Courts Bill, 1977: Second Stage (resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

When I reported progress on this Bill yesterday I had said almost everything that I felt was necessary. When I left off I was referring to the power in section 2 of the Bill which allows a judge to ask the Government through the Minister for Justice for permission to transfer from one area to another. I suggest to the Minister that he should try to get a quid pro quo in relation to this.

I assume that when a judge is appointed he must consent to that appointment and the position is not forced upon him by the Government. Justices of the District Court and judges of the Circuit Court are appointed to given areas. As I see it, section 2 gives the right to a judge to seek a transfer from one circuit to another or from one district to another. On the other hand the Government do not reserve to themselves that right. Yesterday the Minister conveyed by way of interjection that a provision of that kind would take away from the independence of the judge and take away the guarantee of no political interference.

I am conscious of occasions when some district justice may not be performing his functions as the Government would wish and I am not talking about the straightforward party political content. I am talking about the national interest. Human nature being what it is, it is possible that one judge out of 59 may carry on in a manner which may not be in the national interest. I am not saying we have judges who are doing so. I am not making any insinuations of that kind. I am saying that it is not right for the Government to tie themselves down to such an extent, in their anxiety to be strictly impartial and to keep the law independent of party political influence, that they run the risk of having one of the judges administering the law in an improper manner. The Minister may reply that there is a safeguard because, if he is convinced that a judge is not performing his duties and functions properly and if he can convince the Opposition of that, then the Oireachtas have the power with a two-thirds majority to dispense with the services of that judge. The Minister should seriously consider this aspect before he finishes with this Bill. He should seek the approval of the Oireachtas for giving the Government the right in specific instances to assign a judge from one district to another without the necessity for his consent.

The Government should have this power, even if the judge or justice takes offence or takes it as a rap on the knuckles. We have this type of operation in the Garda Síochána. Sometimes there is an adverse reaction when a commissioner decides that a garda is to be transferred from one division to another and often the press become involved. We have had experience of this in the last couple of years. The rules are such that a garda under the terms of his appointment can be assigned automatically to any area or division. It is assumed that in 95 per cent of cases this does not happen. Unfortunately, arising from this, when such a transfer takes place it is taken as a disciplinary measure.

When the Minister made his intervention yesterday on this it was in regard to a re-assignment of a Circuit Court judge or a transfer of a district justice being taken as arising only from some sort of reprimand because of the judge or justice not carrying on his duties in the proper manner. We have the transfer arrangement and practice but always on the basis of the application of the Circuit Court judge or district justice himself, never from the point of view of pressure from the Government. This is why I was drawing attention to the phraseology of section 4, but we can deal with that on Committee Stage.

On the Courts Bill one of the things I have been endeavouring to be careful about in my comments is not to earn for myself the tag of being anti-law and order. It is extremely important in what we say in relation to our judges and justices that we be seen and heard to uphold the law of the land. Sometimes the conduct of judges in courts can undermine confidence in or respect for them. As Deputies have said previously, history shows that the administration of justice by our judges can truthfully be said to be second to none. Public representatives all over the country will tell of approaches from various directions. I suppose not a week passes without my being approached by some fellow who has been caught on a drunken driving charge or is going before the courts on any sort of charge and asked by him if I will go and see District Justice so-and-so or Judge so-and-so or, at a lower level, a superintendent or sergeant. This is the pattern. Good politics does not always demand that you tell the fellow to go to blazes, but I have found that it has never been politically improper for me to explain to each and every one of those people, either the offenders themselves or their representatives, that there is one thing a public representative could not and should not do and that is approach a judge or endeavour to influence a judge or district justice. I can truthfully say that, apart from meeting some High Court judges and being introduced to them as Minister at official functions somewhere, I have never spoken to one of them in my life. I have not known any of them personally before their appointments, and it might be no harm to put that on record in relation to the influence of Government Ministers in the past in the appointment of judges. The matter of respect brings me to an article in this morning's paper in connection with a young solicitor being rebuked by a district justice for not wearing a tie.

I am sorry to interrupt Deputy Lalor, but there is a convention in this House that Members neither make a charge against nor discuss the conduct or action of judges or justices, and the Chair is bound to adhere to that ruling. I would prefer if the Deputy did not refer to a specific case or refer to a judge or a member of the judiciary in such a way that he may be identified.

I am sorry. I said yesterday that we were talking in terms of appointing 59 nameless people. The case I referred to this morning is only one of many.

I should like now to comment on something the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach said yesterday in his contribution on this. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach never goes wrong and is never unparliamentary, but he talked about the comments on the wearing of wigs and particular dress in court. It is something that has been handed down. We ourselves in this Chamber feel— and I think you yourself, a Cheann Chomhairle, are most conscious of it, we should in our dress respect the House irrespective of what heat is generated. On the other hand, I remember some time ago during a strike in a winter period general permission was given from the Chair for Deputies to come into this House wearing overcoats in specific cold conditions. We have endeavoured to adopt a pattern, a certain decorum, in this regard. I recall the Ceann Comhairle having occasion within the last 12 months to send messages to Deputies through the Whips when we were inclined to dispense with the wearing of ties, something that can happen in district courts on occasion. There is no rule in this regard but we are asked to treat the House with respect. I compare that decision of yours, a Cheann Chomhairle, with comments that are sometimes made by judges, and particularly district justices.

None of us wants to be brought before a judge. Some people in civil cases seek occasion when they have a neighbour to take a case against that neighbour, but even the plaintiff in that context is 51 per cent happier to be able to settle the case out of court if he can so do. I fully accept that a certain decorum be maintained. I am referring to courts at district justice level. Most ordinary people who may have to appear before a court for an ordinary misdemeanour such as no light on a bicycle are very nervous and their nervousness would be accentuated by a district justice commenting on their dress. There is no rule whereby gardaí, solicitors or defendants must wear a tie in court. Unfortunately, sometimes a fine is greater simply because the defendant is not wearing a tie.

I have never yet heard of a district justice criticising a defendant's dress. The remarks to which the Deputy refers were addressed to an officer of the court, a solicitor. To say that a court would punish a person heavier because of his dress or lack of dress is quite outrageously wrong.

I must again ask Deputies to keep off particular cases. We must speak generally. There must be no references to a particular case.

I introduced a case and I am sorry but I am trying to make a point.

I have applied my remarks to the Minister as much as the Deputy.

I plead guilty to the fact that I raised the question. I must remind the Minister that I was talking about the effect of a defendant. Assuming a district justice draws a solicitor's attention to the fact that he is not properly attired and subsequently the defendant arrives in court without a tie——

There is no question of that as far as a defendant is concerned.

The Minister says that there is no question of that. Does that mean that the Minister agrees that here is a law as far as solicitors are concerned?

I am not saying that either.

I accept that there should be a type of decorum but in such circumstances judges should take the matter up privately with the solicitor or firm of solicitors involved or with the Incorporated Law Society and not refer to it in open court. If the Ceann Comhairle in Dáil Éireann named certain Deputies from this side of the House referring to the fact that they had no ties, I would be very annoyed. I would consider it very indiscreet. I would prefer if the Ceann Comhairle approached me on the matter and I would put it right. The Ceann Comhairle should communicate with all the Whips and with the Independent Deputies to draw attention to such matters. There is no written law in connection with the wearing of a tie but I accept that that is general practice. The same format should be followed by the judiciary.

I take it that the Minister has heard my remarks and will refer to them when he is replying.

I will give the ordinary person's point of view in relation to this Bill and I hope it will be taken as a reflection of what the ordinary people feel about the courts. I get a distinct impression that the members of the legal profession are far too near to see the reality of the situation and the Minister who is also a member of the legal profession is somewhat at a disadvantage because he has inherited certain norms which he considers must be adhered to.

During this debate it has been pointed out pretty often that individual judges are not to be criticised. That is an extraordinary situation because individual politicians are not above criticism and the people have the advantage of being in a position to remove a politician at election times. I have examined the position closely and have come to the conclusion that it is almost impossible to remove a judge. We would need a two-thirds majority in this House and because of the political affiliations of the occupants of the different benches it would be impossible to get a two-thirds majority for this purpose. It is extraordinary that judges cannot be criticised lest they be identified by the people who represent the country here who are the subject of every criticism that everyone can throw at them.

In many cases the decisions given by judges run contrary to common sense. This should not be so. I realise there has been a great delay in getting cases to the High Court or even listed for hearing and I accept there is need to hurry things up because in many cases great hardship is caused by delay. Ideally we should have an instant type of justice. I understand the difficulties in the preparation of cases but it might be a good idea to examine the situation to find out what hours judges work at all.

The case has been made that judges find it necessary to spend a good deal of time at home in their libraries looking up law books and searching for precedents for individual cases, precedents which might ultimately affect their decisions but this whole situation of the work range of judges needs to be examined. However, I would impress on the Minister that in the event of such an examination taking place, the task should not be left solely to the members of the legal profession because at that stage the ordinary person's point of view might be helpful also.

There is need, too, for a change in our attitude to juvenile crime and to the juvenile courts. I agree with much that has been written in this regard. It has been suggested that it would be helpful and less inhibiting to the young people appearing in those courts if ordinary garb were donned by the justices and others concerned. If it can be proved that this is true, the practice might profitably be extended to the other courts.

Deputy Briscoe referred to the delay in bringing people before the courts. In regard to young offenders it might be worthwhile having a night court— a cúirt an mheán oíche. This would be the ideal situation for the dispensing of speedy justice. Cases could be dealt with while they were still fresh in the minds of the offenders. It would be a matter of associating the punishment with the crime because it would not be removed too far chronologically from the punishment.

In effect the Bill provides for the appointment of one extra judge and for the permanent appointment of those who are operating in a temporary capacity. It is a measure that might be regarded as the last parting shot of the Coalition, a Bill to round off the greatest political patronage spree ever embarked on by any political party anywhere.

I detect a note of envy in that.

So well might the Minister smile. He has achieved what his party set out to achieve and nowhere is this more exemplified than in the appointment of judges at all levels. I have retained a copy of Hibernia in which there appeared a fairly lengthy article concerning the political patronage shown in the courts by this Government. The article pointed, too, to some instances of political patronage on the part of this party while in office but Fine Gael may be said to have out-Heroded Herod in this regard. Unfortunately, I was not able to find that article this morning in my overcrowded desk at home but I recall it clearly. The conclusion to be drawn from it is that whether the appointment be that of Chief Justice, of Attorney General or of a judge at any level, the over-riding prerequisite was to have been attached to Fine Gael and to have been rejected by the electorate. It would appear that the more often one was rejected by the electorate, the better was one's chance of securing a position on the bench. Because of their attitude to the just society policy, some people may have withdrawn from politics but so far as the appointment of judges at all levels is concerned, all in the past four years have been political hacks of Fine Gael. They can now languish in regal luxury in their new appointments. In addition, they can cut themselves adrift from the politics they espoused. As dispensers of justice they must do that but perhaps that suits their game now.

The Deputy will have heard my earlier rulings on this matter when I referred to possible reflections on members of the judiciary. I would ask the Deputy to choose his words more carefully in that regard lest he cast reflections on existing members of the bench.

My intention is to cast reflection on the appointment and on the method of appointment of those existing members. That is what the people who sent me here would wish me to do.

I must point out that it is the convention that members may neither make a charge against nor discuss the conduct or actions of judges or justices. If a specific charge is to be made against a judge it can be made only by way of the tabling of a substantive motion.

The charge I make is that those who were appointed by the Coalition to be judges at all levels were members of Fine Gael and had offered themselves for election. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach indicated that once judges were appointed politics did not enter into their decisions. Perhaps I could agree with that but he was so adamant in making that point as to give the impression that he had had a doubt in his mind in this regard but that the doubt had been dispelled. It is my contention that a political animal does not change his spots on becoming a judge and that while his decisions might not be unduly political they would be coloured by his political thinking and his approach to life up to the time of his appointment.

I would doubt the calibre of those who have been appointed judges. Some of them may not have been very successful in their own profession and their appointments may have been merely a way of finding handy jobs for them. The only tribute I would pay them is that they were good judges in choosing the political party most likely to offer them the best perks afterwards.

This Bill is a perpetuation of the policy embarked on by the Coalition since 1973 and it reflects strongly and strangely the guarantees given in the Coalition's manifesto, better known as the 14-point plan, in which they promised to help transform Ireland into a successful progressive society based on social justice. That, they said, is what Fine Gael in Government would mean. I would say to them that their actions have besmirched the concept of justice in so far as the appointment of judges is concerned, rendering it difficult for the ordinary person to have credence in the courts. The previous speaker told us that it would be his desire to stay as far away as possible from courts. He said that the general consensus of opinion is that there is no guarantee of achieving justice in a court. This is due partly to the ramifications of the law. In many instances the decisions given are so dreadful that they undermine the credence of the ordinary person in regard to the dispensing of justice. In what other profession could one find so many of the decisions arrived at by people who supposedly are competent being reversed, appealed to a higher court, perhaps appealed again and rejected again in a still higher court? If, say, a doctor, a carpenter or a person in any other profession were to differ to the extent that members of the legal profession differ, I think they would be struck off if there was a body to strike them off.

The ordinary person has no great faith in the justice being meted out in the courts. I have seen the case of a man sentenced for rape or attempted carnal knowledge and subsequently this sentence was quashed and the culprit went scot free. This is no help in the restoration of the faith of the ordinary person in justice. It is well known that individual judges have their little idiosyncracies and pet aversions and pet tolerances and a clever solicitor will arrange that it is possible that a particular appeal or case will come before the particular judge most likely to be lenient with the crime his client is accused of. Because of this, morale in the Garda has gone very low. Their good work is being set at nought by judges with particular minds of their own. We have seen instances of gardaí, who have done their duty to the best of their capacity and the limit of the resources allowed to them, coming to court and there finding themselves in the unusual situation that they are the ones being abused by the judge in reaching his decision.

There has been a lot of talk about law and order. I am sorry to say that we have witnessed a rapid erosion of order. People are attacked and robbed and the most glaring offences go unpunished. Deputy Esmonde mentioned yesterday that garage attendants were no longer being coshed. This is because the culprits are now after bigger game, postmistresses, bank managers and pay clerks. They are calling to houses openly in daytime stripping them of their contents and never being caught. A bank raid or a robbery every day is now commonplace. The solution, as all the members of our party who have spoken on this believe, is to appoint more gardaí, have more men on the beat and have more help for gardaí. Our party are committed to this, to provide money for it and to restore the security people once knew in this country.

Our intention in Government would be to work towards this and give every help financial and otherwise to restore the morale and confidence of the gardaí and assist them in every way to carry out their work. From my limited knowledge and from what people tell me, I believe a complete overhaul of the court system is needed. The archaic garb that we have, the bewigged and sometimes bemused judges have no place in the 20th century and I do not think that it helps the cause of justice to have the principal participants in the drama in fancy dress. Legal people will say they do not understand this view. I do not understand how a closed shop like the legal profession should assume that they are the sole repository of all that is good for the people. Their outlook is very fusty and musty. With the passage of time many members of the legal profession have become so constipated with their own regulations that they are unable to fulfil their primary function of seeing that justice is meted out and letting this be clearly seen. A change in our courts system is long overdue.

References have been made in the debate to the attitude to punishment, corporal and other types of punishment. Our attitude in this regard has become clouded by the contributions of thin-skinned humanitarians who may be well intentioned but in many cases are ill-advised. The sweeping statement was recently made in the House that corporal punishment has proved not to be a deterrent to crime. It has not been proved to my satisfaction. I notice that there is a motion of long-standing on the Order Paper in the names of certain Deputies regarding the complete removal of corporal punishment from our schools. It amazes me that some of the Deputies who have added their names to this motion are bachelor Deputies who have no knowledge of what goes on in schools other than in the dim and distant days when they were at school themselves. I am not aware that they have shown any great interest in education up to now but they probably think that this is a bandwagon to step on. In the Isle of Man it has been proved that corporal punishment has been a deterrent for criminals and wrongdoers. I think the birch has been retained and it has been shown that in an island subjected for most of the year to an influx of visitors and people likely to be highspirited and well-loaded from many points of view and likely to be wrongdoers people are deterred from misbehaving by the very law that has been retained there. Perhaps corporal punishment is the answer to some of the animal-like antics of the hooligans, vandals and bully boys we read about daily.

These are not just my thoughts alone. As I said earlier, they represent opinions expressed to me by sensible men and women old enough to remember a way of life that was different. Perhaps it was physically harder but it had its rewards in the absence of much of the badness that we accept as the norm today. I have given my impressions as an ordinary person about the courts. It seems that we have laws galore but a sad lack of order. I have instanced what I see as a complete breakdown of law and order in the last few years. I do not say it began in February or March, 1973; it is something that has been happening but it has accelerated in the past few years and we must give immediate attention to it. Action is now needed to restore some measure of confidence in the courts as dispensers of justice and to give added strength to the gardaí to maintain that justice and ensure that a much higher percentage of wrongdoers are brought to justice. The cold facts that emerge possibly two years late when we see the crime statistics should cause much soulsearching among those concerned with the dispensation of justice. In many cases well over half the people who commit crimes go free. The Garda have reached the stage with their forces so stretched and thin on the ground and with the added work given to them that they are no longer able to deal with the ordinary crime that they would have dealt with as routine. Because of the time lag, the lack of resources and the lack of numbers unless a crime is very serious they cannot give much attention to it. It is our duty to ensure that they will get the backing of the courts and that we use our resources to improve the strength of the Garda. The Minister has indicated to me in answering parliamentary questions that it is not his function to reprimand members of the court. It should be somebody's function. Once these judges are appointed they cannot be above criticism all the time. It should be conveyed to them that we are not satisfied with the type of justice being meted out by them, and that they have a duty to back up the Garda when they bring cases to court and ensure that the majority of wrongdoers realise that crime does not pay.

The Bill before the Dáil to increase the membership in some categories of our judicial system is welcome. Anybody who has some information about the problems in the courts nowadays—and I have got a lot —will understand that we cannot deal with the backlog unless we appoint people to do the work. Unfortunately, an increase in court personnel, in judges and district justices, as proposed here, can easily be justified by the actual increase in the level of crime. One could say it is a criticism of the modern State in recent years that the level of crime has been increasing more rapidly than the gross national product has been increasing. Perhaps one of the causes for the increase in the level of crime may be the increase in the possession of this world's goods on the part of a large number of people creating a greater degree of envy and dissatisfaction on the part of those who have not yet achieved that status.

If the situation is explained to them the public will support this measure, as this side of the House will, and if they believe it will lead to a reduction in the level of crime. It is natural to query —as I have heard it queried in the past few weeks—why it is necessary to make the appointments of five district justices permanent. There is a suspicion in the minds of people that this may relate to the fact that this is an election year. I have been reading some of the debate of yesterday which I did not have time to attend and I note comments on both sides about political appointments. It is commonplace for people to believe legal appointments are always based on the political attitude of the persons appointed. I know this is not always necessarily the case. Certainly on a number of occasions in the period of the last Administration people who were quite obviously not supporters of the Fianna Fáil Party were appointed. One would hope both sides of the House would begin to approach this question from the point of view of appointment on merit and ability.

But the criticism I have heard about appointments made over the past four years is that they tended to be largely appointments of persons whose sympathies would be with one or other of the parties in the Coalition. Leaving aside entirely any question of criticism of the people appointed, I presume they have ability—the danger I see is—and you sense this and hear it in casual conversations; it is nothing you will see written, nothing you will hear normally from public platforms, but what you will hear in ordinary pub talk; the kind of cynicism which is encouraged by the suspicion in people's minds about legal appointments being political.

There is great public concern and a tremendous feeling of frustration on all sides in our community, and a feeling of mystification at what people, using their own short-term judgement, regard as extraordinary leniency in some cases and also the frequency with which cases of a relatively serious nature in connection with petty crime, burglary, and so on, are dismissed on technicalities. I am not engaging in criticism of our judicial system so much as in trying to convey what people are saying and feeling.

It seems to me that, to a considerable extent, the operation of our legal system is in grave danger of coming into public contempt and lack of confidence. Those of us who are as busy as I am in politics and other areas have not got time to investigate and examine cases, but one hears of too many cases of people on remand on bail being charged again for offences committed while on bail, offences similar to those for which they were remanded. Yesterday speakers on both sides of the House dealt with the extraordinary delays in dealing with cases. Of course, if this is due to a shortage of judges and district justices, the Bill is all the more welcome. Indeed, one questions whether the numbers involved here, whether temporary or permanent, are sufficient if the backlog is anything like what has been mentioned in this House.

One wonders whether it is the judges or justices who are the cause of the delays or whether the machinery itself is getting knotted up. Naturally one does not want to advocate taking short cuts in dealing with justice and prosecutions for crimes. From what I hear, laymen and women want to know why so many people are able to get bail— I know what the legal reasons are— and are relatively free to commit further crimes.

Another question which comes up in connection with the whole situation regarding prosecutions in the courts is the attitude of the Garda to their jobs in recent years. There seems to be a considerable lowering of morale and possibly even a growing indifference. Perhaps it is due to too many petty regulations and shortage of personnel. The whole question of the level of morale of the Garda is, first of all, the responsibility of the Government in office. Secondly, it may be attributed to the personnel and human relations situation obtaining from time to time in such a large organisation as the Garda Síochána. Although, perhaps, inevitable that type of lowering of the level of morale may be the result of too great an emphasis being placed on hours, regulations and discipline and too little on the public service aspect of their work.

One hears daily—and indeed in this House at Question Time—stories of the shortage of manpower not alone for dealing with cases in the courts but in the investigation of petty crime. Unfortunately, from what I have learned in the past couple of months it is quite clear that gardaí and detective officers are unable to keep up with the increasing number of burglaries and petty crimes of one type or another. Judging from what I hear, some gardaí reach the situation fairly quickly in which they feel it is not really worthwhile getting down to the job of investigating some minor offence, such as damage to a motor car or burglary of a house because they believe they will not have time, that they will be called to another immediately. Criticism in this area can be levelled on several grounds. One is the insufficiency of gardaí. Its consequences mean that, certainly in this city, it is becoming dangerous for people to go out late in the evening. A more recent development is that it is even becoming dangerous to stay in one's own home. It is not sufficient to point to this sort of thing as a criticism of the Government without, at the same time, pinpointing some of the basic causes of the problem. One of which we are aware is the need to have such a large number of gardaí on security duties, particularly on the Border, in order to deal with breaches of law by any one of the para-military elements engaging in illegal activities in this country.

I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that he is moving a little from the terms of the Bill before us.

I am straying somewhat. I shall endeavour to stray back.

I may not have made it clear that the Bill deals essentially with the appointment of two extra judges to deal with civil business in the High Court.

And the appointment of five additional permanent district justices.

No, they are already temporary.

To some extent I am trying to acquaint myself from what I have read, as I could not attend the debate, with some of the matters raised yesterday.

I would not blame the Deputy for thinking that he was in order.

I am sure the Minister will not fault me if I endeavour to deal with some of these items. I shall be very brief. In connection with court work and the partial break-down of law we have here, it is necessary to point to the contrast in people's minds of the situation obtaining on Saturday last when there were approximately 750 gardaí on security duty and the fact that one can park one's car somewhere, come back a couple of hours later and find it has been broken into but that nobody is going to do anything about it. That is a critical comment on how things are going.

It is fairly obvious that there is a major backlog of work in the courts all of us would wish to see cleared. I find it difficult not to refer to the situation obtaining in the country—I am not speaking of the political situation but the general situation relating to crime—because I believe that some responsibility lies on all of us and particularly on the Government to ensure that the general standard is raised. For example, there is the matter of the social consequences and the responsibility we all have for them, creating a large number of criminal, as distinct from civil, cases in the courts. I believe that the level of petty crime is rising to such an extent that it may be necessary for the Government to consider additional measures for getting a greater degree of public co-operation with the Garda in this area. I do not mean that people are not prepared to co-operate with the Garda. The real problem is that they do not know how. All they know is that when something goes wrong they should complain and, having complained, if nothing happens they become somewhat cynical. In relation to the overall situation, it might be useful were the Minister to consider some means of creating a more active type of co-operation between the Garda and citizens—even on temporary grounds—in an endeavour to raise the level generally and re-inject confidence in our Administration, the Garda and the courts system generally.

(Dublin Central): I should like to make a few brief comments on this Bill and its contents. Any Bill dealing with such an important institution of State must be taken seriously by this House. We must protect our various institutions, from the President, the Judiciary, the Executive to the Oireachtas, all of them being important to the society in which we live and on which we depend. It is vitally important that they function. How they function also must be important to us in this House and, of course, to every citizen. From time to time, naturally, we hear criticism of various functions. That is a natural, human failing; none of us is perfect. If there is any criticism levelled at the judiciary I suppose we in this House can share a measure of the blame.

During the years we had some excellent men on the bench and I for one would not attempt to weaken that institution in any way because of the importance of ensuring that the people can see that justice is being done. If at any time this situation does not apply in any case, the Minister for Justice could use his influence diplomatically. I have heard criticism of various decisions, but generally the judiciary have carried out their job in a reasonable and fair fashion.

The Bill is welcome because of its purpose to speed up litigation. We have had complaints about back-logs. The Bill will increase the number of judges by one and make permanent some of the justices who are already there. From the point of view of what it does the Bill does not seem to be all that urgent and one wonders if there is an ulterior motive in it. Of far more importance is the strengthening of our security, particularly the matter of law and order in our cities and larger towns. The breakdown in law and order and the increased criminal rate, particularly in the past eight years, has been referred to by other Deputies. Our main attention should be directed to improving this situation because we cannot permit the slide of the past eight or nine years to continue unchecked. It is a major problem already and it should involve all of us, the judiciary, the Garda and civilians— all should combine to check the break-down of law and order and render our cities and larger towns safe for our people.

I had not time to listen to the debate but I have read statements by Deputies about the frustration of the Garda when people found guilty of serious crimes of robbery with violence and of violence against the person are released on bail. Two nights ago I was at a meeting at which this question was raised and, of course, this applies to the whole city of Dublin as well as to Dublin Central. Sometimes people convicted of numerous crimes of violence and theft are released on bail and are back in the city streets the same evening. This is frustrating not only for the Garda who have brought them to justice but for the people among whom they live. Positive steps will have to be taken in this matter because allowing such people free is only licensing them to repeat their crimes. The Government will have to look seriously at the position. I do not think that a sentence of three or four months in Mountjoy is a deterrent to those people.

The Deputy is going wide of the Bill. He seems to be reflecting on the action of the courts.

(Dublin Central): I am expressing the opinion that I do not think that a sentence of four or five months is a deterrent to such people. Most of them are unemployed, and a far better deterrent would be to put them to work and get them back to prison at weekends. People who do damage to property or injury to the person should be hit in their livelihoods. They should be made to compensate their victims. A far greater penalty than a short period in prison would be to have damages deducted from their incomes. As I have said, they should be put out to work and brought back to prison at weekends.

That happens now.

(Dublin Central): Not to the extent that I should like it to happen. If those people were made to pay £200 or £300 or £400 it would serve as a much greater punishment. The Minister said he intends to increase the number of gardaí, particularly in the larger cities and towns. The sooner this is done the better because in my constituency we are experiencing an astronomical increase in crime. It is not enough to put 500 or even 1,000 extra gardaí on duty. The whole process of the administration of justice will have to be speeded up because the public are seriously concerned about their own safety and the safety of their children. This trend must be checked no matter what it costs. It exists in the centre of the city and has spread to the suburbs. We do not wish to reach a situation like that which obtains in large cities in Europe and America.

The Chair respectfully suggests that the Deputy is moving the debate wider than the scope of the Bill.

(Dublin Central): I accept the ruling of the Chair in regard to this and I assure the Chair that it is not my intention to delay the House to any great extent or go outside the scope of the Bill but the matters I have mentioned are causing concern. The whole question of litigation is causing concern to many people. Everybody is concerned about the cumbersome method of litigation in civil cases. I cannot understand that complicated method or why it takes so long for a case to be heard in the High Court and why the cost is so high. There must be a simpler method. The existing method deters a lot of people from pursuing cases. People find they must brief a barrister, are then told a senior counsel is necessary and then must wait a long time before the case is heard. When the case comes to trial they must spend two to three days in the court and then pay huge fees. Many people wonder then if it was all worth while. It must be possible to devise a more simplified and less costly procedure. The average citizen can never understand why it costs so much to bring a case to court.

There has been a lot of criticism about appointing people to the bench. I am not sure if any other system has been investigated or whether the appointments should be taken out of the political arena. In my view the appointment of a person to the bench should always be on merit. I hope that will be the practice in future. If it happens, there will not be any criticism of future appointments. Fianna Fáil appointed people to the bench who were not members of that party and they made excellent judges. If judges are appointed on merit, there will be more respect for our judiciary. It is of vital importance that people can trust our courts. Too many people do not respect our courts and we do not want to encourage any more. We must also increase the number of gardaí and promote co-operation between the judiciary and the police force. They have a difficult job. It can happen that in bringing people before a court there might be a slight omission but I do not think policemen should be criticised for such omissions. The judiciary and the police force are playing an important role in removing the cancer which is prevailing in our society. People think they can rob and damage our system and get away with it and we must all contribute to eliminating that attitude.

The main purpose of the Bill is, as I indicated in my opening speech, to provide for two extra judges in the complement of the High Court. I took advantage of the Bill to regularise the position with regard to temporary members of the Circuit and District Courts. The debate has strayed into many byways which would have some connection with the courts in a general debate on crime, policing and sentencing but I do not propose to follow the debate down those byways because I would be out of order having regard to the rulings of the Chair in the course of the debate. Therefore, Deputies will understand if I do not make reference to such contributions. The increase in the number of High Court judges is sought for one reason only, to ensure the expeditious disposal of the business of that court. In my opening speech I indicated the rate of growth of business in the High Court. It is substantial. I also indicated that when I took office in 1973 the time-lag between the setting down of a jury action and the hearing of that jury action was about 12 months. That, of course, was an extraordinary long delay and to cure that position we sought and were given power by the Dáil in 1973 to increase the number of High Court judges from six to seven. That comparatively small increase did have the effect of bringing down the time-lag in the case of jury trials from 12 months to five months in mid-1975. That was not an unreasonable delay because very often the parties would require that length of time to do their final preparation for a hearing and it is unlikely parties would be ready any sooner than that.

The position remained satisfactory for some time but in the last 18 months the time-lag has begun to expand and at the moment it is now ten months. That is too long because the trend is unfavourable. If we do not take remedial action now, this time-lag will become wider and that would be unjust and lead to injustices. We are asking the Oireachtas for the power to appoint two extra judges to the High Court to ensure that cases will come for a speedy trial and that there will not be an unreasonable delay between the setting down and the taking place of the trial. As I indicated, there has to be some delay because the parties require an interval between the setting down and the hearing of a case to do the final preparations. If the interval mentioned was the only thing involved in bringing a case to court one might say that a number of months is not unreasonable.

Perhaps it would be as well if I explained the actual process. When a person wants to go to law he gives instructions to his solicitor and then the legal process is put in motion. Deputies have quite rightly said it is a cumbersome process and a slow process. However, before a matter comes to the stage of setting down an immense amount of work has to be done behind the scenes. That work can take varying lengths of time, depending on the complexity of the case, the efficiency of those concerned and the ease with which they can accumulate the information to process the case through its various stages. There are always two sides—two solicitors' offices, two sets of barristers —and it is not just a question of the efficiency of one side but the efficiency of perhaps five, six or more lawyers all busy in various ways. In addition, and I would be the first to admit this, it is a somewhat cumbersome process because before a case comes to be set down there must be a substantial lapse of time, avoidable or unavoidable, and in all fairness I would say sometimes avoidable.

Deputy Fitzpatrick queried the cumbersome machine and asked why this litigious process has to be so complex and so much of a mystery to the layman affected by it. The idea is clearly to isolate the issues for trial in an exchange of documents so that each party will know precisely what is facing him and there will be no question of ploys or subterfuges or surprises being sprung at the last minute which a party would not have time to consider and deal with. There is a valid reason for the delay in the pretrial pleading stage. It is designed to isolate the issues and make sure they are presented in proper fashion so that each side is fully aware of what is involved.

That process must take place before a case comes for trial and it can be a pretty lengthy process in many instances. It can be anything from a year to 18 months or two years in the High Court. If you add to that the time-lag between the setting down and the actual hearing of a further 12 months, and that is the position at the moment, then the delay is very long. All I can do as Minister for Justice is to ensure that that part of the process from the setting down to the actual hearing is kept as short as possible, and that is the purpose of asking here for extra judges. The appointment of an extra judge in 1973 had the effect of reducing the time-lag and I am hopeful that the extra judges being appointed now will have the same effect and bring the time-lag back down to a reasonable interval again.

On the subject of the pretrial process, the pleadings process, I should tell the House there is a Bill at an advanced stage of preparation which will make considerable changes in the pretrial process. Most of these arise out of recommendations of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure. The jurisdiction of the Master of the High Court will be enhanced. Certain preliminary hearings will be done away with and agreement on professional reports will be made on matters which will be formally pleaded and ruled on by the trial court. I hope the Bill will give power to agree professional reports because this will remedy a difficulty Deputy O'Kennedy and other speakers mentioned. I refer to the difficulty of professional witnesses having to spend a day or two waiting around in the Four Courts because the case in which they are involved does not come to hearing as soon as expected. In the Bill I hope it will be possible to provide for agreement on professional matters so that the presence of professional witnesses will not be necessary and the position of the litigants and their solicitors and lawyers will be eased. I agree with Deputy O'Kennedy and others who said there is a tendency to settle when parties are frustrated because of delay and they are under pressure from surgeons, engineers and other professional people who cannot be hanging around the Four Courts. It is hoped that pressure will be removed completely by the proposed new procedure.

I was distracted for a moment when the Minister was talking about the new legislation. I got the bit about professional reports. Is there anything else contemplated?

There will be enhanced jurisdiction for the Master of the High Court and there will be various provisions designed to speed up the pleadings part of litigation.

On the fixing of the list, this is not, as Members will be aware, a matter in which I have any say. It is a matter within the jurisdiction of the presidents of the various courts. A certain number of cases is put into the list for a particular day but there can be no guarantee they will be heard on that particular day. The alternative would be to fix only one case. That is the only way in which there could be certainty. Many things can happen. Cases may be settled. Cases may be adjourned for some good and proper reason. Cases may commence and be settled half way through or perhaps dismissed half way through. If only one case were listed and any of these eventualities occurred valuable judicial time would be wasted. More than one case must be listed and, if the first case being heard continues for a couple of days, then those involved in the later cases listed may have to keep returning to court for two or three days in a row before their case is called. That is unavoidable. To ease the position it is now the practice for the High Court to go out on circuit for jury actions in various provincial centres—Cork, Galway, Limerick, I think Sligo——

And Kilkenny.

And Kilkenny. This is a very commendable development because it is easier for litigants to attend and have their professional advisers. They have greater certainty of a quick hearing and the delays which were encountered in the Four Courts are obviated by this procedure.

Internal matters relating to the day-to-day administration of the courts are matters for the presidents concerned. They do not concern me as Minister for Justice. I am concerned to ensure that the presidents have enough personnel available to them and that is why I am asking for sanction for two extra judges to ensure speedy justice.

The opportunity is being taken in this Bill to regularise the position of judges and justices serving in a temporary capacity and to make their appointments permanent. For the last decade or so it has invariably happened that when a vacancy among the permanent judges or justices arose it was filled automatically by the appointment of the senior serving temporary justice. This happened automatically irrespective of what Administration was in office. The suggestion by some Members of the Opposition that the real motive behind the power here is to ensure that, should there be a change of Government, then the present temporary judges will be permanent one way or the other. I reject that because the history of both Administrations show that there is no substance whatever in that.

That is not quite accurate.

I do not know. All I can do is speak for this Administration. The vacancies for permanent judges were filled by this Administration strictly on the seniority of the temporary justices without reference to what administration appointed them, and I would like to think that that would continue to be the pattern. So far as I am concerned I am satisfied that it will be the pattern. The suggestion from the other side that the power to make the present corps of temporary justices permanent was to ensure that there would be no change in their status is unreal. I have no fear that there will be any change in their status in the event, albeit most unlikely, of a change of Administration in the years to come or, indeed, in the year to come. The position is that for some years past temporary judges, when appointed, have served continuously without a break in their service. I think it is a very long time, possibly more than a decade, since a person went back to practise from the bench. The Bill is recognising the reality of the situation and is making those men permanent. In addition, they have been prejudiced in their pension rights, because their temporary service had not been reckoned for pension purposes. Even though they had served full time, part of their service had to be disregarded, and this of course was an injustice to them.

Deputy O'Kennedy raised the question of arrears in the Circuit Court. I have dealt with the question of arrears in the High Court. The arrears situation in the High Court was becoming serious in relation to jury actions; there is no problem in regard to non-jury actions. I hope the remedial measures proposed in the Bill will be successful this time as they were the last time in assessing the position in regard to jury actions. The position in regard to the Circuit Court is also unsatisfactory both in relation to civil and criminal business. Deputy O'Kennedy's figure of 10,000 civil cases awaiting hearing is not accurate.

The Minister is speaking only of the Dublin Circuit Court?

I was about to make that point that we are speaking only of the Dublin Circuit Court. With one possible exception in the provincial circuit—and it would be invidious to mention it—there are no arrears in the Circuit Court throughout the country. The only circuit where there is any difficulty in that regard is the Dublin Circuit Court.

My information is that the return of cases undisposed of at 31st December, 1976, under the heading of civil actions was 880 and the approximate lapse of time between the date of setting down and listing is eight months, which is of course considerably less than the present lapse of time in the High Court. That is a large figure but of that 880 regard must be had to the fact that a sizeable proportion of them will never come to hearing at all; that they are far on is part of the tactics of litigation.

The other type of case where there is a large number awaiting hearing is malicious injury applications, with a figure of 6,800, and the waiting period there for corporation cases is six months. I have a note "15 months others"; what the others can be I do not know but possibly county council cases come into it. However, corporation cases would be the vast bulk of them and a waiting period of six months is not excessive. Again I would hope to see legislation some time which would speed up malicious injury cases. In practice the parties now have them speeded up as far as possible by agreeing damages, and I think possibly unofficially agreeing there is no contest on the question of malice. Therefore the only cases that are contested are those where there is a serious disagreement on the amount of the damage—and they are rare—or where there is not an admission of malice by the respondent. While the figure is high the waiting period is comparatively short, and these cases can be dealt with speedily.

The most unsatisfactory aspect of the Dublin Circuit Court is with regard to criminal work both by way of appeal from the District Court and by way of hearing indictable cases before a jury. There are 820 criminal cases on indictment awaiting hearing, and there can be a lapse of 24 months before they come for hearing. That is the maximum period. There were 1,602 District Court appeals undisposed of at 31st December, 1976. The interval for hearing them in non-road traffic cases was about seven months. In road traffic cases the interval for hearing them could be up to 15 months, but in the non-road traffic cases, which would be the more urgent ones, there is an interval of about seven months.

The Deputies opposite made the point that there are no extra judges being provided for the Circuit Court. I take that point, and, in view of the figures I was given, I suppose there is added point to the question being raised opposite. However, there is a serious physical difficulty, namely, accommodation. Even if we had more Circuit Court judges to deal with the more urgent cases, which would be criminal cases involving a jury, there would have to be courts with jury facilities available, and unfortunately they are just not available. Deputies will know that the Four Courts Hotel has been purchased, and by using the extra space it provides for us, we will be able to get more accommodation in the Four Courts and the Four Courts Hotel site itself. When there are more jury rooms available extra judges may then have to be appointed perhaps on a temporary basis—because the power to appoint temporary judges has not been repealed; it is still on the Statute Book—to deal with the backlog.

That obviously is long-term, but there was a shorter term hope in the sense that accommodation has been obtained adjacent to the Four Courts and it is intended that this accommodation will be used to house Circuit Court staff from within the Four Courts building itself. As a result the space within the Four Courts building will become available for a new Circuit Court jury room within the next nine to 12 months. In the meantime, arrangements have been made between the presidents that should there be any idle High Court jury facilities they will be available for Circuit Court work. Again arrangements are made with the general corps of Circuit Court judges that, should there be a slack period on a circuit, the particular judge will be available to come to Dublin to assist in clearing the backlog.

The position with regard to the Dublin Circuit Court is that we are constrained in what we can do by lack of court accomodation. That is being compensated for in two ways: first, by making the fullest use of existing High Court accommodation when available and, as the High Court goes out from time to time to hear jury actions in provincial centres, there will be more spare High Court space available. It will be used by utilising the services of country Circuit Court judges. The second way in which the arrears are being tackled is by the provision of an extra permanent Circuit Court jury court in the Four Courts complex. I would hope that the arrears in the Circuit Court in Dublin will be obviated completely but it is important to emphasise that this is in Dublin only.

We are providing extra court space for cases involving family law. There will be two new courts provided, one for the High Court and its exercise in that jurisdiction and the other for the District Court in exercising its functions under the recent Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act and the Family Home Protection Act. This is very desirable because I am aware of the unsatisfactory position mentioned by Deputy O'Kennedy where these sensitive cases have to be heard in the District Court. The parties involved in the case may be in an emotional state and they have to appear publicly awaiting the hearing of their case. We are providing accommodation in a new office block adjacent to the Four Courts and work has started to provide court rooms, waiting rooms and consulting rooms so that the parties involved in these family law cases will have a certain amount of privacy in their affairs. The same will apply for the parties involved in High Court family law cases. They will have a separate suite of offices, consulting rooms and a court in the same building.

Deputy O'Kennedy raised the point that in cases of this type, particularly cases held in chambers involving children, wigs and gowns should be dispensed with, that the presence of those paraphernalia, if I might use that word, with regard to barristers' dress——

Your word, not mine.

——could inhibit the parties from expressing themselves completely and fully and make the proceedings slightly rigid, that somehow less than full justice would be done and the feelings of the people involved would not be fully satisfactory. I take the point and I would be inclined to agree with it. I can see the arguments in favour of a certain solemnity in our courts. Our courts should have a certain solemnity and formality about their proceedings so that the proceedings themselves and the judges are respected and the orders and rules are fully obeyed. That should be the general climate of opinion with regard to our courts because they are the places where citizens arbitrate between each other and where the State and the citizen can come in contact and have their disputes arbitrated also. If one were to remove wigs and gowns in one court because they have this effect then, logically, their removal in other courts should be considered. This is a subject on which I should like to see a debate develop. It was brave of Deputy O'Kennedy, coming from his profession, to let in the thin end of that wedge. I can see many good reasons why the wigs and gowns should be done away with and I can see good reasons why they should be retained. I should welcome a debate, particularly with contributions from the members of the profession.

That much at least has been achieved. These debates sometimes take a long time to conclude.

This is one which I can imagine continuing for a long time, with no great urgency on the part of anybody to bring it to a conclusion.

The position in the District Court is satisfactory so far as arrears are concerned. The number of justices was substantially increased some years ago. The number of temporary justices was increased from one to five because at that time there were a large number of justices suffering from illness. We have retained those persons in a temporary capacity because it has led to a more expeditious despatch of the business of the District Court. Again, this is a Dublin problem. The President of the High Court is making available the High Court during vacation periods for District Court business and we will also be using part of the Four Courts Hotel premises as the District Court, pending the total development of that area. There are no arrears of the type we have in the Dublin Circuit Court.

Deputy Callanan raised a question about the length of a judge's working day. That is something which varies from court to court and from judge to judge and justice to justice. Generally speaking, judges and justices work as hard as the number of cases before them requires. The High Court sits at 11 o'clock until 1 o'clock, rises for an hour or possibly less, and then sits until 4 o'clock or 4.30 on five days a week. The provincial Circuit Court usually sits on a Tuesday from 11 o'clock until 1 o'clock, then from 2 o'clock until possibly 4.30 or 5 o'clock. It is becoming more and more common in provincial areas for the Circuit Court to sit until 7 o'clock or 8 o'clock at night. This is becoming quite a regular occurrence, and if the parties and the practitioners wish it the judges have made themselves available to sit on and finish the list. The number of hours a court sits will depend on the demand from the parties and will also depend on the complexities of a case which the judge is hearing or the jury listening to. If judges sit for too long and ask juries to sit for too long, attention may wander and the sharp attention that cases may need may not be given to them. While the hours in some instances might appear short there is very often a good reason for that. I am satisfied that where extra hours are needed they will be provided by the courts.

The question of the vacations of the court is another matter and I think it is now time to look at this. In the summer there is the long vacation. I recollect from my study of legal history as a student that the basis for the long vacation was that in medieval times judges had to have a long vacation at that time in order to get in their crops. I think we can agree that that situation no longer applies and the number of judges involved in getting in their crops would be few indeed. The length of that vacation may have to be considered.

From things I hear in moving around it would be conceded widely that it is somewhat long, and valuable extra time might be got there. There is no unwillingness on the part of the vast majority of members of the judiciary to work as hard as has to be worked to ensure dealing with the cases. Judges from the country circuits have indicated that whenever their circuits are short of work they will be available to come to Dublin and relieve the backlog there.

There might be a counter-suggestion from that source that the long vacation here is also a little bit extreme. We will have to watch that.

One has to consider the relative value of the two institutions. People might be relieved that we go on a long vacation. I think it was Deputy O'Kennedy who raised the question of the age of majority and mentioned the anomalous situation that you can have a jury with jurors of 18 and under 21 years of age on it assessing cases where the parties would be of a similar age but unable to bring proceedings in their own name. I agree that that must be looked at. It is being examined by the Law Reform Commission. They have seized on this problem as one of their first measures. I do not know when, but I expect that there will be a recommendation from them fairly soon. I cannot anticipate what the recommendation will be.

An odd thing during the debate was the criticism of the method of appointment of the judiciary. Deputy O'Kennedy did not make this criticism but other speakers on his side did. It was said that patronage appointments had been made by the Government, and the method was criticised from both sides. It was criticised from this side even now, and it was criticised when this side were over there and it is now being criticised from over there. We all agree that the method of appointment is bad, but it is odd that both sides agree that the appointments have been excellent and that we are very lucky with the judiciary we have. We do have an excellent judiciary who are known and seen to be impartial. The important thing is that the tradition of the impartiality of the Bar inspires a tradition of impartiality of the judiciary which of course is underwritten by the constitutional provision. A large and basic part of our establishment structures is that this is inviolable and cannot be shaken and the method of appointment does not have any adverse effect whatever in that regard. In any event, in a small society such as ours to devise an alternative method of appointment would lead to great practical difficulties. If you are to have an expert impulse, so to speak, into an appointment system you might be excluding from consideration the people you might want to appoint by having them there as assessors. It is no harm too that a person or group outside the scene, so to speak, would have the final say. While the system could be criticised from the point of view of the principle involved, it can be commended in so far as the results it has achieved are concerned.

Deputy Toal was anxious that the debate would stress the independence of the judiciary. He is correct in that, but there is a widespread, indeed universal acceptance that the judiciary are independent completely, both in fact and in theory, in the exercise of their duties.

Deputy Lalor thought that it was wrong to have the position with regard to the assignment of Circuit Court judges—and this applies also to district justices—to have the Government's hands tied. He felt that the Government of the day should have power to assign and re-assign Circuit Court judges as they thought fit and he disapproved of the restriction in the Bill whereby judges once assigned can be re-assigned only with their consent. I strongly disagree with him and I think he will be a lone voice in the House because he put his view in the context of there being dissatisfaction with the performance of a particular judge at a particular time in a particular area and that therefore the Executive should have power to move him without more ado. That would be a wrong power for the Executive to have, and to take it would be to prejudice seriously the principle of the independence of the judiciary. It would be a dangerous move and I do not think there would be general support for it from any side here in the House.

Deputy Lalor made the point that if a member of the judiciary should misbehave—and I am not aware of any situation where that could be said up to now—there is a procedure for an inquiry into that behaviour. The person in question may be interviewed by the Chief Justice and there is power for the Minister of the day to speak formally to a member of the judiciary in such a situation, and there is also power for an inquiry to be held. There are sanctions there but the need to apply these has never arisen and I am satisfied that it is not going to arise and that certainly if it was suggested that the Government of the day should take power to move judges around the country, to transfer to a judicial Belmullet I think is what Deputy Lalor had in mind, would be altogether wrong.

It could be a Master of the High Court, if I may use the expression.

It is important that the principle of the independence of the judiciary be preserved. To provide arbitrary transfers and reassignments it is necessary to maintain the provision that re-assignment can take place only with their consent. This is an important part of preserving the principle of their independence. The only sour note mentioned briefly in the debate was from Deputy Brennan.

I get the impression from reading the report of yesterday that it was followed by the Parliamentary Secretary, but I may be wrong.

I want to refer to one thing which Deputy Brennan said in which he criticised the decision of a member of the bench as being blatant political victimisation and vindictiveness. It was wrong of him to make that charge. If any person feels he has been the victim of such a decision we have an appellant system precisely to redress the errors or wrongs that may be done by any judge. I reject any suggestion of that.

I would like to comment on that. The Minister will appreciate that there can be circumstances where a person does not want to appeal simply to avoid further publicity even though he may be vindicated.

I understand that, but at the same time the procedure is available and if it is not availed of it is not right to criticise the original decision as being vindictive and politically motivated.

Deputies raised the point that some judicial decisions seemed odd. Any judicial decision is a subjective assessment by one person of a set of facts presented to him. The judge must make a subjective assessment and, like the rest of us, he is subject to fallibility. Judges do not have access to some secret store of wisdom and intelligence to inform their judgments and comments. The comment or the assessment is subjective and is conditioned by the intrinsic intelligence, the environment, experience, education, and general standard of learning of the individual concerned. In relation to members of the bench, there is an appellant system so that, should there be a subjective assessment which by common consent of the parties concerned is wrong, inaccurate or prejudiced, there is a procedure to redress any imbalance caused by any of these factors.

We must also remember that, unless a person is present in court for a whole case, the necessarily abbreviated press report of what takes place can give a misleading picture and can have the effect of distorting the judicial decision. Deputy Toal made the point that press reporters could unwittingly, and purely due to the constraints of space and so on, give an inaccurate assessment of a case. It is impossible to reproduce in cold print the atmosphere of a case in court, the demeanour of a witness, and all the other things that make the case on which the judge's final assessment is made.

Deputy Meaney paid tribute to our judges, and we all echo that tribute. Deputies pointed out rightly that we are and have been lucky in our judiciary.

The disparity of sentences in criminal cases was also raised. This is a recurring question. No two cases are the same, even if the charge is the same. There may be mitigating factors, or the level of viciousness or negligence may vary from case to case, and this alters the punishment required. The law provides for statutory meetings of district justices. I have no doubt that disparity of penalties is discussed at these meetings so as to ensure uniformity as far as is possible between one district and another particularly with regard to absolute offences of a technical nature. There is room for differences in the penalties but there should not be room for great disparities. The District Court bench are aware of the need to avoid any such disparities and I am satisfied that they will discuss this matter at their statutory meetings as cases arise.

Deputy O'Kennedy raised the question of the need for new registrars. Naturally if there are extra judges, new registrars will be needed. The Deputy can be assured that any staffs needed to ensure the efficient working of the courts will be made available. I have dealt with all the points raised by various Deputies. I thank Deputies for their interest in the Bill. There was more interest than I had anticipated.

A question raised by me in relation to the extra territorial legislation was not gone into. Have there been any cases in connection with this?

I did not take a note of that because when I began my reply I indicated that the purpose of this Bill was to bring in two extra High Court judges and to provide for the making of temporary District and Circuit Court judges. During the course of the debate there has been a tendency on the part of Deputies to wander down all sorts of byways connected, no matter how tenuously with courts, and the Ceann Comhairle from time to time had to draw Deputies' attention to the fact that they were out of order.

That was the only side road I travelled.

In deference to the Ceann Comhairle, I did not propose to follow Deputies down any of those byways. I hoped that they would not take it amiss if I did not refer to some points which they made down these byways.

As Deputy O'Kennedy has again raised this point, I will crave the Ceann Comhairle's indulgence to take it up. The Criminal Law Jurisdiction Bill made it an offence against our law to commit an offence of terrorism in Northern Ireland. This Bill was introduced to deal with the problem of a fugitive offender who refused to return to face the charge on the grounds that the crime was politically motivated. That situation was redressed by taking power to try the offence here. The Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act is not a self-generating Act. It can only come into operation when a fugitive offender is found down here and there is evidence to charge him with an offence which had been committed subsequent to the passing of the Act. There have been no trials or charges on foot of that Act yet. I believe that the Act had a deterrent effect on would-be fugitives, so that no longer do they see the Republic as a haven and therefore they no longer come down here to hide from their misdeeds. That does not in any way detract from the validity of having that piece of legislation on the Statute Book, nor does it in any way take from what was then an urgent matter of getting it into law. The situation that was in existence up to the passing of that Act was a scandal that had to be removed urgently. That is why that Act was urgent and that is why I regretted that it took so long to pass through the Oireachtas.

The Minister can argue any conclusion on any premise after that.

The only reason it took so long was that the Opposition had not come face to face with accepting the principle that IRA offences in Northern Ireland deserved to be punished down here.

That is not so. We said it would not work, that it would not be used and we have been proved right.

Fortunately, there has been no need to use it.

That piece of legislation could be equated with the 1941 decision to send fire brigades to the North, an act that was a gesture of goodwill and humanity.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.