stricter in the sentencing and imposing greater sanctions on those who commit the crimes but we must balance that at the other end of the scale. I had a conversation with a garda recently on the responsibility of parents in the homes and he told me that the signs to watch out for were disobedience to the mother or father or children being cheeky towards old people. He told me that young people do not turn into vandals overnight. As he spoke shivers went up and down my back because of the amount of time I, like other Members, have to spend with my children. It is not unusual to hear of a member of a family of a politician in other countries getting into trouble with the law. That may be due to the lack of control by the father, although in Ireland the women raise the children in an excellent way. Women in Ireland seem to take over this function, but fathers should play a greater role. We do not have enough debate on the importance of the role of parents and the importance of knowing where their children are at any time.
The Deputy is moving far away from the terms of the Bill.
The Chair should remember that certain Estimates have not been moved in this House in such a way as to permit us to discuss these problems. I accept that the Chair has been generous to me but most of the matters I have referred to were touched on earlier.
The Chair has been trying to keep the debate within the confines of the Bill.
I appreciate the Chair's concern. As long as we have an insufficient number of gardaí our courts will be very busy. In my view the top priority in the minds of the people of this city is law and order, with prices second and education third. The Government can appoint all the judges they wish but if they do not have the gardaí to back up the people in the first instance they will not succeed. As a garda on motor cycle patrol passes through an area the young people who see him know that he will not return to that area for at least one hour. They are aware of the shortage in the number of gardaí. Recently a ten minute interview I gave concerning the situation in Dublin was broadcast by Radio Éireann but it was condensed to two minutes. Following the broadcast a fellow councillor, referring to my statement that the Government were burying their heads in the sand in relation to this matter, felt I was exaggerating the problem out of all proportion. More often than not following an interview on the radio one receives letters from people concerning the topic discussed and on this occasion I received many letters from city people. I also received many telephone calls. I asked one caller, who rang within five minutes of the broadcast, to contact the newspapers and acquaint them of his views. I asked the caller to do that so that we could impress on the Government how fed up the people are with the breakdown in law and order. Let us back up our Garda and our courts by getting more gardaí. Let us get the necessary institutions.
I had intended to say something general about the staffing of the courts, particularly arising out of some comments made by Deputy Brennan, but, having listened to my colleague, Deputy Briscoe, I should like to comment on some of the points he made. I agree with him about the concern of some people in regard to vandalism and petty crime. The Deputy spoke temperately and did not attach what he had to say to any attack on the Government of a political kind and I accept the spirit in which he made his case. I accept that there is a good deal of substance in what he has said in regard to public concern in certain areas, but the Deputy will appreciate, of course, that the police force is at its greatest strength since the Civil War by a long shot. He will appreciate also the reasons why that has to be so. I am sure the Deputy also appreciates that one cannot overnight expand a police force. We cannot have half-trained policemen. The selection process for being a policeman in any decent country is a difficult one and very few of the numbers that apply will have the necessary educational, physical, mental and moral characteristics. A prolonged period of training in the technicalities of police work is necessary. In addition, there are organisational difficulties. One cannot increase the force in a particular area of the city by a couple of dozen men overnight because there is no barrack or office accommodation or living quarters. Within the constraints which lie on us the Government are doing what they can as quickly as they can to meet the serious security situation which has not only a subversive aspect but also an aspect which, perhaps, is not politically subversive but which is far more annoying in ordinary life to the individual citizen.
I would not wish the Deputy or the House to think the Government are not concerned about the trend which, of course, is not restricted to Ireland but has shown itself all over the western world. I would not wish anyone to think the Government are not concerned and are not anxious to do their best to halt the trend with the best weapons they can muster. It is a trend which, oddly enough, criminologists in the utilitarian era predicted would disappear or go into reverse once general affluence arrived. Something like the contrary seems to have happened. Affluence, if not general, but more widely spread and better than anything dreamt of 50 years ago, seems to have resulted not in a decrease in organised crime or in petty crime or any other sort of crime but rather in an increase in crime. The reasons for that are not easy to track.
I believe Deputy Briscoe has put his finger on one. He is at one with most criminologists in referring to insufficient parental control, resulting possibly from insufficient parental interest. That, in turn, is associated with the fact that parents in the 1960s and 1970s are living in a much more complex world, filled with more stresses and more uncertainties than their parents had to face, and many of them take refuge, so far as one can find refuge from such things, in increased social existence and more intense social existence, which means very often more drinking, and they are perhaps less inclined to the modest fireside existence in which family education was more easily possible and which came naturally to their parents and their grandparents.
I hope what I am saying will not appear to be in any sense moralising because every Member of this House who is a family man is himself the victim of the stresses and strains and must feel himself to be in a world much more complicated than anything his parents and grandparents had to face. So far as the Government have responsibility I accept that responsibility and I believe the Minister is doing his best to meet his responsibility. I know things cannot be remedied overnight as, I am sure, Deputy Briscoe understands, but I will convey to the Minister and so will the Minister's officials the general burden of Deputy Briscoe's remarks.
Deputy Briscoe made several points about the administration of criminal justice. He appeared to be something of a hardliner—I do not say that in criticism of him—in connection with the implementation of the law of custody. He seems to be anxious, by extending court hours into the night or making a justice available at night time, to make it possible to hold persons in custody. He also mentioned the bail law which he wished to see tightened up either by the Supreme Court reviewing its decision of 1966 or by a referendum which would overrule effectively the Supreme Court decision. Now I respect Deputy Briscoe for taking the hard line. I am not sure his is quite the best possible case for it, but I respect him for taking it because the world is filled with soft-witted trend setters who grab an easy headline and command instant support from unthinking liberal elements. Now I regard myself as a liberal but I hope I do not qualify for the other adjectives I have used. When asked to give their suggestions for dealing with the phenomenon of crime, they say "Oh well, let us get at the roots of crime. Let us wipe out the social conditions which create crime. Let us start at the beginning." That is quite the emptiest, vapid kind of approach that I know of. It is easy and cheap and worthless. It is particularly worthless in a public representative.
Nobody knows what makes people behave abnormally. Nobody knows what the roots of crime are. Nobody knows what makes people behave aggressively in a way which is antisocial and destructive to their neighbours. It is not simply a question—and everything Deputy Briscoe has said underlines it—of decent housing conditions, decent living standards, doing away with overcrowding and so on. That is what was thought in the 1890s and early 1900s when Dublin was a festering slum. It is no longer a festering slum. There are fine housing estates. I go further than Deputy Briscoe. Many of the housing estates which suffer from vandalism are being vandalised by their own children, and these are not local authority housing estates. These are owner-occupied housing estates in suburbs which have what are regarded as desirable addresses. These estates are being vandalised, as I have frankly said with shame and sorrow at residents' meetings, by their own children. These are not cases where the lunch time trendy groups would say we should get at the roots or that there was a failure to get at the roots of what were conventionally thought to be the roots of crime 50 years ago. The roots there are something a great deal deeper and possibly they have got something to do with what Deputy Briscoe said in regard to parental control and care —possibly they have; I am not asserting this because I am just as much in the dark as anybody else—and possibly the answer is that there is a duty which lies on somebody which that somebody is not accepting. Of course, that does not accord well with the attitudes of the trendy groups generation. According to them it is not in accord that anybody should be spoken of as neglecting a duty. The only entity in their world which carries a duty is the State. Everybody else has rights. It is the State that has the duties.
What Deputy Briscoe says is worth accepting as a working assumption. Let us accept it as such rather than assume that when a window is broken, or a child joins a gang, or is recruited by a subversive organisation, it is the dirty old State that is at fault essentially for not providing decent living conditions, for not providing enough jobs, enough schools and teachers and institutional care of one kind or another. Let us not always put the blame on the State or on society by and large. Let us see whether it may be the case that individuals should carry a bit more of the responsibilities they so readily shove off on society as a whole or on the State.
I found Deputy Briscoe's remarks stimulating and I am inclined to agree with him but I do not agree with what seemed to be his favourable references to the birch. It sounds pretty horrible but I suppose a case could be made for it if it could be shown that it effected a reformation in the individual punished.
I did not say I was advocating the use of the birch. I was simply stating that in putting the question to people by way of a survey —I asked what percentage were in favour—I was getting a play-back as to how people are feeling and people are becoming very extreme. That is the point I was making. Unless the State does something to supplement the people the law will get out of control and people will take the law into their own hands.
That is quite true but the Deputy did transit to the House points of view, the strength of which he thought impressive, held by Dublin people at meetings which he attended where the people were heavily in favour of the idea that corporal punishment was the appropriate way to deal with vandalism.
To deal with attacks against the person.
I am not a criminologist except in a very amateur way, but I know that criminologists, although not unanimous about very many things, are unanimous that corporal punishment does absolutely no good whatsoever irrespective of what class of criminal or delinquent it is applied to. Of all forms of punishment—imprisonment, fining, corporal punishment— corporal punishment has the poorest record so far as the repetition of offences is concerned. It has the poorest of what the criminologists call recidivism figures.
Brutality breeds brutality.
Of 100 men sent to prison 40 will be in trouble again. Out of 100 people fined 30 will be in trouble again; of 100 people birched 70 will be in trouble again. If it is valid to draw a cause and effect nexus between these things at all; perhaps it is not—it has the poorest record as a method of punishment. It seems to me that an essentially brutal and brutalising form of punishment, if it cannot be justified at least by the argument that it prevents people from doing the same thing again, cannot be justified at all. While I understand the vindictive feeling or the feeling—"Let us give these people a damn good hiding"—which will induce a residents' association to be nearly unanimous about this, the fact is that it does not, so far as figures will show, improve delinquents. It may, in fact, do the opposite. I think many of the points of view expressed in regard to the workings of courts and the workings of the criminal law by lay people or by lawyers—I do not draw any distinction between them— in this regard is based on a kind of silent, unspoken premise. What they are saying in their own minds and what they are trying to make stick as a universal truth, although they do not realise what is in their minds is this "The threat of birching or the threat of hanging, as the case may be, would certainly stop me from committing this or that offence, or if I did it once and was birched, I certainly would not do it again." That is the hidden or inarticulate premise in their minds.
It is my own belief that nature plays a big part in this and that the thing is very largely pre-determined, even perhaps genetically pre-determined. Therefore, a person whose nature because of his genetic inheritance or because of the way he has been brought up or the environment in which he has spent his years, leans to crime, is not deterred by the threat or by the carrying out of certain punishment, and I believe—and criminologists are unanimous about this—that the least effective form of punishment is corporal punishment. I will refer later on to something which Deputy Briscoe said in regard to the excessive technicality of the legal system, but those were the things I wanted to say arising out of the specific points he made.
I want to come back to some points Deputy Brennan made. I have got, admittedly, the uncorrected version of his speech here in front of me, and I want to refer to a couple of specific charges. He quoted fromHibernia and, although it is not easy to see where the quotation ends and Deputy Brennan's own views begin, he cited an issue of Hibernia of 30th January, 1976, under the heading “Jobs for the boys” and he said the article contained a list of appointments made to the bench by the Government. He goes on to say:
To my mind they were disgustingly political. Without a single exception the appointments made have been those of prospective candidates for Fine Gael or the Labour Party, defeated candidates or people who were at one time TD's.
It may be that he is simply listing the cases which were contained in the article from which he was quoting but if he is trying to tell the House —and it may come across like this in the papers when his speech is reported —that all the appointments which the Government have made have been from the ranks of essentially Coalition Dáil candidates, whether successful or not, it is simply wrong, and wildly wrong.
I have not looked at the full list, but as I sat here making a few notes since the Dáil resumed after Question Time, I thought of no fewer than six appointments of judges, three in the High Court and three in the Circuit Court— the District Court appointments are so numerous that I would not be able to keep track of them—who, to my knowledge, never were candidates for either Fine Gael or Labour, and in the case of one or two of them at least, I do not believe they could be said to have had any serious politics whatever, and I cannot ever imagine them being candidates even had the question of their appointment to the bench not arisen.
If Deputy Brennan had left it at that it would have been bad enough, but he went on to refer to a specific appointment, admittedly not by name, but it would be a very easy matter to establish the name of the member of the judiciary to whom he was referring. I do not want to maximise the importance or the seriousness of what Deputy Brennan said, but neither do I want to minimise it. I do not want to run away from it or allow the House to forget the seriousness of what he said here this morning. The Official Report from which I quote is uncorrected, in the sense that the trivial slips which arise in any transcript have not been ironed out, but the substance of the thing is absolutely clear. He said:
The serious view which the public must take of such appointments is not relieved by the fact that one district justice in his first case imposed a fine on a Member of this House that was far above anything justifiable or in any way related to the offence.
If he had stopped there it would have been a criticism of a judge or the bench in a particular case, which is within the limits of what I think is permissible under the law of this country, but in the next sentence he said:
It was blatant political victimisation and vindictiveness.
To say of a judge in any court that an act of his is an act of blatant political victimisation is, I assert, a contempt of the court, and contempt of the District Court or Circuit Court may be an indictable offence. If, as I believe—and it is only my opinion— Deputy Brennan's words amount to the making of an indictable offence, I want to tell him here that he is protected from prosecution for what he said this morning only by his privilege of being a Member of this House.
The district justice that he referred to—although he did not name him he can easily be identified—is a member of the judiciary and just as much entitled to respect and to the benefit of the law which surrounds the courts and guarantees their integrity and independence as the Chief Justice himself or any member of the Supreme Court or High Court. That was an outrageous thing for Deputy Brennan to have said. I admit that in a moment of heat or strong feeling words will come out that one did not intend. I hope for Deputy Brennan's own sake and for the sake of his credit he will withdraw those words, because they are a disgraceful reflection on a judge or a justice, and as I say, in my opinion—I do not advance itex cathedra—they do and would make up the offence of contempt of court for which Deputy Brennan could be indicted, prosecuted and severely punished if he were to utter those words outside this House.
I think it is part of the House's convention that the privilege of the House only exists in order that the public interest may allow Deputies to speak their minds freely. If Deputy Brennan genuinely believes, and is not just saying it off the top of his head, that a judge or justice is guilty of that, then the privilege of the House is there to allow him to say it, but it is a very serious thing for him to say otherwise. If he is just doing it in the context of a general lathering charge against the Government of appointing their friends to jobs, then it is far too trivial a setting in which to make such a charge which calls into question the integrity of this particular member of the judiciary and the integrity of the proceedings which he holds or has held in his court.
Deputy Brennan went on to speak about the political appointments which he believed this Government had made. I have spoken of this before in the House and I want to come back to the subject for a little while. It is true and I freely admit it that most of the appointments to the bench made by this Government have been made, broadly speaking, from among the ranks of barristers who are not members of Fianna Fáil, who never had been members of Fianna Fáil and presumably never would be members of Fianna Fáil. It is also true, and I acknowledge it with the respect which it deserves, that the former Government did make two important and distinguished appointments to the bench from among the ranks of barristers other than their own supporters. One of them had the clearest possible Fine Gael associations and the other one might have been supposed to have some sympathies of that kind. I respected the former Government for having broken away from the traditions which had prevailed up to then. This Government have made at least one very important judicial appointment from the ranks of potential appointees who was never associated with either of the Coalition parties but was associated with the Opposition.
Apart from these appointments, which were exceptional, the general rule under the Fianna Fáil Governments in the years between 1932 and 1948, between 1951 and 1954 and between 1957 and 1973 was that nobody was appointed to the bench at any level unless he was a supporter of the Fianna Fáil Party. I thought that a disgraceful arrangement because it put a premium on what might be only a pretended interest in a political party. It put a premium on people going through the motions of subscribing and making the occasional speech at church gates, though they might have had no interest in politics or in the Soldiers of Destiny. It was grossly unfair to people who could not find it in their hearts to support Fianna Fáil but who believed in Fine Gael or in the Labour Party. The numbers in the profession in the thirties and forties were far more heavily in favour of Fine Gael than Fianna Fáil; the numbers evened up later on. It was grossly unfair to them but particularly unfair to people who had no politics. Deputy Meaney may or may not believe that there are such people in the country. He comes from a particularly politically conscious county. There are people who genuinely do not have any politics.
I have taken the same line as Deputy Kelly on committees of agriculture. I believe that appointments should not be on a political basis. I share the views of Deputy Kelly and I have expressed them in public already. Politics should have no part in judicial appointments.
I thank the Deputy. Many people are not interested in political parties. They do not mind who is in or out of office provided they are able to earn their living and bring up their families and are not leaned on too heavily by the police or the tax collector. People like that, perhaps 25 per cent or 30 per cent, make up the floating vote. They are people who will change their vote from time to time as they think the country needs it and such people are as heavily represented at the Bar as anywhere else. Even people like that, though they did not carry the original sin of membership of Fine Gael or of the Labour Party, were outside the magic circle and were not entitled to be considered for advancement or promotion to the bench.
The House will not have forgotten that quite apart from judicial appointments, which are the ones which get the most attention, a far more lucrative source of revenue for the legal profession is State work, employment as a prosecutor or counsel for the State in the various forms of civil or non-criminal action in which the State is involved. The value of that legal work now amounts to almost £1 million a year. Admittedly the rise in fees and inflation have pushed that figure up but when Fianna Fáil left office it was well over £500,000 a year. That £500,000 was earmarked like a trust fund for the ranks of Fianna Fáil, with very few exceptions. Such exceptions were made only in cases of a technical kind where a barrister might be needed in the State's interest who was an expert in patents or in admiralty law or something like that and the Soldiers of Destiny did not happen to have an expert on such subjects. They would then step outside their own ranks and employ a barrister who might be of a different colour from themselves. Leaving aside those exceptional cases, no one had a chance of ½p of that £500,000 unless he supported or promised to support the Fianna Fáil Party, not just at the ballot box but with his pocket-book and at church gate meetings during by-elections.
When I was at the Bar and for years thereafter up to 1973 there was a total exclusion of anybody who did not belong to the Soldiers of Destiny, who bore the stain of original sin of membership of Fine Gael or the Labour Party. There was total exclusion of people who had no politics and who could not bring themselves to go through the motions of pretending that they had and this was most unjust of all. Far more money changed hands and far more mohair suits were bought, holidays to Morocco arranged and Rolls Royces put in custom-built garages on the strength of money which was paid over by the State to members of Fianna Fáil in that setting than was paid to men who were on the bench because of their Fianna Fáil membership. That practice has now stopped because of the initiative of this Government and particularly due to the initiative of the Attorney General.
Since 1974, since the Prosecution of Offences Act, all prosecution State work and other State work, even the non-prosecuting stuff, is spread around equitably through the whole Bar. Fianna Fáil barristers who were high on the hog are still high on the hog but they have to share the froth of the pint with the rest of the Bar now. They have to put up with the fact that people they supposed would never hold a brief for the people of Ireland are now doing so. They have not been knocked off the list in the same ruthless way that Fine Gael and Labour and neutral people were knocked off the State list in 1957. They have not been deprived of a livelihood. They have not had the experience of having to go home to their wives and tell them that their income has dropped by £5,000 because their politics are the wrong way. I am proud to work for a Government which can say that much at least about a very substantial reform in an area of the law which, as everybody knows, is resistant to reform and in which the conservative spirit tends to be uppermost.
All Deputies who have mentioned this have agreed that appointments to the bench, whatever may be said about the political system behind them, have been good in that we have had down through the years a judiciary that could be relied on and which was not partisan, which was impartial and which did its duty fairly to the best of its ability. I must endorse that but before I leave the subject of patronage or appointments of a political kind I must say that, while I am against the patronage system in this or any other area, the lack of openings which any barrister or solicitor not of the Fianna Fáil kidney had to take as being part of the professional landscape in the years before 1973 meant that many men grew mature, indeed grew old, without a chance of serving their country from the judicial bench.
When 1973 came along there was a large backlog of justice to catch up on, a backlog of ability and skill and willingness, of men who under a system of impartial appointments would five, ten and in some cases 15 years previously have been eligible for appointment to the bench. That backlog had to be caught up with and I do not apologise for the Government for making sure that they righted the balance and that personal and professional injustice to such men was undone. That excuse will not last forever. It is a fair, genuine, sincere and true excuse and I will make a present to the Opposition of saying that I will be disappointed if this Government continue in office beyond the next election or beyond the one after that if various political colours are not to be seen among their political appointments. I hope and believe that they will.
I accept the point which I made frequently in Opposition and which the Opposition are now making, that it would conduce to greater confidence, or at least to maintaining high confidence, in the judicial system if the element of patronage were removed and if political affiliations of barristers and solicitors at any rate within the four corners of parliamentary democratic allegiance, played absolutely no part in their appointments. There is unanimity on both sides that the appointments which have been made on the basis of a system, however open to criticism, have been good in the sense that we have had a judiciary which is respected. Of course some judges are more intelligent than others, some more polite than others, some more patient than others. As the Minister prompts me, some are speedier than others. But on the whole I believe the Irish people accept that the judges have done a good and fair service from a bench which has done its best. I declare my own belief that there never has been a case in this country—at least I have never run across one in any of the matters which I had to deal with professionally or academically—about which I had even a suspicion that the judge or bench of judges had decided in a particular way out of political prejudice or political conviction and that had their former political allegiance been otherwise they would have decided the case otherwise. I declare that as much for the benefit of the judges with a Fianna Fáil background as those with a Fine Gael or Labour background.
The last thing I want to say before sitting down is that if that is so the people have been well served by the judiciary. There has been reason to trust them and to take for granted that even though a judge might be rude, or impatient or slow to take a point or not as intelligent as some other judge, even though he might be many of these things and on occasion all of them—and these criticisms would not be true of the great majority of judges; even the worst of them would not be true of the great majority of judges—even the worst of them could not be accused of being prejudiced or biased for political reasons. If a judge had his own prejudices he would keep them to himself, or rather he would shed them when he climbed to the judicial bench and administered the Irish people's justice.
If that is so it is because of the ethos which these judges absorb in their earlier professional existence as members of the Irish Bar. The Bar is a very easy target of fun. Barristers are conventionally vulgarly regarded as grasping, venal, anxious to pile up bags of fees and it does not matter what happens to the client; it may take 12 years to get his case done and he may be ruined by it. All these are legends about the legal profession. Barristers are no more exempt from the human failures of cupidity, laziness or anything else than any other profession is, but they most certainly are no more subject to them than any other profession. From my recollection of my years in practice I can say that a peculiar thing about the Irish Bar is that they have formed a sort of brotherhood which completely transcends political links and in particular completely transcends religious differences. There was a time when the Bar here was virtually an entirely Protestant, or at any rate a non-Catholic profession. By, let us say, the outbreak of the First World War the profession was about half and half. Since that time the religious representation which had been in a majority has fallen 50 per cent or a good deal further, but there is still a very strong representation at the Bar of the minority religious and cultural sections of the community.
It is easy, and it might be thought pompous, to talk like this about a profession, but I honestly believe what I say and I find it impressive and moving that it can so easily be the case. In the years that I was there one never heard a man's politics, faith, cultural or social background mentioned or discussed. They were all engaged in the same profession according to standards which were understood and respected, and these were high standards. You did not deceive a court, or a judge or a jury. You did not deceive a colleague. Some people there were cleverer than others and some were perhaps thought of as being cuter than others about cutting corners, but in general high standards were respected and observed, and also levels of courtesy towards one's colleagues and towards the bench and from the bench were expected. These restraints which grew up in the context of the legal profession are hard to explain to the public and hard to defend. They very easily raise danger signals in the minds of people who think along such lines. These readymade, trendy court rules easily raise the idea that of course it is a closed shop, and in particular a closed middle-class shop of people whose interest it is that it should remain so and whose ethos, although no doubt very pleasant for themselves, confers no benefit on the public.
All of these things are false. Not all of them are totally false, but the general impression created by such a global conception of the Bar is a false one. It is not a closed shop. From my experience of the law school in which I was active until the last general election, the admission standards for the law schools here if anything are a good deal lower in the academic sense than those for the medical, engineering or other professional schools. In other words, it is easier for an academically poorer student to get into a law school than into any of the other professional schools. The cost of becoming a barrister is no greater than that of qualifying in another profession. There may be a concealed social bias in the sense that of course children from socially underprivileged families are children who, by and large, will hear less educated conversation and will see fewer books around them. They are children therefore who perhaps will get less out of school and by the time they reach school-leaving standard will have fewer advantages of a kind which will get them into and through third level education and out the far side into a profession. I accept and admit that.
Many people find it difficult to get members of their families apprenticed. This is creating a great problem. Could the Parliamentary Secretary explain that?
I will, gladly. Perhaps I could do it in private rather than across the floor of the House. That is a different thing, in connection with the solicitors' profession.
That is closing the shop.
It is not exactly closing it, because the Incorporated Law Society help with apprenticeships and anybody who cannot through family or local connections find a solicitor to take him as an apprentice should write to the Incorporated Law Society who would make it their business to find him a master.
There is almost a guarantee?
I do not say that. I do not represent them and I am not a solicitor. I understand that they will make it their business to fix up an apprentice. I have never heard of anybody permanently denied access to the solicitors' profession, although there may be difficulties and delays because the profession tends to become overcrowded. It is not fair to describe it as a closed shop.
Nothing of that kind operates in relation to admission to the Bar and it is as easy or easier and cheaper to gain admission to the Bar than to many other professions. The rather stuffy old fashioned ethos which surrounds the Bar, the wigs and the gowns and so on, is not devoid of benefit to the public. From my own observation, the wigs and the gowns are only part of a whole set of standards which pervade the legal profession between the Bar and the bench. These customs have a powerful effect, in that, even if a judge is a rogue at heart, he would be ashamed to misbehave in the presence of men who were formally colleagues at the Bar, men with whom he sweated and worked over long hours in the same courts and in the same Library. That creates a strong professional bond of the kind that would make a person ashamed to misbehave. It is not altogether dissimilar from the ethos which I have observed at times in this House. Deputies lambaste one another across the floor but even they recognise that there is a belt below which one does not hit and they are moved by one another's personal misfortunes and would help one another as willingly as they would help a member of their own side, and would consider it disgraceful to be unmannerly to one another outside the House.
That is a trivial comparison, but it will give Deputies an idea of what I mean. A similar ethos exists in the world of the bench and the Bar, and although it may look very silly and stuffy to the outside world it conveys a colossal public benefit, because it guarantees that a judge will conduct himself, if only because he would be ashamed to let himself down in front of the men with whom he has spent his whole life and with whom even now he is connected with strong social links, and with whom perhaps he plays golf or goes for a few drinks, and whose children play with one another and so on. I agree that it all sounds very cosy and it will probably raise hackles on the people who do not believe that there should be any such thing as a middle class, or that if there is, they should be prevented from having their own habits. Leaving such people out of it, because they are only a passing phase, the Bar is no more perfect and no more above improvement or reform than any other collective human institution but by its ethos, by the fact that they all work together and have to observe certain basic rules of courtesy and humanity in dealing with one another —from their ranks the judges of the three upper courts are recruited—it confers a great public benefit.
The quickest way to bring to an end the conditions in which it it possible to say that a violent Fianna Fáil partisan once he gets on the bench behaves like a judge and that a violent Fine Gael partisan behaves the same way, even towards people with whom he has nothing in common, is to destroy the Bar. The quickest way to produce conditions in which it can be said that a person is either a Fine Gael or a Fianna Fáil hack, and that no justice is to be had, is to destroy the Bar.
I have few associations of which I am more proud than being a member of the Irish Bar and I have practised for some years. Needless to say I am not ashamed to defend my associations. Even if I was never a barrister, or had been disbarred, or had changed my mind about the profession for some reason, I would still say that its peculiar solidarity and the peculiar standards which it is capable of defending quietly, operate as a very powerful constraint on the bench and guarantees what we have been boasting about, namely that the judges will behave impartially. There are minds inside and outside the media, the public service and everywhere else that are offended at the sight of barristers in wigs and gowns scuttling around with dusty documents. Some of them think quite correctly that this is a relic of the days of the English. We took over these habits from the English but it does not matter whether it is a wig or something copied from the Continent or some ancient Irish headgear that a barrister wears. These things are not important, they are only the fringes of the thing, but they are part of a brotherhood from which the public reap great benefit and anyone who sets out to destroy or interfere with that ethos will destroy and interfere with not only the profession but also the ethos and aura which surrounds the bench from which the public derive such an enormous amount of real benefit.
We have had an excellent lecture from Deputy Kelly on judges and the Bar but I am disappointed that we did not hear anything about the Bill, which relates to the appointment of judges. These appointments are political appointments and this Bill's only function is to make temporary judges permanent. The reason for these permanent appointments was discussed here today. This measure does not add any extra judges, although the reason for this Bill according to the Minister is the backlog of cases in the civil and criminal courts. I accept that there is a backlog of cases and that they must be speedily dealt with but I do not believe that legislation providing for the making permanent of a few temporary judges will speed matters up in this regard. I should be more interested in legislation that would be aimed at simplifying the legal process and in decreasing the cost of litigation for the unfortunate people who become involved in law cases. Indeed, the ordinary person would need to be well up to get justice in a court of justice because when you have members of the Bar arguing across the floor the person in contention would need to be very careful in what he said if he wished to come out on the right side. In saying that I am not casting any reflection on members of the legal profession.
With all the various Acts it has become necessary for one to go to court for a variety of reasons which should be capable of being dealt with elsewhere. For instance, under the Land Acts one might have to wait two years to get to court for a decision and, subsequently the unfortunate farmer might have to wait another two or three years to get possession. If this Bill contained some provision to speed up these cases I would be happy to support it but I am not convinced that as it stands it will have the effect of clearing the backlog that has built up.
So far as the appointments of judges are concerned, I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that once a man assumes such a post of responsibility it does not matter to which political party he belongs. We may as well be honest and tell people that judicial appointments are political but we must admit, too, that we have had a fair service from our judges down through the years. When a man is taken out of the political arena and given such a position he must forget politics and there is no one who will forget politics quicker than the politician once he is removed from that area.
We must ask ourselves the very pertinent question as to why there is a need for so many judges and also for so many gardaí but first we must ask why so many of our young people are turning to crime. I do not know a great number of young people but I am aware of their thinking. We now have a situation in which our unemployed youth are educated people and this is the breeding ground for crime. A friend of mine who is a young priest working in one of our cities has told me of the efforts he is making to help those young people whose mothers and fathers are at work with the result that the younger ones who, perhaps, have leaving certificates with a number of honours, are at home all day with nothing to do. In the case of a boy there is entitlement to unemployment assistance but this is not so where girls are concerned. It is not possible to keep down the educated brain. If these people are not given something good to do, the chances are that they will do something that is bad. In the past our unemployed people were mainly uneducated also but, fortunately, that is no longer the case. However, the fact that these people are unemployed leads them to engage in crime. All the judges and the gardaí in the country will not solve this problem. The aim should be the development of a crash programme to create employment for our youth. What is sad in particular is that our young people have lost interest in democracy. Regardless of which party they may vote for in the election, it is my hope that those who are over 18 will exercise their right to vote.
I recall a time when there were no trade unions to protect people in employment and hearing a businessman lecture on the dangers of communism. One of his listeners reminded him that since he was not paying a fair wage to those who worked for him, his business was a breeding ground for communism.
How long ago was that?
That is unimportant.
The Deputy cannot remember a time when there were no trade unions.
I am talking of 20 or 30 years ago when there were no unions to protect the rights of clerical staffs and when a member of my family worked in an office for 10/- a week.
That must have been an isolated case.
It was not and the person concerned was my sister.
I know what I am talking of.
I am only trying to correct the Deputy.
I need no correcting from Deputy Coughlan.
I must insist that the Deputy in possession be heard without interruption.
Since the Parliamentary Secretary was allowed to contradict what Deputy Brennan said, I think I have a right to at least correct Deputy Coughlan.
The Deputy should not encourage interruptions.
I am now 66 but when I was a young boy I recall my sister working for 10/- a week and having no trade union to look after her interests.
Let us get back to the Bill.
Just as the person who failed to pay his staff constituted a breeding ground for communism, we are creating a breeding ground for violence by tolerating a situation in which so many of our educated youth are unemployed. I must not leave this point without paying a compliment to the various organisations who are endeavouring to do so much for our youth. I am thinking, for instance, of the GAA, Macra na Feirme and, if Deputy Coughlan will not mind me mentioning them, the pioneers.
Pioneers in what? We are all pioneers in our own way.
I am referring to the organisation known as the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association.
They are different from pioneers.
I have much respect for Deputy Coughlan but I will not succumb to his attempts to stifle me.
He is endeavouring to de-rail Deputy Callanan but he has a lot of de-railing to do in Limerick.
I am tired of hearing people telling us all day about how violent young people have become but nobody has suggested where it all starts. It starts with the educated unemployed young person. I am trying to say that is where we should tackle it. By all means, we should have more guards on the beat and I agree with the number of judges but this Bill does not provide for new judges; it only makes temporary appointments permanent. I agree with the Bill but nobody, with the possible exception of Deputy Briscoe, tried to tell us what goes on in Dublin. Nobody got down to telling us what is wrong and why the people have become crime-minded. Radio and television have a good deal to do with it. I want to be entertained but when you turn on the radio or television it is often crime and murder you get. The young people have lost confidence and until we get a programme to provide work for them, give them money and confidence in themselves we cannot expect to improve the position. People cannot do without money at present and if they do not get it, I believe we shall have a violent State. I do not say that our State is too violent but there is no good in giving the impression that everybody can do what they like without control. We have not sufficient gardaí. But more judges or guards is not the answer. The answer is to get the minds of young people occupied. It is wrong to compare the youth of today with the youth of 20 or 30 years ago who were uneducated——
They were not.
The vast majority of ordinary country people never went beyond the national school 30 years ago while today nearly all young people have leaving certificates and are educated and these are the people who, if they cannot work——
I am coming to that. I have said time and again that our system of education is completely wrong in educating people for clerical work instead of for jobs on the factory floor.
Fianna Fáil did the very opposite.
Order. Deputy Coughlan should allow Deputy Callanan to speak without interruption.
I have no notion of stopping as a result of Deputy Coughlan's interruptions. Nobody sits here for more debates than I do and I have never interrupted except in a friendly way.
I am being friendly.
Yes, but the Deputy is doing his best to bother me. I can assure him he is not troubling me in the least. I support the Bill because judges and guards are essential. The Bill only makes temporary appointments permanent. It is well known that all judges are political appointments. I suppose this Bill will ensure that they will be permanent whoever wins the next election but no additional judges are being added. I want to ask the Minister one question before I sit down. I should have sat down a long time ago if I had not been interrupted but the more I am interrupted the better I get and the more I have to say.
I was only helping the Deputy.
The more the Deputy interrupts the longer I shall be here. He will not shut me up. I want to ask the Minister if something can be done to speed up title cases because, as I have said before, Land Commission cases that have to go to the High Court are often listed for 12 months, with another 12 months in possession. Will this Bill hasten this type of case and will there be any way by which people can secure a title cheaper? You will not be paid a grant now if you do not have title. Finally, could the Minister tell us how many hours a week do judges work? I know a judge must do a good deal of research but how much actual work does he do? I am asking this so as to know how many judges we need to get the backlog dealt with. There is a serious backlog and even if this Bill is passed will it be cleared up? My thanks to the Ceann Comhairle and to Deputy Coughlan. We would have more and better speeches if he came in oftener.
A wide range of topics has been discussed on this Bill from law and order to gardaí and many other things but what I have to say is no reflection an anybody individually in the judiciary or in law but is more a matter of discussing the system and how things come about.
There is still a big gap between the legal profession and the ordinary person—and I speak as one. They are still afraid of barristers. They think it is bad enough to have to go to a solicitor and are deadly afraid of judges. Recently, I was in a churchyard where a very distinguished barrister was buried with a beautiful tombstone over him. One man said to another: "Is not that a beautiful stone over the poor barrister." The other replied: "It was troublesome people who put it there." We should bear that in mind but I think legal people are ordinary people like ourselves. I do not know why they are held in this fear but, perhaps, there are reasons for it.
We are not adding any new judges to the list in this Bill but making permanent some temporary appointments. When discussing that, it is up to the House to suggest ways and means by which the system could work better and to praise or criticise it as we think fit. First, I should like to refer to what Deputy Kelly, the Parliamentary Secretary, said regarding the system of appointments. Down the years appointments have been by patronage and nothing will convince the people in the country but that there has been a change of Government and that what is happening at the moment is that you have to support the Government one way or another.
I do not know everybody who is being appointed but some of the top appointments are regarded as people being rewarded for their support of the Government. I am not discussing the people but the system. I believe that there should not be patronage in appointments to the bench. At local council level and on the committee of agriculture I have always opposed the system of appointing instructors or instructresses on a temporary basis where we vote on them. We have no real right to do that because we do not even know their qualifications. Until such time as appointments of judges and justices are taken out of the hands of the Government of the day the ordinary person will believe that it is patronage all the way. After all, the person who is educated and is brilliant enough and has the ability even if he never belonged to any political party or, if, perhaps, he voted Coalition at one stage, Labour Party at another stage and Fianna Fáil at another stage, and, perhaps, for an Independent candidate on another occasion, should be allowed to rise to the top of the ladder and be appointed to the bench.
The present system will have to be changed. There is no point is somebody saying if there is a change of Government in the morning: "I was a great supporter of the former Government, I am next in line, and Fianna Fáil will not appoint me." That would be wrong.Vice versa, if somebody was due for promotion when Fianna Fáil left office, whether he was for us or not, he should be duly appointed. We should think deeply about finding other ways of appointing members of the legal profession to the bench.
I suggest a committee should be appointed with the President of the day sitting as chairman, with the Chief Justice who would know all those people, the Ceann Comhairle, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and, perhaps, the leaders of the two main parties as representatives of the ordinary people on that committee. I throw that out as a suggestion for making a complete change from the present system. These would be responsible people. This would guarantee to a person who did not play a prominent political role in any of the major political parties that he would have an equal chance of getting to the top of the ladder and that he would not be victimised because he had not become actively involved in politics. At the moment, unless these people have been politically active, they do not have a pup's chance of promotion regardless of their abilities.
I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will admit that members of this Government and previous Governments have been strongly canvassed by cousins and brothers of barristers. You are open to that once you are involved in public life. You are asked to make representations. People are pressurised. I believe we should put an end to that system once and for all. In the area where I live people believe patronage is involved. There should be no patronage. I hope I will see the day when there will be an end to it.
Perhaps we should try to reconstruct the whole legal system. I am an ordinary layman. I was never in the High Court and I hope I never will. I should like to see the whole system of bringing people before the District Court changed. A District Court is held in a local town and the following week in the local paper there is a list of people who were fined or dealt with under the Probation Act for having defective lights on their cars or no brakes or bald tyres or for some parking offence or for having no dog licence or for making poteen or drinking after hours. If people plead guilty to these offences, why should they have to go through the courts? If I am caught drinking in a bar 20 minutes after the legal hour and if I admit my guilt to the garda, why should I not be allowed to go to the barracks and pay a fine?
Very light fines are imposed in the courts for those types of offences. People do not like their neighbours to read about them in the papers. They become aggressive towards the garda and when a serious crime takes place in the area they will not be helpful if the same garda is investigating it. I am speaking about rural areas and smaller towns where there are only two or three gardaí or, perhaps, only one. It is not the fine that matters to those people but seeing their names in the papers. There would be better cooperation between the Garda and the public if the system in the District Courts could be changed. Too much time is taken up with trivial cases.
If you are caught driving under the influence of drink and you are brought to court, and if you had over a certain level of alcohol in your blood the man on the bench has no choice because the fine or sentence is laid down. Would it not be better if you could admit your guilt, hand in your licence for six or 12 months and have it recorded against you? Perhaps this could be published in some State publication. If you have to go to court you say to your solicitor: "I should like to be defended. I should like to have someone there to represent me." This takes up the time of your solicitor who is usually a very busy man. All he does is stand up and say: "Johnny So-and-So has instructed me to say he admits the offence." You are fined £5 or the Probation Act is applied. That system does not make sense. I should like the Minister and the Department to have a look at this matter. If we changed the system we could save the time of the district justices and they could be promoted and do excellent work further up the line.
Deputy Callanan asked the Minister how many hours are worked per week by the judges in the various courts. Many people believe they work a short number of hours. They have to keep themselves in touch with the law. At this time I believe our judges deserve the best security and protection we can give them. I do not think the money is all that great. I should not like to be a judge with a wife and family and having to have somebody to mind them at all times. These people are open to attack from all quarters. They have to administer the law fearlessly on the bench. Whatever protection they are given is not overdone. I doubt that money makes up to them for missing their freedom. Times are hard and terrible things are happening. It takes brave men to sit on the bench and administer the law as we pass it in this House. Regardless of who appointed our judges, in the main we should be happy with them.
I should like to see another change in our legal system. People are brought before our courts for doing damage which runs into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Once the accused is found guilty he should have to pay compensation to the injured party. I am sick and tired of hearing of some poor old man or poor old couple at the end of their days being robbed by three or four young thugs who then get a suspended sentence. We should ensure that they must pay compensation. Otherwise they should get a very heavy sentence. What is the point in sending such people to jail where the State has to support them for two or three months, if the injured party does not get compensation?
I would say we are very soft in our courts. We are trying to convince people there is good in everybody, even the hardened criminal. We are trying to say to him: "Turn over a new leaf. There is a lot of good in our society. Come back into it in a proper manner and be a good citizen." I often wonder does that work when I think of the victims and the terrible damage done to some old person or some person living alone by a person who is a thorough-going scamp. We should concentrate on the compensation issue. In my part of the country I have seen such people sent from court to court until the compensation was paid and then the case was decided. In my view that was a great system. Very often when these people are paying compensation, their crimes can be discussed and they often turn out to be good citizens.
Juvenile delinquency takes up a great deal of our time and is a great social problem. In my opinion parents are 99 per cent responsible for this situation. They are trying to keep up with the Joneses, whether they can afford it or not. Even the older people are doing this. Some of them will do without essentials to maintain a good appearance. That is why I consider we should be trying to educate the parents, not the delinquents. Teachers will tell you that after the first few days at school they know the type of life led by a child's parents.
Many Deputies have spoken about the increase in crime. Although the Garda is at the highest strength ever, even more gardaí are required. I am disappointed more trained gardaí did not come out during the past year. Security is costing a great deal. We all know that with modern guerrilla warfare tactics a few hundred people can tie down 10,000 to 20,000 troops. That has been proved all over Europe and in Northern Ireland, There is a limit to what we can do but we are very thin behind the lines, especially in the smaller towns. Many people realise that after hours it is very difficult to get a garda and so commit crimes. By the time a garda is available the offenders are many miles away. I understand that in a few months there will be more gardaí available and not before time. We all realise that many more gardaí will have to be recruited, trained and sent out on duty.
In this legislation we are discussing making temporary judges permanent, but will that ease the backlog of work before the courts? I doubt it. We must revise the whole system. I have made my views on District Courts known and on how appointments should be made to the bench. I look forward to the day when the tag will be taken off these appointments. No matter who is appointed while this Government is in power, he will be tagged as a supporter of the Coalition parties. If a man was appointed nine years ago, he will be considered a Fianna Fáil supporter whether he is or not. These tags should be removed. These men have done a very good job and we should be very grateful to them.
Having listened to the debate so far, one must ask oneself how independent is the judiciary. As other speakers have outlined their views on this important issue, I do not intend getting involved in it. I am concerned with the basic situation that is destroying this nation—mob law, the pile up of problems which need more judges to deal with them, and the boot boys and bully boys who are prevalent in this city and in many major towns. We must combat these problems. The increase in the number of judges is not a solution to this problem which is eroding our society. This is a problem to which the Minister and the Government must pay particular attention. Substitutes of this nature are no solution.
The system of law and order has broken down. If this Government can be condemned as a failure, it must be in the area of law and order because there is absolutely no law and order here. I am not going to go into detail about the various incidents I could tell this House. People are captives in their own houses; they are afraid to leave their homes at night because of these bully boys, boot boys and mob law. Now Members of these Houses are being attacked and efforts are being made to intimidate them. It is very sad to think of the situation which is developing in this country.
Members who represent the working class areas of this city know only too well the dreadful situation which has been developing for some time. The solution is not more judges but more police. The gardaí are overburdened and are not assisted by the Government or the existing judges. They are doing a great job under very difficult circumstances. If the judges played their part fully and ensured that justice was done in the many problems brought before them, maybe we would have a more effective and efficient Garda force. The gardaí are being let down every day in court and as a result they take the easy way out.
I have read a booklet published lately—"Report and Crime for 1975". According to this report sexual offences decreased from 240 in 1974 to 168 in 1975; rape increased from 29 to 38 and indecent assaults on females fell from 122 to 83. These figures do not represent the facts because one of the major crimes which is on the increase is rape and it has become an accepted situation in many areas. The only reason all these cases are not recorded is that the young women and their families are afraid of the disgrace involved. We all must be concerned about this. This problem must be tackled in a realistic manner, and as soon as possible by the Garda and the Minister. Indeed, parents must be educated to know what is the proper thing to do to ensure that the unfortunate victim will not be exposed in the way many of them are in order to get a conviction against known people in a given area.
The question of robbery occurs all too frequently as we are aware from the amount of armed robberies and robberies with violence and without violence. We know how many take place from the statistics given and they do not represent the real situation. There is a real security problem here.
I know the police would be only too happy to step up the security if they got support right along the line. Because of the vast increase in the number of terrible offences being committed the police are rendered helpless. They do not get the necessary support from the Government or citizens, indeed possibly not from Members of this House, which is all too sad. The situation must be investigated in an endeavour to ensure that the root of the problem is tackled and that we have a developing situation in which everybody will play their part in ridding our country of these terrible hideous crimes.
Then there are the cider drinkers and the car stealers. We know from going through parts of this city and the housing estates by the number of cider and wine bottles discarded and broken that the areas can be pinpointed. In an area where I sit in a clinic on a Saturday morning the place is littered with cider and wine bottles, and again the police are helpless. Known hideouts should be stamped out by an increase in police activity. The groups concerned are small but are contaminating the young people in our cities and country with regard to cider drinking, car robberies and other types of robberies that go with rape. It is the one group of people intimidating a large section of our public.
Statistics, however accurately compiled, represent a fraction only of the crime. It is up to each of us as individuals to play our part effectively in ensuring that the Minister is assisted and that the forces of security are assisted in every way possible to eliminate this vast problem. As an initial measure, I hope there will be a step-up of security by the numbers of police being supplemented to a very large degree. It would constitute a small cost when weighed against the destruction at present being perpetrated. We note that the value of property stolen in a particular year—relevant to offences committed with violence—was over £2,250,000 and, without violence, another £1,500,000. That constitutes only the reported aspect of the problem.
I am sure the Deputy will agree that he is moving away from the Bill.
Only if we get to the very root of the problem and eliminate it can we see if there is a need for all the appointments being made. I have no objection to such appointments if they are necessary to cope with the problem. In my time I never found any favouritism in appointments; there may have been, or there are, political appointments. For a Government which built their foundation on law and order they are a complete and absolute failure.
I would urge on the Minister at this stage, as an immediate effort, to have appointed, not 500 but 1,000 gardaí, if necessary. Then we shall not have our jails full because the offences will not be committed. We must assess the cost of keeping these people in jails; probably our jails are bursting at the seams and at very large cost to our taxpayers. Would it not be far better to have more police, at the same cost to the nation, doing a better job, allowing young and old alike to move through our cities and towns in comfort without the fear of being attacked in one way or another? Our citizens would then be enabled also to leave their homes without the fear of their property being attacked. I would ask the Minister to equate one against the other when I am sure he will find the situation demands that more gardaí be recruited not at a cost to the State but with greater security for the State and our people alike. Once things become an accepted part of life—just as killing is an accepted part of life in the Six Counties—other hideous crimes become an accepted part of life as has happened here. Then it becomes more difficult to create the climate in which they are no longer accepted. The longer we let the situation develop the greater will be the difficulties for the Minister for Justice, for the Government, the Garda and the other security forces dealing with crime.
I would hope that some of these problems would be tackled at the earliest possible opportunity, indeed that they would be stamped out, thereby ensuring that younger people not yet contaminated will be free from the shackles of the cider drinkers, the bully boys, boot boys and, indeed, the other people who endeavour to intimidate the public, the Government, Deputies, the judiciary and so on. It is time we took a positive line in ensuring that the security forces are adequate to deal with the problems confronting us.
The reason for crime has been mentioned here by many people and a variety of explanations given. One of them was unemployment. Again, would it not be far better if more money was pumped into the system for public works schemes to divert peoples attention from labour exchanges and the activities to which they are at present devoting their time? During the day they spend their time between the labour exchanges and surveying property and, at night, robbing or damaging that property. We must see that people are drawn out of that atmosphere into one in which their minds will be devoted to healthy activity. That of work was one suggestion made by Deputy Callanan and others. But this problem must be tackled in a comprehensive way. Every suggestion made, however little it may do in ensuring reduction in the rate of crime, merits consideration. I do not blame the Minister; he is doing a good job in difficult conditions. But it is a developing problem. He needs our help and we are willing to help him. We must convince many people that they need not be afraid to come forward any longer, that we will ensure they are protected if they make their contribution.
Perhaps the Deputy would now help the Chair by trying to relate his remarks to this Bill which has to do with an increase in the number of judges and justices.
I am only too happy to do so. But I want to deal with the basic problem which is that of the pileup of cases not being dealt with. One walking through housing estates sees too many young people sitting, lying and walking around, which is all too sad. Many of us know what are their intentions from their attitudes. Our citizens must be free to walk the streets. If it is necessary to have more judges appointed to ensure that people are brought to justice at an earlier stage, then I am in favour of them. I am in favour of anything that will eliminate crime in a broad sense. There are other measures that must be taken also. If the appointment of extra judges is the only problem, then appoint them and let crime develop and put more people in jail.
But that is not the solution. We must erase crime at its roots. Built-up areas must be made safe for young and old. All our citizens must feel safe. We must ensure that people who have a part to play in our society will not be prevented from doing so by vandals, bootboys and bullies. At the moment the intimidation that goes on in this city and throughout the country is preventing people from playing their part. I know how terrified people are. Last Monday night I visited a house in my constituency, in Ballyfermot. I left at 12.30 and at that time of night a person was trying to break into my car who had already been caught breaking into another car. I called the gardaí, but a number of people are inclined to take the law into their own hands on such occasions because too many people being brought before courts for serious crimes are either allowed off scot-free or get the benefit of the Probation Act. Gardaí have been working under severe difficulties and have been doing an excellent job. I know a person whose house has been broken into three times and the only solution offered to him was to instal a burglar alarm. If burglar alarms and steel shutters are to be substitutes for proper policing, it is a shocking situation. If there is one thriving industry in this city it is the manufacture of burglar alarms. The only protection for houses in every estate in this city seems to be the installation of alarms. It is a sorry situation.
I know how the Garda are being harrassed and intimidated. I hope the Government will make a clear call to the public to support the Garda. If necessary the Garda should be given overtime so that areas which are unprotected at the moment can be given adequate care. If the payment of overtime contributes to the detection of crime and the apprehension of criminals, it is money well spent and the Minister will have the support of all parties in this House for the provision of such money.
I had thought of dealing with some of the security lapses in the past but perhaps this would only bring glorification to certain people. The Government have been a disaster in the area of law and order. I want again to compliment the Garda for the number of criminals they have brought to justice for major crimes, and I instance the Herrema case and the theft of pictures at Blessington. Those people were brought to justice by a police force working under appalling stresses. It is important that the courts will back them up by imposing proper sentences. If a man is accused of having a bald tyre on his car or of failing to have a light on his bicycle or a parking offence, a conviction is assured, but in offences involving violence against the person or against property sometimes the accused gets away under the Probation Act. This gives a sense of disillusionment to the Garda.
As Deputy Meaney pointed out, there is one way to hit people found guilty of offences against the person or damage to property. It is to hit them in their pockets, to make them compensate their victims even if it means making them pay over periods of ten or 20 years. For less serious crimes people have had to pay during a lifetime but many of the people I have been referring to have been allowed out scot-free.
The Deputy must not criticise the action of judges or the courts.
I have no intention of criticising a particular judge, but if a system appears to be developing surely we have an obligation to make our contribution. Perhaps this applies only to a small section of the judiciary, to old or overworked people, and indeed many of them are overworked at the moment. In every sector of life people become tired and are not as effective as they once were, and the judiciary are not an exception. There is this development which needs to be corrected. I have no apology to make for what I have said.
The Chair again reminds the Deputy that he may not make charges against or discuss the conduct of judges or justices.
I have made the points I wanted to make. I appeal earnestly to all citizens to play their part fully and effectively. The Minister must ensure that the Garda will get the backup they require and that a situation will be achieved when people will not be afraid to report offences, whether sexual or otherwise. I do not want to see people going around spying but I want to see a situation in which people who have a part to play in the interests of justice will be able to do so and have our sympathy and support.
Reading the 1975 Garda report I notice that there were 23 murder cases and the number of people brought before the courts—there were 153 cases of robbery or attempted robbery—is a clear indication of the excellent work of the Garda operating under severe difficulties. I accept that many people have been brought before the courts, but in my view a greater number could be prosecuted.
I am sure the Minister will see to it that the situation is improved now that he has heard the views of Members of the House. The appointment of more judges only solves one problem but we also need more gardaí. If we had more gardaí we would not have any need for more judges. It is a question of equating the cost of a judge against the cost of gardaí. If more gardaí were on duty there would be less vandalism and vandalism is costing this city a lot of money. I should like to tell the Minister that I am on his side when it comes to combating crime in this city. I am against the boot boys, the bully boys and the intimidators. I want to see them brought to justice at the earliest moment but when they are brought to justice I want to see jusice done. I do not want to see them getting the benefit of the Probation Act. I do not want to see them brought before justices who are soft.
I should like the Minister when replying to tell the House how many cases are on the waiting list for hearing in the High Court. In some accident cases it takes up to four years before a hearing takes place in the High Court. The delay is deplorable. A number of my constituents have asked me about the delay in their cases, but I was unable to ascertain for them when their case would come up for hearing. It is hard on those concerned, widows and families, if they have to wait a number of years before an accident case is heard in the High Court. If compensation is involved the people making the claim are at a loss if the case is not heard soon after the accident. I hope the Minister will do something about the waiting period. I understand that it takes about eight months to prepare a case for the High Court, but then the case is put on the waiting list and it can take three years before it is reached. In one instance it has taken five years for a case to be heard in the High Court.
Unfortunately, the provisions of the Bill will not improve the position. The Bill seeks to make temporary appointments permanent. I accept that pressure with regard to other law has taken up a lot of the time of the courts and that this may be the cause of the delay in reaching accident claims, but the whole system should be improved. In many instances the payment of social welfare and other allowances is held up pending the hearing of such claims. With regard to the judges appointed I should like to state that they have been doing a good job, irrespective of which Government appointed them. I do not wish to criticise district justices but many of them have treated softly those charged before them. Where youths have been involved in robberies district justices are inclined to give the benefit of the Probation Act. Social workers are brought in to help the court, but I do not know whether they help out or not. A harder line should be taken with regard to these youths. Of course, the main problem is that they have no employment and young people are prepared to do almost anything in their spare time to get money. They turn to vandalism and the destruction of property. There is a tendency now to destroy public property. This has been brought about because the courts were not hard enough. They have relied a lot on the evidence of social workers. Generally speaking, the Garda and the courts are doing a good job.
This morning I was interviewed on the radio in relation to the business of the House between now and the Summer Recess. I was asked to assess the quality of the work on which the House will be engaged between now and the Summer Recess and I stated that this Bill was among the least important. I made that statement on the basis that the Bill was politically motivated. At that time I had not the opportunity of hearing the Minister but when I studied his speech I was confirmed in the opinion that there was no great urgency about this legislation. We are going to give government permanency by way of imprimatur to the people who have already been temporarily appointed, but law and order will not be improved.
Somebody suggested to me that the motive behind this Bill was that, following the dissolution of the Coalition Government in 1957, the incoming Fianna Fáil Government—and, apparently, this was rather unusual—failed to confirm on a permanent basis the appointment of some Fine Gael supporter who had been appointed in some capacity by the Coalition Government. I do not know whether it was the District Court, the High Court or the Supreme Court that was involved, but I am one of the non-legal participators in this debate and I have tried to delve as deeply as possible into the Bill. I have examined it in conjunction with the introductory speech of the Minister this morning. Apart from ensuring that temporary appointments cannot be cancelled should there be a change of Government, there is absolutely nothing in this Bill. Section 1 is the really relevant section. It provides that the number of ordinary judges of the High Court shall not be more than nine. The figure is seven at the moment. The number in the Circuit Court shall not be more than eleven. There are nine at the moment. The number of justices in the District Court shall be increased from 34 to 39. At the moment there are 39 district justices. There is no increase there. There are eight High Court judges.
Seven High Court judges.
Seven, plus one under section 14 of the Law Reform Commission Act of 1975. That is exactly what the Minister told us this morning. It would appear to me the Minister is himself a bit confused now. In 1973, as the Minister told us this morning, there was an increase in the number of High Court Judges from six to seven. Now I find this somewhat contradictory and I hope the Minister will explain the apparent contradiction. He said this morning:
To highlight the seriousness of this situation it is sufficient to point out that the average time-lag between the setting down of a jury action and its coming on for trial is now about ten months. The last occasion on which an increase in the number of High Court judges took place was in 1973 when the Courts Act, 1973, increased the number of ordinary judges from six to seven. At that time there was a time-lag of about 12 months between the setting down of a jury action and its coming on for trial. As a consequence of the appointment of the seventh judge this time-lag was reduced by mid-1975 to five months.
This is where I see the contradiction. The appointment of an extra judge in 1973 resulted in a reduction in the time-lag from 12 months to five months. Now the Minister tells us the time-lag is ten months. Obviously the situation must have deteriorated again.
The volume of business has been increasing.
The Minister told us that business had increased in the High Court by 151 per cent between 1970 and 1976. In the same period there was an increase of 143 per cent in the rate of disposal of cases.
Reference was made today by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach to the fact that something that one of our speakers said was libellous or contempt of court but because it was said here in the Chamber no action could be taken. Here we are talking about the appointment of the most independent people in the country, the judiciary, and that is as it should be, but I object to the Parliamentary Secretary or to anybody on the Government side saying that we, as legislators, cannot express our honest opinion on the manner in which justice is being administered. When dealing with appointments like these we should be able to talk about the functions of these people and criticise, in an effort to ensure that the good name and independence of the judiciary are always maintained. We are talking about 59 independent people officiating at various levels in the administration of justice and the application of the law.
The Parliamentary Secretary said some of those 59 could be more industrious and more active than others, but we have to take them as they come and it is up to successive Governments to try to pick people who are qualified to do the job. I have no reason for talking about political hacks in this regard. The Parliamentary Secretary, having abused Fianna Fáil on the one hand, for continuing to make political appointments, on the other hand credited us with two non-political appointments, non-political in so far as the were pronouncedly non-Fianna Fáil people who were appointed by the previous Government of which I was a member for a little over three years. My experience of the appointment of the judiciary was that it was completely above board with the object of appointing the best qualified people, among those best qualified people at that time were the two people the Parliamentary Secretary spoke about today.
However, I think it can be said with great justification that the Fianna Fáil tag cannot be applied to any of the people who were appointed since March, 1973. I am not finding fault with any of those appointments. I do not know enough about most of the appointees and very little about others. Nevertheless, I am satisfied the Government have done the best they could by way of making appointments. Like the man in the street, I will find fault with what the Parliamentary Secretary calls the Bar as such, and I can privately find fault with some members of the judiciary. I fully appreciate that those people must be independent, but I do not feel I should be inhibited in any way in this House, in dealing with the appointment of judges, in expressing my views on their qualifications for the job or the manner in which the work is carried out.
I was surprised at the Parliamentary Secretary, above all people, criticising Deputy Joe Brennan here for speaking his mind about the activities of the judiciary, because he was the one man from the Government side who, along with the Taoiseach, came into this House to justify the attack which a Government Minister made on the third arm of the Oireachtas. He made the case that the President of this country could not or should not be above criticism in this House. This is an opportunity we get of discussing the judiciary and I do not intend to take the opportunity of being critical of any individual member of the judiciary because I do not know enought about them. If I had fault to find, I would not be afraid to express it in the House. However, if I or any other member of this party choose to criticise decisions of members of the judiciary, it should not be assumed it is because we are opposed to law and order as it is recognised.
The Minister said that the real purpose of this Bill was contained in section 1. Getting back to his slide rule review of the increase of the workload of the variouse sectors of the judiciary, that is, the High Court, the Circuit Court and the District Court, I notice a rather amazing statistic, one that appears a little illogical. He said that from 1970 to 1976 the increase in business in the High Court was 151 per cent, in the Circuit Court 30 per cent and in the District Court 43 per cent. Most of the contributors to the debate on this side of the House have commented on what appears to be, certainly in the city areas, a breakdown in law and order in regard to what are normally described as petty offences, breaking and entering and so on. One of the features of this is an increase in the number of young people upon whom quite a share of money has been spent on education and who, from frustration at not being able to get jobs find themselves committing the oddest offences, and "odd" in that regard covers a very wide field. Therefore, I was rather surprised at the Minister's statistic pointing out that the increase in District Court business over the six years had only been 43 per cent, whereas the most significant increase is in High Court business.
That is in percentage terms, but in volume terms quite clearly the District Court increase is much greater.
It is percentage terms the Minister quoted to us this morning. I do not know what is the difference between percentage terms and volume terms in this regard.
Then I had better leave it alone.
Volume terms is the number of cases.
And the Minister says there is only a 43 per cent increase in the number of cases in the District Court?
Yes, I am saying that is the percentage increase, but the volume of cases that that represents is much greater than the similar volume of cases in the High Court represented by the 150-odd per cent increase, because of the vastly greater number of cases coming before the District Court than before the High Court.
I accept that, but the increase is put before us in percentage terms by the Minister. In regard to volume, we are talking about 39 district justices as against nine High Court judges. Unfortunately, what the Minister has done is to draw the attention of the House to the fact that over the six years there has been an increase, taking the criterion of the District Court, of almost 50 per cent in breaches of law and order.
There are 43 per cent more cases coming to the District Court.
The District Court has civil jurisdiction also.
The Minister is going out of his way nearly to convey the impression that there has been no increase in breaches of law and order since he took up office. I am afraid he will find it very hard to get that message across. One of the things which the Coalition did not promise before the last election was a reduction in the number of judges but they certainly did convey the impression that with the same number of judges and police they could restrict lawlessness.
This morning the Minister said that there are 1,335 cases awaiting hearing in the High Court. There has been an increase of 43 per cent in the number of District Court cases though he was able to say that a certain number of these are civil cases. I should like the Minister to tell us—I am sure he can produce these statistics—what part of this percentage increase is a direct result, as his Department sees it, of IRA or subversive activity. How many of these cases are being brought as a result of subversive activities? What increase has there been in the normal run of misdemeanours? We are entitled to that information and we should get it.
I do not see that the measure we are discussing today will in any way speed up justice or improve justice for the people. If the Minister could say that we will have less lawlessness following the passing of this Bill, then it would be urgent. We discussed another Bill in this House over a long period and got it through. It envisaged, in fact, the use of judges for the trial of people for offences committed on the other side of the Border but the powers given under that Bill have never been used.
The Minister said that section 1 of this Bill was very important but the Bill also contains certain changes in existing provisions regarding the assignment of Circuit Court judges. I cannot see the need for the section covering the assignment of judges. The Minister said that changes were necessary because of the increase in the number of ordinary judges proposed in section 1. He said that an opportunity was being taken to consolidate in one Bill all the existing provisions relating to assignments and that section 3 contains certain consequential provisions, including the necessary substitution of a new paragraph.
I am particularly interested in section 2 (4). We will have the opportunity of discussing this in more detail on Committee Stage but I should like to mention it here. The section states:
Any judge of the Circuit Court who is permanently assigned to a particular circuit may at any time, if he so consents but not otherwise, be transferred by the Government to another circuit to fill a vacancy for a judge permanently assigned to that other circuit and shall upon such transfer become and be permanently assigned to that other circuit in lieu of the first-mentioned circuit.
I am giving the Minister notice that I am particularly interested in this subsection and I will be endeavouring to follow it up on Committee Stage. There is a question I should like to ask and I should be glad if the Minister would deal with it in his reply. This provision means that the Government can, on the recommendation of the Minister for Justice, transfer a Circuit Court judge from one circuit to another. The Minister, acting as agent for the Government, could send for this Circuit Court judge and tell him that while he knows he has settled down in a particular area he feels that his talents could be better used on another circuit. He would not tell the judge that he is making a mess of the job in the area in which he is at present serving. The judge would be told that the Minister and his colleagues would like him to go to Sligo or Galway or some other area. Of course, the judge would know that he need not go but that he would be frowned on by the Government if he did not do so. The fact remains that he does have the right to stay where he is. That is one slant on this. The situation may be that the Circuit Court judge wants the transfer himself. He may be down in Kerry or Cork and may want to come to Dublin. It may be that at the present time the Government have no power to enable him to change. I am not too sure about that. The more likely interpretation of this provision is that it is to enable a Circuit Court judge to apply for a transfer to another area.
There is nothing new in this. It is only re-enacting in consolidated form what is already the provision in this regard.
I did not discuss it when it was introduced before, probably by one of the Fianna Fáil Ministers way back. Any Minister for Justice would like to retain for himself and for the Government the power to transfer a district justice or Circuit Court judge. This is a reserved function. When once a judge has been appointed he cannot be dismissed without a two-thirds majority of this House. That is a great protection for the judge. It is a protection which Dáil Deputies do not have.
It is protection for the people.
The judge is protected in that regard and it is right that it should be so. I stand over that provision. It is built in constitutionally. I do not accept that the Government's hands should be tied in relation to the placement of their judges. I am saying this with no malice aforethought, so to speak. We have at present 34 district justices plus five temporaries, making a total of 39 at present and we will have according to the Minister's statement this morning, 39 appointed under the Bill. It is quite possible that this Government or the next might feel that one, two or three of those district justices on the recommendation of the Minister for Justice or any Minister should be transferred from one area to another. The same goes for Circuit Court judges but it is more likely to crop up in the context of the District Court. My understanding is that the Government cannot do that. My understanding also is that two district justices can come together and jointly apply to the Minister to transfer them.
The Minister has said that section 2 is really a sort of bringing together of something that is already there and which has been included in two Acts already, but I see nothing in this Bill in relation to assignment of duties to district justices, so I wonder what is the arrangement. My understanding of the arrangement is that a district justice can be transferred by way of swop with another district justice provided he is willing. The power of the Government is limited in so far as no district justice, Circuit Court judge or High Court judge can be removed without a two-thirds majority. If the Government feel that a district justice, say, in Drogheda is not doing the job as they would like him to do it, they should have the right to transfer him to Mayo or Kerry or somewhere, where particular circumstances may determine that while he could be doing harm in one place he might not be doing that harm somewhere else. I am talking in terms of one black sheep. My understanding is that he cannot be transferred except with his permission. We have here a Courts Bill and the Minister for Justice in relation to this Bill should not be afraid to come into this House and seek that power on behalf of himself and his Government.
I do not think he should attempt to seek such a power.
I am offering the observation in all seriousness. Can the Minister confirm that my interpretation is correct?
That is correct, yes, and it adds to the principle of the independence of the judiciary. It would be wrong that the Executive should have the power, so to speak, to discipline judges by arbitrary transfers.
Therefore, if he so consents, but not otherwise, he can be transferred. The phraseology of this section should be spelled out far more clearly in that regard. It should be seen in the enactment that this power to transfer is only a power which the judge himself enjoys rather than a power which the Government appear to have. The impression given in section 2 (4) is that the Government can transfer a judge from one place to another provided the judge consents. The real situation is that the judge can transfer himself from one place to another provided the Government consent. That is pretty well an accurate assessment of the situation as I see it.
I do not know whether the Minister in his term of office over the last four years has had any reason on a personal basis or as a member of the Government to be in any way displeased with decisions of the High Court, Circuit Court or District Court, and I fully accept that being displeased with decisions is not a sufficent reason for a Government to take what the Minister would describe as disciplinary action. We are talking specifically about 59 individuals. We have some temporary Circuit Court judges at present and as far as I can see from the Minister's speech there is no limit to the number of Circuit Court judges who can be appointed provided it appears to the Government that such a step is necessary. The Bill was not necessary from that point of view. We have not, as far as I know, reached our limit in the appointment of temporary district justices. We have five at present and under the existing legislation we can have up to nine temporary district justices. The only true purpose there can have been for this legislation is the question of getting an extra High Court judge. I would be glad if the Minister would tell us why he does not seek this power which basically I have invited him to seek in relation to this Bill.