Courts Bill, 1980: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This is a very important Bill: it proposes substantial changes in the law affecting the jurisdiction of the courts and, consequently, the distribution of work as between these courts. It also rationalises the whole area of procedure for family law cases. Apart from these two main proposals, there are a number of other important procedural changes. The overall effect of these proposals will be to make a substantial improvement in the way in which the courts deal with all aspects of the civil law.

The primary aim of this Bill is to increase the civil jurisdiction of the District and Circuit Courts and to confer new jurisdiction on those courts in family law matters. In addition the Bill provides for a number of other important matters related to the courts. These are: provisions to bring the interest rate on judgment debts into line with the rates now generally available and to widen the application of this interest; to increase the maximum amount that can be awarded to relatives of the deceased in a fatal accident as compensation for mental distress; to amend and extend the law which limits a plaintiff's costs where he has taken proceedings in a court other than the lowest court having jurisdiction; and to permit the registration of District Court decrees. The Bill also makes some technical changes in the law relating to the Judiciary.

The limits of the civil jurisdictions of the District and Circuit Courts were fixed by the Courts of Justice Act, 1924, and were increased first in 1953, mainly to compensate for the fall in the value of money. They were again increased by the Courts Act, 1971, not alone to compensate for the fall in the value of money since 1953 but also to allow for future inflation and, in addition, to provide a basic increase in jurisdiction. Inflation has, naturally, severely eroded the real increases provided for in the 1971 Act and, consequently, soon after I came into office I asked the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure to examine this problem and make recommendations as to new levels of jurisdiction. The committee's recommendations are set out in their 20th Interim Report, which was laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas in December 1978. As Deputies will be aware, the majority report of the committee has recommended important changes in the jurisdictions of the District and Circuit Courts by way of substantial increases in the present monetary limits of jurisdiction and the conferring of new jurisdiction on those courts in family law matters. However, the monetary increases recommended in the majority report involve more than a cost of living adjustment. Part of the additional increase would be to anticipate future inflation but in part in reflects a substantial real increase in the jurisdiction of the lower courts. A similar approach is evident in the recommendations in family law matters which involve the conferring of new types of jurisdiction on the lower courts. The Government have accepted the recommendations of the majority report in principle, and this Bill is intended to implement those recommendations in the most effective way. In some respects the proposals in the Bill differ from the committee's recommendations and I shall explain why this is so when I come to the provision in question.

The Government are committed to making it easier for people—particularly the less well-off sections of the community—to achieve access to justice. One obvious way in which to bring legal remedies within the reach of people in lower income groups is to subsidise the cost of legal services to them. This is what the Civil Legal Aid Board were set up to do.

But there are other aspects to the question of access to justice apart from the financial one. The purely practical problems of leaving one's family and work and travelling to Dublin for a High Court hearing can sometimes make it impossible for a person to pursue his case, whether or not he qualifies for legal aid. The proposals in this Bill represent the second essential element in the Government's strategy for tackling the problem of access to justice. By increasing the existing jurisdictions of the lower courts and giving them new jurisdictions, these proposals allow a greater variety and quantity of cases to be taken in the lower courts, courts which are situated more conveniently throughout the country, thus saving travelling time for both litigants and witnesses.

This two-pronged approach to the problem—on the one hand, the subsidising of legal costs, and on the other, the effective reduction of these costs by increasing and extending the jurisdiction of the lower courts—should result in a significant contribution towards the provision of cheaper, speedier and more convenient access to the courts at local venues. The scheme of civil legal aid and advice is already well under way and once the proposals in this Bill come into effect, I am confident that we will have a much improved level of access to the redress of civil wrongs.

One practical effect of the broadening of the jurisdiction of the lower courts, as the minority report of the courts committee brought out, will be to empower them to deal with cases involving substantial legal issues which at present can be pursued only in the High Court. While cases taken in the lower courts—particularly in the District Court—will certainly be more substantial, I do not accept that this will necessarily have the effect of introducing more elaborate procedures in the District Court. Indeed, I am satisfied that the procedures can and must remain simple, thus preserving the District Court in particular as a forum where disputes can be brought to a speedy and just conclusion, with the minimum of formality and expense. I am also satisfied that the lower courts are fully competent to handle the more substantial issues both of law and of fact which will fall to be dealt with by them as a result of the proposals in this Bill.

Inevitably, another practical effect of these proposals is that steps will have to be taken as a matter of urgency to improve courthouse accommodation at a number of venues throughout the country, particularly at District Court level. Deputies will be aware, of course, that legal responsibility for courthouse accommodation around the country generally rests with the local authorities and that particular problems have arisen in a number of areas in this regard. However, a good deal of essential preparatory work in improving the situation has been done and I am glad to be able to tell Deputies that I have in preparation a set of proposals relating to courthouse accommodation which I will be putting to the Government in the near future.

The Bill is designed to enable contract and tort actions up to £2,500 to be taken in the District Court, and up to £15,000 in the Circuit Court. The committee's recommendation in relation to the Circuit Court was a limit of £10,000, but this was in the context of a limit of £1,000 on the amount that a court may award, under the Civil Liability Act, 1961, to the relatives of the deceased in a fatal accident as compensation for mental distress. Many of the cases that would normally fall to be tried in the Circuit Court would be concerned with fatal injuries and since there is another provision in this Bill, which did not emanate from the committee, to increase the maximum amount from £1,000 to £5,000, the Government decided on the higher figure of £15,000 for the general tort limit of jurisdiction. Also, in the Circuit Court, the existing personal property limit of £5,000 in equity cases is being done away with and the existing valuation limit on landed property in such cases is going up to £200. Limits on the other areas of jurisdiction which are traditionally linked with these limits are to be similarly increased.

The Bill proposes significant changes in relation to family law matters. Section 5 of the Bill confers jurisdiction in divorcea mensa et thoro on the Circuit Court. Proceedings of this type, more commonly called “judicial separation”, can be taken only in the High Court at present, and the procedure to be followed there is complicated. By vesting this jurisdiction in the Circuit Court, where simpler procedures can be provided and which is in any event more convenient, we are facilitating persons to avail themselves of the remedy which the law provides. It also proposes that the Circuit Court will have full jurisdiction under the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964, the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976, and the Illegitimate Children (Affiliation Orders) Act, 1930. The District Court's jurisdiction to make maintenance orders for children under these last two Acts is to be increased from £15 to £30 per week, and for spouses under the 1976 Act from £50 to £100 per week. The maximum barring order that the District Court may make is to be increased from three months to 12 months, and that court is to be given jurisdiction under the Guardianship Act for the first time.

These proposals follow the recommendations of the courts committee except in the case of barring orders and maintenance payments which did not come within the scope of the committee's inquiry. In addition the committee recommended that jurisdiction in custody matters under the Guardianship Act should be exercised only by the District Court whereas under the Bill this jurisdiction will be exercisable by both the District Court and the Circuit Court. I have, however, discussed this point with the Chairman of the committee and he is in agreement with what is in the Bill. One reason for the change is to allow a choice of court, and therefore usually a choice of venue, for people who might not wish to have the case heard locally.

A valuable effect of the new jurisdiction limits of the District and Circuit Courts will be to rationalise these limits generally so as to cater for the practicalities of the situation. Deputies will be aware that in family matters an application to court will often need to cover a number of remedies—a barring order, maintenance and the custody of children being the most common. It is important that a single court should be in a position to grant what one might call the appropriate package on one application. When the Bill becomes law it will be possible for the District Court to deal with all these remedies—excluding only a decree of divorcea mensa et thoro—even where the sums sought by way of maintenance are quite substantial. This should cater for the vast majority of cases. The Circuit Court will be enabled to grant the full package without exception or limitation.

There have been press reports of statements made by persons who profess to have the best interests of women and the family at heart, the burden of which is to castigate the family law proposals in this Bill as providing "justice on the cheap". Senator McGuinness is reported as being particularly critical of the proposal to give the District Court jurisdiction in relation to the custody of children, on the ground that the Government's motive in making this provision is solely to save expenditure under the civil legal aid scheme, which, she suggested, we were obliged to introduce as a result of the decision of the Court of Human Rights in the Airey case.

First of all, I should like to make it clear that Senator McGuinness is totally misinformed. The particular proposal referred to was recommended by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure in their 20th Report long before either the Airey judgment was handed down or the civil legal aid scheme was published. This committee has as its chairman Mr. Justice Brian Walsh, the senior ordinary judge of the Supreme Court, and the majority report on which the proposals in this Bill are based was signed by the chairman, by the Presidents of the Circuit and District Courts, by Mr. B.P. McCormack and Mr. John Fitzpatrick, two eminent solicitors, by Dr. C. S. Andrews, by the late Dr. Juan Greene, by Mr. Kenneth O'Reilly-Hyland and by Mr. R.J. Law—all persons of the highest qualifications. It seems to me to be nonsense to imply that a body of persons so eminently qualified could have arrived at their recommendations without weighing fully the various issues involved. The committee saw definite advantages in making this change including the considerable advantage of litigation at local venues and the additional advantage of appeals by way of complete rehearing to the appropriate appellate jurisdiction instead of the present costly and time-consuming system of appeal to the Supreme Court. Of course, many litigants who are not concerned at all with legal aid will benefit from this change.

Secondly, the Airey judgment which deals with the State's obligation under the Convention of Human Rights to provide adequate access to the courts makes it quite clear that the State has a free choice of the means to be used towards this end; it recognises that adequate access may, in certain cases, be provided or made easier by simpler and less complex procedures and does not necessarily require legal aid in all cases.

For anyone to suggest, as has been reported, that questions of the guardianship and custody of children should be settled only in the High Court demonstrates a lack of awareness of the practical problems facing the two-thirds of our population living outside the Pale in leaving home and work for a journey to Dublin. How much more quick and convenient to have such issues settled at local venues, where in any event the law demands that they be heard privately, but where the procedures are less formal than in the High Court.

It is also an implication of the criticism levelled at these proposals that large sums must be expended on legal costs in order to obtain a just decision; another, more disturbing one, is that decisions of the lower courts are in some way suspect. Such an implied slight on the integrity and quality of the judiciary I must reject out of hand.

Finally, I should like to point out the absurdity of the suggestion which has been made that, because a satisfactory level of courthouse accommodation has been provided for family law cases in the High Court in Dublin, all such cases around the country should be brought in the High Court only. Leaving aside the question of inconvenience for litigants outside Dublin, it would clearly be neither possible nor appropriate to cater, even in the medium term, for all family law cases in the High Court in Dublin. It would certainly be out of the question in the long term. The simple fact of the matter is that where accommodation around the country for the lower courts is not satisfactory this is something which must be put right and I have already indicated what is being done in this regard. It would certainly not be a solution to this problem to take the business away from the local courts.

A policy inherent in many legal systems is that the law encourages litigants to make use of the lowest forum which has jurisdiction. This is obviously desirable from a social point of view since otherwise wealthy litigants would have an advantage over persons in dispute with them who were less well-off. The policy is given effect by the mechanism of requiring the courts in certain cases to limit costs awarded to a successful party — and generally speaking to limit them to the costs appropriate to the lower court which had jurisdiction. The principle of this type of limitation is already enshrined in section 12 of the Courts of Justice Act, 1936, which, however, applies only to certain types of proceedings in the High Court. Section 17 of this Bill extends this principle to all types of actions taken in any court other than the lowest court with jurisdiction to grant the relief given. However, a successful plaintiff will be entitled to the higher costs if the judge hearing the case certifies that it was reasonable in the interest of justice generally, owing to the exceptional nature of the proceedings or of any question of law involved, that the case should have been commenced in that court.

Before leaving the subject of the conferring of jurisdiction on the lower courts in matters which are now exclusively within the jurisdiction of the High Court, I should like to mention briefly the method by which the Bill proposes to achieve the transfer.

This is essentially a technical point which may be more appropriate for discussion on Committee Stage, but I should like to mention at this Stage that the Bill does not — as some other statutes have done in the past — confer concurrent jurisdiction on the High Court and lower courts. In most cases it simply vests jurisdiction in the particular matter concerned in the lower court. Of course, this does not affect the inherent or constitutional jurisdiction of the High Court which, as Deputies are aware, has — I quote from Art. 34 of the Constitution —"full original jurisdiction in and power to determine all matters and questions whether of law or fact, civil or criminal". There could of course be no question of removing such jurisdiction from the High Court but there is no need to preserve it in this Bill or otherwise to provide for it in statutory form.

In their tenth interim report, the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure made recommendations regarding the rate of interest payable on judgment debts. This rate has stood unchanged at 4 per cent per annum for the last 140 years and I am sure that Deputies will welcome the provision at section 19 of the Bill which increases it. As well as increasing the interest rate, this Bill extends its range of application in a number of ways. Firstly, Circuit Court costs and District Court decrees will, for the first time, qualify for interest. Secondly, the most important in my view, interest will be allowable at the discretion of the court on all or any part of a decree for all or any part of the period between the date that the cause of action arose and the date of judgment. This is a logical extension of the principle of interest on judgments, and one which will, I hope, result in a better and more just deal for injured parties who may have had to bear considerable expense out of their own resources while waiting for judgment in their favour.

The new rate of interest which the Bill provides was arrived at by averaging the Associated Banks' overdraft and deposit rates at the time the Bill was being prepared. As Deputies will be aware, the situation affecting bank interest rates has been somewhat volatile during the period of preparation of the Bill so that the figure of 15 per cent was already out of date when the text was circulated. The subsequent drop in interest rates makes it necessary to calculate the figure anew—just at the moment it would be 11 per cent. What I propose is that the matter be kept under continuous review in the course of proceedings on the Bill and that I would if necessary move a suitable amendment.

The Bill also provides that the rate of interest may be varied by ministerial order from time to time, but at intervals of not less than two years. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that the judgment debt rate will not in future become the totally unrealistic figure that it has hitherto been, but at the same time there will be an element of stability about the rate which will make the work of practitioners and court staff alike easier.

Sections 24 to 27 of the Bill extend to District Court decrees the same facilities for registration of decrees in the Central Office of the High Court and the Land Registry or Registry of Deeds as apply to High and Circuit Court decrees. These provisions are based on recommendations in the courts committee's fifth report. With the substantial increase now proposed in the District Court's jurisdiction, this is an appropriate opportunity to extend the registration facilities already available in the case of decrees of the higher courts. The application of the interest and registration provision to the District Court will act as further encouragements to litigants to bring cases in the lowest court having jurisdiction, where otherwise they might have been tempted to go higher in an effort to get the benefit of the facilities for securing payment and obtaining interest available in the higher courts.

For some time now, I have been considering the amount which may be awarded by a court to the relatives of the deceased in a fatal accident as compensation for mental distress. The Civil Liability Act, 1961, introduced the concept of this type of compensation and set the maximum amount at £1,000. That figure of course was never intended to be "compensation" in any true sense of the word — it was more in the nature of a gesture and that is how it has to be because-obviously no amount of mere money could compensate a family for the feelings of grief and distress at the loss of a loved one. Nevertheless I think Deputies will agree that the time has come for an increase. The Bill accordingly provides for a new maximum of £5,000. I have already spoken about the increase which is being made in the tort jurisdiction of the Circuit Court to take account of this.

The provision at section 18 of the Bill relates to the temporary discharge of the duties of the Presidents of the District and Circuit Courts. When the President of either court is unable to act, the existing law provides that his duties will be carried out by the senior judge of the Dublin Circuit or the senior justice of the Dublin Metropolitan District as appropriate. My attention was recently drawn to a situation where the President of the District Court and the senior justice of the Dublin Metropolitan District were both unwell, but because the law did not provide for any further substitution, the less ill of the two had to attend for duty. The provision in this Bill is designed to make sure that, in the case of the Presidencies of both the District and Circuit Courts, this sort of situation will not arise again, by providing that the senior Dublin justice or judge for the time being available will be empowered to deputise. As well as providing for the office-holder being unable to act, the section goes further and provides for a vacancy in either office of President.

There is another technical change being made in the law relating to the judiciary at section 29. The purpose of this provision is to enable the Chief Justice to sit as a judge of the High Court on Circuit without having been requested to do so by the President of the High Court. This provision is being made at the joint request of the Chief Justice and the President of the High Court.

The final section of the Bill provides that the provisions relating to the judiciary, increasing the judgment debt interest rate and increasing the maximum amount for compensation for mental distress, will come into effect as soon as the Bill is passed. Rules of Court are required to make the other provisions of the Bill fully operative, so I have provided for a six-month time-lag in bringing them into operation so as to give the rule-making bodies an opportunity to look after the necessary arrangements.

As I have said before, this is an important Bill: it represents a major step forward in improving the accessibility of the courts and in reducing the cost of obtaining legal redress. Deputies will have realised from what I have said that the Bill is in a very large measure based on recommendations of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure.

The House will know that a number of other important recommendations of the committee have already been implemented, though there are some that still remain to be considered. It is therefore appropriate that I should take this opportunity once again to place on record our appreciation and gratitude for the outstanding work which the committee have done on this and on other occasions.

I commend the Bill to the House.

This Bill affords us an opportunity to discuss some aspects of reform, some of which are more urgent and more necessary than others, in the whole area of the courts. I join with the Minister in expressing my appreciation to all of those who work on the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure and who provide us with a continual input of constructive and helpful advice.

I am a little disappointed with the Bill in that it appears to be a slightly lazy way out, having apparently taken almost exactly the suggestions of the committee but having added very little to them and in having picked only some of the recommendations. The Bill has some deficiencies to which I shall endeavour to point during the course of my contribution. As the Minister has said, the proposals being put forward are based on interim reports of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure, particularly the twentieth, the tenth and the fifth reports.

One of the chief results of the proposals in this piece of legislation will be the placing of a heavier burden on the District and Circuit Courts and on their existing 12, plus one temporary judge, and 42 judges respectively for the District and Circuit Courts. It is essential that in the context of the Bill there is at least some reference to the question of the capacity of these courts to deal with the new onus being placed on them and to consider whether there is complete confidence and satisfaction in the manner of the execution of the duties being carried out by them.

We know that the constitutional basis for the courts rests mainly in Article 34 and in following Articles of the Constitution. Some of these are clearly more important than others. In particular I am thinking of Article 35.2 in which there is laid down a very important principle, that is, that all judges shall be independent in the exercise of their judicial functions and shall be subject only to the Constitution and to the law. In the context of any comment one might make on the various aspects of the Bill, that principle should be seen as sacrosanct and as something that none of us would wish to infringe on. Having said that we should not be deterred from a constructive analysis of the manner in which the courts operate, as to whether there is need for evolution or reform or change in addition to what is proposed in the Bill, and arising from that whether we can do better than what is being proposed. We should bear in mind that the promises of the election manifesto in the context of the courts are very slow in being brought to fruition and it is unlikely, despite what the Minister says, that we will have much more discussion in this House on the structure of the courts and their relationship with our society. The Minister mentioned in passing that he hopes shortly to introduce legislation which presumably will improve the accommodation and facilities situation. That is to be welcomed very much. Frankly, it is a matter that should have been dealt with first so as to ensure that what is proposed here would be correct in every respect.

The question of the independence of the courts is a vital question, one that is underlined by this party and I am sure by the other parties here. However, I cannot help but conclude that there is a certain shroud of non-critical silence that has been allowed to surround the courts and their performance down through the years, certainly in the last number of years. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity that this Bill affords us to speak on such matters. There is unusual difficulty in trying to ascertain to what extent one might helpfully nudge the process along without in any way infringing on the essential autonomy or sovereignty of the courts.

Justice in our society and the public's perception of that justice depend very largely on the confidence of the people in our court system. The courts have served the Irish people well and, for the overwhelming part, there is satisfaction that they are doing their job well, often under extremely arduous and difficult circumstances. That is a credit to the Judiciary and to the legal profession generally. Many of the Judiciary have acted in a manner which has been exemplary by virtue of the independence of mind and the sovereignty of action they have displayed. I believe that this has sometimes been a surprise to the Governments who appointed them. I hope that remains for a long time.

I would like to refer very briefly to a definition in "The Work of Justice", which is the Irish Bishops' pastoral of 11 September 1977 which spoke about justice in very ordinary language, which is the kind of language I like to use in this context. They said in paragraph 43:

Justice means, firstly, giving every man what is due to him. What we are bound to give in justice is something that is not our own but belongs rightly to the other person.

That basic definition is not a bad one because it reminds us that this is not a question of where the parliament or the courts dispense justice or try to do better than they have been doing as a kind of extension of the thinking of the welfare state or as some extra promise we hold out to people. We are talking about trying to inculcate into our society and trying to allow to permeate our society an understanding of the courts and an acceptance that our system of justice is the very best and that it is truly just. That happens often but does not happen always.

I believe every man, woman and child has a fundamental right to justice, and all that implies is that we have now and again to ask critically if we can be doing better. Many of the injustices and many of the reasons for crime have an origin for which the courts cannot be held in any way responsible. I do not believe that any court is responsible for the social and economic injustices which are often the context of a sense of alienation or sense of injustice which people often feel and very often spurs them on to a life of crime or a life of anti-social activities.

The role of the courts in trying to supervise and oversee the administration of a just system is all the more crucial because it has to take stock in a broad way of the social context we are creating by our actions in Parliament and by our lack of actions, and has to dispense justice in conformity with the law which is seen to be just and is accepted not alone by the Judiciary but by the common man as being just. That is a very great challenge and one which very often seems to me not to be fully realised by some of us. We can see the Courts as being some kind of a forum for a clinical or dehumanised implementation of some set of rules which can be coldly calculated, but they do not function like that. I believe that the courts should be living, evolving organs of our system of government and the way we do things. They should be responsive to changes in social needs. They deal in an ongoing way with what Wordsworth used to call "the still sad music of humanity." They deal with people.

I often wonder at the degree to which judges can continue to act extremely humanely with full consideration of the humanity of the cases which daily parade before them and are not bludgeoned into some kind of submission to the inevitability of it all. I admire them for that. It is all the more difficult for us to assess the role of the courts realising that it is not simply a question of interpreting by line and comma a law on the statute books and applying it. There is a human factor and that in our courts and in our law is paramount.

In a book called "The Constitution and Constitutional Change" in Ireland by Professor Basil Chubb he hints at this difficulty for the courts when he says:

Whatever the grounds upon which courts come to their decisions, it seems obvious that they can, if they will, adapt the meaning of words that purport to define the extent of powers or prohibitions so as to meet the demands of changed circumstances as they see them. Such adaptations might over time completely alter the powers and limitations of governments and the liberties of the citizen as is evidenced, for example, by the history of the interpretation by the Supreme Court of the United States of the power of Congress to regulate inter-state commerce.

He is really saying there that the courts are not static institutions, that they change. It is as well for us to realise that. This means that we should endeavour to introduce, in something like this Courts Bill, a process which facilitates constant development and constant evolution in our law to meet the needs of the age as implemented by the courts. I hope to show that that is not being done satisfactorily in this Courts Bill.

The courts do a very fine job and give very wide satisfaction. InFundamental Rights in Irish Law and the Constitution, by J.M. Kelly there is a phrase which also underlines for us the importance of the courts and how they even have a super-parliamentary role in many respects, which is important. He talks about the judicial interpretation of the Constitution and refers to it as “becoming increasingly bold and though, on the whole, the Supreme Court does not behave like a third house of the legislature it seems that Mr. de Valera underestimated the Fundamental Rights Articles as a check on the legislative power”. He goes on to develop this idea and explain to us how it seems the courts are increasingly accepting a role of interpreting our Constitution and, in some cases, assessing our law as being wanting. I do not think that is necessarily a desirable trend nor is it the primary responsibility of the courts to do that. I am very pleased that there is a safeguard lest we in this House exceed the bounds of propriety or do not carry out our work as we should.

It is wrong for us and we should analyse the implications of it, that we are increasingly asking the courts to interpret our Constitution or to wait on them, whether they be domestic courts or European courts, to nudge us and sometimes force us to changes in domestic legislation. We should have more courage than that. I am very mindful of the work of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure and the work done by Mr. Justice Walsh in the Supreme Court as chairman along with his colleagues on the Law Reform Commission, for which I am sure everybody in the House is very grateful. We had recently a very exemplary report by Mr. Justice Costello and his team on the Whiddy disaster.

We see the manner in which the Circuit Court performs, which I believe is facilitated mainly by the extraordinary dedication of some Circuit Court judges who work far beyond the call of duty. We are fortunate to have that kind of background and that kind of people. However, in view of the implications of this Bill we have to have a look at some of the other areas. If this Bill is to place an increased burden on the District Court and on the Circuit Court and if steps are not taken now to ensure that that increased burden will be coped with satisfactorily, we must have some reservations about whether this Bill will work out as presumably it is designed to work out. Therefore, it is time for us to have a public debate of some kind on the need for change and improvements in our courts, on the way some members of the Judiciary perform and whether we can bring about improvements in this area. Implicit in this is a challenge to the entire legal system and the regulation of such a system. Until now we have hoped that the legal system has operated satisfactorily, that judges do their work. If they do not, we pretend not to notice. We are not allowed to discuss such matters at Question Time or to talk about them in this House. There is a kind of unwritten code of silence on the darker areas of the record of service in this respect which, as I have said earlier, is for the major part exemplary. That is wrong and it should not be tolerated.

All of us know there are abuses in this area, as there are in all areas of life, whether it is in politics, in pastry-making or any other sector. We know there are miscarriages of justice, that there are justices presently serving on the bench who should not be serving. Not alone do we know it but their colleagues on the bench and in the legal profession know it. In many cases they are concerned about this. I think it is a challenge to them to shape the system, to exorcise as rapidly as possible any such excesses or deficiencies. It may be thought cowardly of us to suggest that the responsibility is primarily that of the legal profession and it is up to this House to make some suggestions bearing in mind that we are proposing in this Bill to entrust to the District Court and to the Circuit Court some jurisdiction in the area of family law. Therefore, a different burden will be put on those courts and they will have to deal with different types of cases from heretofore. Opinion I have canvassed shows extremely mixed feelings about what will happen in some cases. If there are these deficiencies — I suggest strongly that there are; the Minister knows of them and they are the gossip of the Bar Library — it is a disservice to the very ideals of justice that something is not done about them. I do not suggest it is a fundamental problem; it is not. Basically the system is sound and the majority of people involved in it are doing a fine job but there are these other areas that would be tackled if they existed in any other walk of life. If they occurred in this House or in any other profession they would not be tolerated. If we are to tolerate a double standard in that respect, to say that in one area lower standards will be tolerated, we do the community and the rest of the legal profession a considerable disservice.

I want to underscore the fact that whatever suggestions, comments or proposals are made in this regard must be done with absolute respect for the sovereignty of the Judiciary. There should be no suggestion of any intent to undermine that important principle. Nevertheless, we might ask the question whether the standards of self-regulation that have obtained up to now have operated successfully. Frankly, I do not believe they have and I do not believe we can rely on self-regulation. It is asking too much of human nature for people to turn on their colleagues and, if their dissatisfaction turns to frustration, to deal with them. The mechanism is not there. Apart from the moral pressure of colleagues on the bench or in the legal profession, apparently there is no other mechanism apart from the extraordinarily naive suggestion in the Constitution that, for example, the ultimate sanction can be imposed on a member of the Judiciary by two-thirds of this House. Of course that has never been used and never will be used. I understand there have been cases where the suggestion that it might be used was sufficient to eradicate the problem but that is not good enough. The same standard of rewarding excellence, of discouraging or excluding completely unacceptable standards should operate in the courts as it does, I hope, in every other walk of life. I do not see any reason why there should be a double standard in this respect.

In Deputy Kelly's book entitledFundamental Rights in the Irish Law and Constitution, he reminds us of this when he refers to the importance of Article 35.4 where we are told clearly that:

A judge of the Supreme Court or of the High Court shall not be removed from office except for stated misbehaviour or incapacity, and then only upon resolutions passed by Dáil Éireann and by Seanad Éireann calling for his removal.

Deputy Kelly also stated:

The same formality is at present necessary for the removal of Circuit Court judges and District Court justices as well, since both are declared by statute "to hold office by the same tenure as the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court";

Deputy Kelly states that presumably they could be deprived of this protection by simple repeal of these provisions. Nobody wants to start talking about removing judges. Last week we discussed a Bill dealing with rape. There are implications for the judges in relation to their summing-up which puts a different onus on them from heretofore. If we are going to place an increased burden on the judges we must do so in the full knowledge that such a burden can be accepted by them. The manner in which we have dealt with a few problem areas thus far in this area does not leave me too satisfied that we are paying adequate attention. It is time for a public debate on the need for changes, if any, in this area, on whether improvements can be brought about, on ways and means of rewarding the excellence that undoubtedly exists among the Judiciary and of penalising the opposite because, unfortunately, that also exists to some small degree at least. It does not do any good to know that the dogs in the street are barking about it; up to now we have been singularly reluctant to talk about it in public. I do not understand that or go along with it. It is vital that the courts be absolutely removed from any suggestion of accusation in this respect.

Some other countries have managed to deal with this problem without undermining the sovereignty of their Judiciary. As one example among many others, I was interested to read about the situation in Japan, a country I do not know much about. In their Constitution and statutes they underline the essential and vital question of the sovereignty and autonomy of the judges and the Judiciary, which is laid down in our Constitution. In addition, they have developed some inducements for high standards and some ways of discouraging the opposite. In mentioning these matters I am not proposing they are the right things for us but I suggest we should think about them as a means of ensuring that when we ask the courts to do more work we can be satisfied that the courts and the personnel will measure up.

In a publication entitledAn Outline of the Japanese Judicial System published by the Supreme Court of Japan, 1979, there is reference to the status of judges which is guaranteed by the Constitution. It states:

However, in order to prevent an unsuitable or incompetent judge from bringing disgrace on the responsible position, the following measures are provided: (1) A judge may be removed by a judgment of an impeachment court composed of 14 members of the Diet, if he has committed serious misconduct; (2) The appointment of the justices of the Supreme Court is reviewed by the people at the first general election of members of the House of Representatives following their appointment and in addition they are also subject to a decennial review by the people at the time of the national elections, and a justice is removed if the majority of voters favour his dismissal; (3) The term of office of the judges of the inferior courts is limited to ten years, with eligibility for reappointment; (4) There exists a system of compulsory retirement by age by which very old judges may be eliminated; (5) A judge who has neglected his duties or disgraced himself by his conduct is subject to disciplinary action by the High Court or the Supreme Court.

Frankly, I would not be happy with all these provisions but they show that other countries have tried to face up to the problems. Without causing conflict between this House and the Judiciary, we must see how we can bring about improvements. Such improvements should be designed to establish clearly that there is public acceptance in the widest possible sense that the basic criteria of good justice are being implemented. Too often that is not the case at present and I regret to say that too often the courts are seen as interpreters of a system of justice and as regulators of statutes which have in them too much of an economic class origin. One regularly hears comments like "You never see a wealthy man in jail" or "That fellow bought himself out of trouble," by which remark is meant, presumably, that he can buy the best legal brains.

There is a feeling among large segments of the population—usually those at the bottom of the socio-economic class grouping—that the courts for them are primarily oppressors and not a structure to which they would turn seeking justice; they are seen rather as a structure to which others turn to seek revenge on them. I am sure that is not true and it is not intended by anybody that it should be so, but if it is true that it is a perceived problem by these people then it is a problem because it breeds disrespect. That will be aggravated to some extent by asking District Courts and, in some cases, Circuit Courts, to deal with matters which they will be unable to deal with at present because they are inadequately facilitated and because the necessary local and other sensitivities which are proper, for example, to family law cases, may not be able to be transmitted in that forum by virtue of the absence of proper professional witnesses or lack of adequate training in that area of the member of the Judiciary involved. Our attitude in this respect is in very stark contrast to the much more progressive attitude obtaining in other countries.

I believe the courts should not be seen as something outside the people, of which they think or in front of which they are dragged only when in trouble. The courts should be seen as part of the mainstay of our way of life and should be respected and revered as an ingrained part of our civilisation standing above all for justice. That is not the way we think of courts sometimes. We think of them as alien to our way of life and places with which, hopefully, we will not have to come in contact. Many of our parents used to say that they had never stood in court as if that were a mark of outstanding accomplishment or achievement, which in some respects it is. However, it shows an attitude that courts are the last resort and are not places in which decent people have any business. They are seen as the resting ground of people who are the residue of society, people who are outsiders. These are the only clientele, apart from the legal profession, with whom the courts are expected to deal. A much more central role for the courts in our way of life should be envisaged.

In glancing at a New Zealand publication,The Royal Commission on the Courts, 1978, I am reminded of some of the attitudes they have of service to the public and the suitability of the courts to the public. There is an extrovert approach to access, to public involvement and public acceptance of the courts as being fundamental. This is an attitude from which we could borrow. The public must be helped to see the courts in the right light. None of this thinking is embodied or envisaged in the Bill.

To give a specific example, in recent months we had a case involving an incident when a reporter was asked to leave a court. I will not give the details because it might be inappropriate.

We are getting on to dangerous ground. The Deputy has plenty of latitude without dealing with specific or recognisable cases.

It would certainly be recognisable but nothing I would say would be injurious to the well-being of anybody. I suggest that this prompt caution is symptomatic of what I am talking about. Why can we not discuss this? If I were discussing the fate of a factory in the west or a grant for an inner city community or the building of houses on a particular site, there would not be a problem but because I mention a court there is immediately a raised eyebrow.

The Chair and everybody else must obey the rules of the House that we cannot criticise decisions of the courts or particular judges. The Deputy has been doing very well up to now.

I have no intention of criticising a specific decision. I wanted only to say that the process by which the public's right to access was excluded in that case, subsequently endorsed on the following day by the President of the Circuit Court, did discredit to us all. Apparently there is no forum in which we can talk about this. I cannot ask a parliamentary question and the Minister could not answer me if he wished to do so, as I am sure he would. There should be some way in which the public can ventilate displeasure and disquiet at events in the court. That is all I am asking.

I will not mention names, places or events, but I have known cases where there have been disgraceful miscarriages of justice. The Minister is aware of some of these and has been extremely helpful and sympathetic in co-operating in reversing the wrongs involved where people have done long terms of imprisonment for incidents which in many cases were of the most trivial nature. These excesses of zeal happen in all walks of life. There are many such examples and it is timely for us to look at how the courts are performing.

In passing, I would like to ask the Minister to consider whether there is any argument to be made for increasing the degree of public accountability of the office of Director of Public Prosecutions. That is something we could talk about. There are obviously many things the Director of Public Prosecutions cannot refer to publicly but he could do better than he is doing at the moment. I ask that because in this context I have been made aware of widespread dissatisfaction on the part of a number of people who do not know the reason why things happen. Maybe they are not entitled to know; maybe they could know; maybe there are cases where they could be allowed to know and no disservice would be done; maybe there are limits beyond which that office cannot be expected to account for for security reasons or personal confidentiality and so on. I raise the issue to see if the Minister will make a comment. The recent instance off the coast of Donegal where a fishing vessel case was not pursued in the courts reminds me of that. One would imagine that we could try to explain better to people why these things are not pursued than we do now. If we did that there would be less disquiet because much of that disquiet is ill-founded. So the question of public access to information and the idea of opening up the whole area of law and the courts to the common man are important.

I would ask three brief rhetorical questions. How many members of the legal profession, and particularly the judges, have ever come into contact in any personal way with what I would call the catchment areas of crime? One might say they do not have to and they should not have to. But I believe that it would help understanding, it would help the wisdom of their decisions if a greater effort was made. I wonder will there ever be a situation where we might envisage a judge on the bench coming from one of these areas? Do they always have to be from a different walk of life, from different geographical areas, different socio-economic classes? I would look forward to the day when there is a judge from Sean McDermott Street or Sheriff Street on the bench here. At the moment there is very little chance of it happening since only one per cent of the people there get to third level education. We should work towards facilitating an approach which is open and healthy, not simply one class, as it were, retaining the exclusive right and access to the law; they do not do this but that is the way our system has developed. A much more positive and comprehensive approach would be helpful. Finally, I wonder how many judges have ever visited one of the prisons, one of the institutions, to which they daily sentence people. Again, they do not have to. I think it was Mr. Justice Kingsmill-Moore who used to regularly or frequently do this. This gives people involved in the administration of justice an insight. It shows them humanity at its rawest. It imbues in them a sense of the dignity, maybe in that case the fallen dignity, of people; it helps them to do their job. I am asking therefore that a more human approach to the administration of justice might be taken.

I have laid stress on this whole area of the problem and difficulty among the Judiciary and the courts and it is small in size. But the impact is large because it is always the nonsensical ranting or the wild action or the bizarre sentence, the throwaway line that gets the attention and we have had enough of those; that is what will capture public imagination and that is what will be remembered and not the quiet judgments administered day in day out without fanfare or without question or without difficulty. It is the occasional extremity that gets attention. So I do not want to exaggerate the difficulty here. I want to mention in passing that it would be helpful in my view if the press adopted a much more aggressive and vigilant role in this respect. Under Article 40.6 (1) they have the right to be more vigilant and more assertive. I have never seen critical comment along the lines which I am trying to point to today in the media and they have a responsibility in this respect just as much as any of us here. Indeed one of the justices, Mr. Justice Barrington, a much respected member of the Judiciary, made the point about six months ago that we could perhaps have a more terrier-like and helpful press in this respect.

Against that backdrop let us look at the specifics of what is proposed here. If we see then some of the limitations of the present system of doing things we will find that there is no reason for complete satisfaction that the job is going to be that well done in some respects at least. Section 12 of the Bill itself is central and it is fundamental. That is the section dealing with the increased jurisdiction in the context of family law cases. If we look at that we will see then that we are now asking for this jurisdiction to be given to courts which up to now were not involved. Much of what the Minister proposes in this Bill is extremely sensible and gets one's complete support, certainly in relation to the economic aspects of it, the increasing of limits, the new figures and so on which if anything are slightly conservative in some cases. But it is with some regret that I take a different viewpoint and have grave reservations about the proposal. There are two reasons why I think that the Circuit Court, and the District Court particularly, dealing in the area of Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976, matters and related issues might not be the most satisfactory. One is undoubtedly what I have already pointed to; the purpose for which the District Court exists, the manner in which it operates, some of the personnel associated with it and the speed at which it operates up to now does not bode that well for some areas in family law which need time, sensitivity of an exceptional nature, very complex and complicated backup and a wide range of witnesses. It will not be possible to deal with some of these demands at this lower level. Also, and perhaps more fundamentally, there is what might be called the adversary nature of our court system. I cannot think of anything more likely to destroy or help to destroy the family environment than two sides being adopted or two adversaries tackling each other in open court about matters of family law. I do not think the adversary system is a good one for family law matters. Some sort of conference approach might be more appropriate and that is not possible in the courts as we know them at present.

The Minister might consider some other system. I would not even call it at this stage a family court because a court implies this adversary system. There are many cases in the family law area which are not ideally suited to our court system which is essentially one side trying to prove the other side wrong. In the area of family law the priority should be to bring the sides together and knit together that which they have in common and build on that if possible. Obviously in some cases of family law it is not a question of the stability of the home or the family or the marriage that is at stake but property issues and this factor may not arise. But there are some cases where the adversary nature of our courts, compounded by the deficiencies which I have already mentioned make it unacceptable for the kind of family law cases we are talking about on occasion to be dealt with at this level. I would ask the Minister to consider whether or not family law matters could be better dealt with by a whole new system designed to discuss compassionately and constructively the issues of the case. I do not think that that need necessarily apply in the context of what is being proposed here.

To give a very simple example of what I am talking about, we all know, and indeed the court Committee on Practice and Procedure pointed out time and again, as well as individual judges, the physical deficiencies of courts, the fact that there are judges and members of the public and members of the legal profession being obliged day in, day out, to carry out their jobs and attend courts which do not have basic facilities such as those of hygiene. I could envisage a situation where in some of these children and mothers and fathers are obliged to stand outside the court because there are no proper waiting rooms, proper heating and proper lighting. We have had numerous complaints about this and I am not blaming the Minister for all of this; this is a legacy which has built up over the years and over the decades. But in that context, in an environment where even the very basic physical needs are not being met, apart from the professional needs of a complex family law case, is it likely that the quality of justice is going to be of the highest?

Regardless of who the judge is, it is asking a great deal when one considers the kind of, often, irregularity that it depends on, the speed at which the courts work, the tradition that they have, the very purpose for which the district courts have been set up. I would like to quote briefly from paragraph 17 of the Twentieth Interim Report of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure, which says:

The Committee have come to the conclusion that the courts referred to in Part II of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 should now be the Circuit Court and the District Court respectively rather than as currently the High Court and Circuit Court. They are also of opinion that the exclusive jurisdiction of the High Court conferred by Part III of the Act should be conferred on the District Court in lieu of the High Court. This Part of the Act deals particularly with such matters as allegations that a parent has abandoned or deserted the infant and these are matters which the District Court already deals with much more frequently than any other court by virtue of the jurisdiction conferred on it by the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976. An additional advantage in transferring these jurisdictions to the Circuit Court and the District Court respectively as recommended is that these courts are better geared to cope with the frequency with which several applications in the same case tend to recur because of changing circumstances.

Just pit that against what another report of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure said when it talked about its own view of the District Court and how it perceived their role. On the one hand it is recommending the District Court and Circuit Court as being appropriate fora for this kind of case, but in the 1966 Fifth Interim Report of the Committee under the heading "Recommendations as to Alterations in Civil Jurisdiction Limits of the District Court", paragraph 7, it is said:

The views before the Committee indicate that by and large the District Court has given satisfaction since its inception in 1924 as the Court dealing with the lower levels of litigation in the State. The District Court is essentially a court of limited jurisdiction which operates without formalities and without complicated procedure.

It goes on to say:

Furthermore the jurisdiction must not be so enlarged as to cause the District Court now, or in the future, to lose its essential character of a court of simple procedure for small cases or to risk creating the necessity for establishing a further lower court in the future to deal with such cases.

I suggest that those two viewpoints are incompatible and contradictory. The perception of that Committee of the District Court in 1966 was that it was "a court of limited jurisdiction which operates without formalities and without complicated procedure". The committee went on to say that the jurisdiction must not be so enlarged as to cause the District Court now, or in the future, to lose its essential character, that is, of a court of simple procedure for small cases or to risk creating the necessity for establishing a further lower court in the future to deal with such cases. The perception of the District Court in that 1966 Report is, I submit, the one which is commonly accepted. If that is the case then we are trying to get a quart, if not a gallon, into a pint glass to suggest that family law cases could be dealt with in that environment.

That brings to mind the question of why this happened. I have heard unworthy suggestions that this might be something to do with the free legal aid scheme. I think the Minister has already denied that. I am not interested in whether it is right or wrong. All I am interested in is getting the best system for dealing with family law cases. I do not believe the District Courts, whatever about the Circuit Courts, constitute the best system. There should be a different approach, something of what might be called a family law court — but I shy away from the word "court" because of the adverse dimensions of what we know traditionally as a court. But if the 1966 Report of this very same Committee on Court Practice and Procedure is correct in defining the District Court as being a court whose essential character is to deal with small cases, deal with them rapidly, and without formality or complicated procedures, then obviously we are trying to turn this system on its head by asking it now to take on responsibilities for which it is not suited. Therefore, I would ask the Minister to reconsider this aspect.

Before leaving completely the question of physical facilities of the courts I want to mention that that same committee — this committee which is now seeking to extend jurisdiction, or propose such procedure — said in its 1970 Twelfth Interim report, paragraph 21:

...The facilities at the courthouses in many of the less important venues are unsuited for the hearing of civil cases which will take any length of time. In addition these cases may involve the calling of specialist witnesses who generally reside and practise their professions in the larger centres.

An important factor in the cost of litigating the type of case which may be tried under an increased jurisdiction is the cost of having professional witnesses attend court.

That is not an insubstantial point for them to make and is of significance to us.

The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure had this to say at paragraph 20 of their Twentieth Interim Report:

...The Committee is not concerned with the grounds upon which such orders may be made and it is understood that recommendations in relation to that are under examination by the Law Reform Commission. The Committee in making recommendations is merely concerned with the forum for the hearing of such proceedings.

I have no doubt that is what the committee were asked to do and were right in so doing. However, the Minister must take a somewhat broader view. It is not merely a question of the appropriate forum. It is not merely a question of the expense involved or the actual mechanics of handling the case. It is a question of what type of system enhances the prospects of getting the best standards of justice. I do not believe that section 12 facilitates that and therefore I must ask the Minister to reconsider it.

There is another point in relation to this very fundamental element of this Bill, that is, the constitutional implication. It seems to me that the proposal may be — and I stress may be because I would not claim for a minute to be a constitutional expert — constitutionally doubtful. I base that submission on the fact that the Constitution prescribes that there will be a High Court with full and unlimited jurisdiction. Mention is made also of courts of local and limited jurisdiction. If we accept for a minute that the question of a child's welfare can be seen as a limited matter, which is implicit in this Bill, then I believe we could be open to a successful constitutional challenge. At best, such an approach, where the welfare of a child is seen as a matter of limited jurisdiction and is to be dealt with at that level, may well be undesirable. I do not believe it was ever intended that such a court would deal with matters of such extreme significance as, for example, which parent will have custody of a child. Such cases are invariably traumatic and give rise to very difficult questions of law involving expert witnesses, medical, psychiatric, social worker type witnesses. The District Court, by its constitution and tradition, is probably inappropriate for such a case. I do not believe that those involved in the District Courts would welcome this increased jurisdiction. We may well be unfair to the people involved — and particularly to those who will come before them, with whom I am primarily concerned — to ask them to carry out this task. Therefore there is also a constitutional dimension to what I am saying. Obviously as well we are going to thrust the ordinary solicitor dealing with the District Court into an area of family law which up to now he may either have been reluctant to become involved in or else may have been able to avoid.

There are all kinds of implications arising from the Bill. With regard to the sections of the Bill dealing with costs, with new sums of money and the updating of such sums of money, I want to ask the Minister a question which he might take an opportunity of answering either today or on Committee Stage. It seems to me to be an enormous waste of both the Minister's and our time to have to come back to this House every now and again — as is implicit in what we are doing — for an updating of the costs and sums involved. The Minister, for example, referring to one of the sums involved in the increased jurisdiction, said it was hoped by this new sum to cover a certain amount of inflation over the next few years. He was clearly implying that, if you get your case in first after the Bill has been passed and allowing for a six months' stay to get the court rules up to date, you had the best chance of getting financial advantage, but as time went by that advantage would slip away. Take the thousand pounds paid in respect of the mental distress or what the lawyers call "tear money". That sum was set in 1961 and is now seen as a farcical figure.

Many of the cases dealt with at present, and which are hinted at in the Bill, are cases in which the costs involved are greater than the awards. Can we improve on that? Surely we can devise some mechanism whereby the Minister, by ministerial order, can come back to the House and adjust these figures in line with some objective or economic criteria, such as the cost of living index. That should be built into every figure involved. This is what is wrong with our system. Fines, some of them set in the last century are long outdated. We should have been taken to task on these long ago. We have to incorporate some system whereby there is a realistic figure, which is clearly assessable in the context of the prevailing economic climate. Surely we can work something out. At present people do not take actions because they cost more than they are worth. We may not even have a true indication of the amount of work involved because the figures involved are so minimal and so ludicrous in many cases. I am asking for some kind of index linking of these sums, not directly linked to the index but there should be an automatic increase, probably regulated by ministerial order, without reference to legislation. The present system is little short of scandalous.

I understand there are delays of up to two years in jury action cases at present before the High Court. This Bill may not bite at all on account of the delay involved in opting for a High Court hearing. I wonder if we should encourage referral to the appropriate court outside the High Court rather than cluttering up the High Court with cases which are primarily there because it takes two to three years to get a hearing.

We should also consider, as a way of dealing with minor issues, the possibility of a small claims court. Whether £5, £50 or £500,000 is involved, the principle of justice is equally valid in all cases. The sum of £5 or £50 can be just as important to the poor person as £500,000 is to another person. Is there some way in which a person who is in dispute and feels he is entitled to a small sum of money can have his claim resolved without having to go through all the paraphernalia and all the expense, not just personally but also State expense, in order to obtain that? The time has come to look at a system of small claims courts. It might not even involve a court building. I was going to say a travelling court, but I might leave myself open to ribald remarks, but some place where justice could be administered at this level.

The Minister is aware of the delay in obtaining judgments from certain High Court judges. Could the Minister allow the President of the High Court more latitude in giving judges time off to write their judgments? I understand that in Britain if a judge is involved in a High Court judgment he does nothing else until he gives that judgment. Maybe we would lose the services of some judges for a time but there is no excuse for judgments being held over for three to five years. The President of the High Court should be allowed some facility in this respect.

Section 28 of the Bill refers to the amendment of the Civil Liability Act, 1961. The Minister referred to this in his introductory speech. He said that for some time he had been considering the amount that may be awarded by a court to the relatives of deceased persons in fatal accidents under the Civil Liability Act, 1961, as compensation for mental distress. The Civil Liability Act, 1961, set the maximum figure at £1,000. That figure, of course, was never intended to be true compensation. It was more in the nature of a gesture, because no amount of money could compensate families for the loss of a loved one. Although the Minister says — and I agree with him — that there should be some gesture of compensation involved, surely the figure of £5,000 is another figure which will be rapidly eroded? Why a limit at all? We must take into account the economic circumstances of the families involved. Is it not a case of a figure which could be accepted by a judge, taking into consideration the economic circumstances, the current economic climate or the cost of living at the time and depending on inflation? The figure of £1,000 set in 1961 is now nearly 20 years out of date. Are we going to wait another 20 years for that figure to be increased? The Minister should increase this figure. Obviously the amount paid in compensation will depend on the person involved. If the deceased was a young wage earner who was helping to support a family, £5,000 is clearly a farcical figure. If a loss is not as fundamental as that, then obviously the figure could be lower. Flexibility should be embodied in the Bill.

In relation to the implications of the increases in poor law valuation in the Bill, it seems to me that virtually all property matters will come within the ambit of the lower courts. I mention that because, once again, I have grave reservations about the degree to which we are asking these courts, without pledging one extra member of staff, one extra court building, one extra judge or one extra shilling, to undertake an extra burden of work. I am unhappy about that, bearing in mind that already there is an enormous amount of work being done in the District Court. According to the bookAdministration of Justice in Ireland by Delaney, 90 per cent of the work in 1961 was being carried out by the District Courts. Now we intend burdening them with an extra percentage of work and not alone that, qualitatively a very difficult extra percentage. We have made no attempt up until now to give them any extra facility. That is not realistic and is doomed to failure. I have no doubt that court clerks, the Judiciary and people associated with the courts will say the same.

There are other issues which could perhaps have been dealt with in this Bill but perhaps the Minister is wise in that sense. However, the whole question of increase in jurisdiction can only be talked about realistically if people are willing to talk about matching that jurisdictional increase with an increase in the number of judges assigned to the courts. I understand that there is a waiting appointment for something like 12 to 18 months of an extra judge to the High Court. I do not know the position in the lower courts but have figures for the amount of work done there. If you ask these people to do more work, you are either going to get more overworked judges — and many of them work extremely hard already, so much so that their capacity to clearsightedly instil and perceive standards of justice must be strained — or else you will simply get a breakdown of the system which, in some respects, is already threatened, by virtue of backlogs. The Minister should give assurances about increasing the number of judges and other necessary ancillary personnel.

There may be people who will throw up their hands and say "Look at the cost", but in view of the fact that one judge annually deals with many millions of pounds, some of which accrue to the State, an extra judge or judges is, realistically speaking, a small cost. We are now getting to a situation where if the Circuit Court jurisdiction limit is increased, it will mean that quite substantial personal injuries actions will come before that court. This means that litigants with substantial personal injuries might now be deprived of the right to trial by jury. I do not know if that is the case or if this danger exists. The Minister might comment on that.

I mention again, in passing, the likely difficulty which may be experienced in arranging for the attendance of witnesses. This question of trial by jury is a fundamental right and one which none of us wants to tamper with. Could the Minister today, or the next day, tell me whether there are any implications for that right involved in this Bill? I also mention a procedure which seems at the moment somewhat abused, about which the Minister may remark, which is the question of both sides having the right to seven days' notice to apply to have the hearing of cases transferred to the Central Criminal Court. I understand that the reason for this was that there would be cases where obtaining an independent and impartial jury might be important and the actual geographic location of the court might work against the likelihood of a fair trial. Obvious examples would involve allegations of violent rape, or some type of agrarian crime, or some cases with a very provocative local dimension. In such cases, an accused might well complain of being unable to get a fair trial, so there is an option to apply to have the case transferred to the Central Criminal Court. It now, however, appears that accused persons seeking a transfer to that court do so not because they fear the existence of prejudice on the part of the jury but because they are aware of, and disapprove of, the sentencing policy of the Circuit Court judge. This problem is particularly acute in Dublin and the justification is not there because, in effect, what happens is that the accused virtually crosses a corridor or goes from one building to another. I wonder is there any theoretical justification for some system which would look again at the absolute right to transfer and look with realism at what is at present happening, if this allows our courts to operate more smoothly than heretofore.

I ask the Minister, in the context of any future legislation and possibly this legislation—though this may not be appropriate—if he would consider some way of ensuring that there is closer liaison and dialogue between judges at various levels. This proposal was referred to in the reports and the judges suggest that it is a good thing that such should happen. Obviously, such dialogue could help to dispel concern about some irregularities which are alleged to occur now and again. In their interim report of 1970, the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure in paragraph 173 say:

In the opinion of the Committee the administration of justice and the efficiency of the Courts would be assisted by a greater liaison between the judges of all the Courts. We are of opinion that periodic meetings of all the persons concerned with the administration of justice in each Circuit would be more conducive towards that end.

We therefore recommend that at least once each year in each Circuit there should be a conference to discuss the problems and matters arising during the year in that Circuit, to consider and make recommendations for the improvement of the administration of justice in that Circuit and to exchange ideas on the subjects of special interest to that Circuit. We also recommend that each Circuit should have permanently assigned to it as Conference Chairman a Judge of the Supreme Court.

That is a very sensible suggestion which the Minister should take up and facilitate, in order to ensure that acceptance of justice being done is universally applicable and that there are no areas in the judicial system or corners of the country where people are afraid to actually step into because they know—in the most charitable sense of the word—the idiosyncracies of that particular context. If closer liaison between the judges and personnel attached to the court helps this and if they themselves in the context of these reports are asking for such, it behoves us to try to respond as positively as possible to such requests. I thank the Minister for listening.

In dealing with the Courts Bill, 1980, we are dealing with a system which is part of the machinery to protect the personal and public rights of all the citizens of this State. This has very little interest for the average citizen and it will not get banner headlines in tomorrow's press but is very relevant to every citizen of the State. Possibly so because the general public are so remote and removed from it and find it intimidating that, as Deputy Keating says, they avoid it at all costs. They consider it to be the preserve of lawyers or those unfortunate to come in contact with it. This is a pity because rights will not be vindicated because of this feeling of intimidation.

The challenge for the future will be to educate people with regard to their rights as citizens and to make these rights more accessible to people generally. A debate in that area was initiated by those who ran the law centre, particularly in Coolock, who had a very different concept of law in relation to its application from that of the average citizen. The fact that the practice of law is the preserve of a certain section of society alienates it from the vast mass of citizens, particularly those on the lower levels of the economic scale. For students leaving secondary education and going to university the State and the Department of Education could make a contribution in making available education for some few more of our citizens by the extension of third level grants to places like the Incorporated Law Society. There would be problems there but while the practice of law remains effectively the preserve of those who have the wherewithal to pay for it they will have this concept of law as something which is either the preserve of the wealthy or the misfortune of those who are in trouble with it. That is not what law should be about.

Coming back to the Bill before the House, one has to start by saying that it is long overdue and in the main is very welcome. It is incredible that up to this year of 1980 the District Court jurisdiction was limited to claims of £250 or less and that the Circuit Court jurisdiction was limited to claims of £2,000. That meant that justice as administered by the courts in this State was not available to people with limited financial means. If justice is to be available at all it has to be available on an equal basis to all our citizens and there are several areas and instances where that is not the case. While this limitation was placed on the lower courts and while the cost of the higher court was so great a number of people did not have justice at all, and there will still be people who will not be able to avail of the law in spite of this Bill and the free legal aid system. I will refer to that later.

In development of the point that I am making, the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure in their 20th Interim Report said in relation to the limitation of monetary jurisdiction with regard to those two courts that many cases of tort before the Circuit and District Courts related to motor accidents, road accidents and accidents generally and particularly industrial accidents. They made the point that the value of a motor car destroyed in an accident could exceed greatly the current monetary limits of the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court, not to mention the District Court. That applied also to the cost of repair, replacement of the car and so on, and perhaps even more so to loss of wages because inflation has increased and industrial wages have followed it, and even quite simple cases were placed outside the jurisdiction of these lower courts.

The courts were not relevant to the need that they were established to meet. The situation had arisen where these cases were not being dealt with by the courts and those who were in a financial position, through luck, insurance and so on, to pursue them in the higher courts did so and in doing so had to undergo an intolerable delay. In cases of this nature the normal delay was about two years. Others who were poor and whose circumstances did not permit them to pursue the cases were left outside the scope of a legal remedy. Therefore, the updating of the monetary limit is very welcome. It is the implementation of a report of 1978 and I know that the committee in recommending the new limitations of jurisdiction provided for inflation and for the instance and desirability of monetary levels of jurisdiction being left undisturbed for what they deemed to be a reasonable number of years. With inflation running as it has been in recent years at an extraordinarily and consistently high level, one hopes that these figures will stand up for some time, but if not one would have to hope that another Bill of this nature would be brought in to ensure that there is no backlog such as we have had with regard to this matter in recent years.

The Bill also provides for the updating of interest rates on judgment debts from 4 per cent which has existed, as the Minister said in his brief, for 140 years. With the inflation that we have had it is incredible that this should not have had some attention before now. That is not a criticism of the Minister in that regard. I compliment him on bringing the Bill before the House this evening. I am impressed particularly by the fact that the Minister has power to vary on order those interest rates. That is important. While there is a two-year limitation for the reasons that the Minister stated, it is important that we do not have another long lapse and another backlog and another question of these monetary jurisdiction limits being totally irrelevant to the needs they were set up to meet.

I would like to talk about sections 12 to 15 of the Bill before the House. These sections extend the jurisdiction granted to the District and Circuit Courts in the area of family law. By that we mean the jurisdiction under the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976, the Family Home Protection Act, 1976, the Illegitimate Children (Affiliation Orders), Act, 1930 and the Guardianship of Infants, Act, 1964. The new figures for maintenance contained in the Bill are very welcome. The Bill will bring to the courts involved more respectable and relevant figures in so far as income is concerned. The increases in the limitations on barring orders are particularly welcome. I recall stating in the debate on the Family Home Protection Bill in this House that I felt that the three months as an upper limit was not adequate in the case of barring orders. One could see in advance that a lot of hardship, duress and distress would be caused by the fact that the limit was three months' duration, particularly in the case of recurrent barring orders. I can understand a first barring order being limited to three months except in exceptional cases, but where the need for further barring orders recurred again and again it was rather futile to continue to limit it to three months. The 12 months is more realistic and it will meet the needs of some of the more difficult cases that will arise in this area of family law and I am glad to see it contained in the Bill before the House.

With regard to the extension of the jurisdiction of the District Court in respect of family law cases, the condition of those courthouses arises in one's mind. I know that it arose in the mind of the Minister, the mind of Deputy Keating and my mind that the facilities of these courts around the country — and we are all familiar with them — in all cases but particularly family law cases, are generally run down and inadequate in regard to size, sanitation, consultation and so on and would appear to render the vast majority of these courthouses unable to meet the new demands made on them under this Bill. In his Second Reading speech the Minister referred to this and said he had proposals relating to courthouse accommodation which he will be putting before the House in the near future. It would ease the minds of all of us if we had these proposals now. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what exactly he envisages for expansion in terms of accommodation and services available to these courts and then we might be happier about it. It seems that now they are not equipped to deal with the extra volume of work and particularly that they are not equipped to deal with family law cases.

The fear has been expressed, with a certain amount of justification, that in passing family law matters through the lower courts we might tend to feel that our duty was done in that regard, but I think the case has been made that the ordinary court system is not the way to deal with family law. The court system that we have is not oriented properly towards family law. The system which brings the parties to the case together as adversaries has not the back-up service that is necessary in family law. I am not making any reflecton on those who are operating in the courts, but there is not the personnel to deal with family law which, after all, is a very new discipline. It was not even thought of in our law schools until a very few years ago. Therefore, our courts in relation to family law are not developed fully at all.

While this is the method adopted under this Bill to handle family law cases. I have reservations about it and about the capacity of the courts in question to handle them. I have reservations about the capacity of the personnel to handle them and about the fact that the back-up personnel are not there. I would like to be assured in regard to family law that we have a commitment still to the establishment of proper family law courts, tribunals or whatever else is suitable, with all the back-up services and all the sensitive advice, counselling and reconciliatory services needed in this area, which is a new discipline to which other aspects of law cannot be so easily adapted. We have, for instance, in Ormond House the court in which the majority of family law cases are dealt with. This is a court in which these cases are heard rather than a true family law court. It does not have a reconciliation system or the back-up services we would like to see in the future.

I would go so far as to say we do not have all our thoughts developed in this area. We should give a great deal of thought to this matter in the future. There may be aspects of this law we have not worked out in our minds and which could be helpful. Ormond House is not adequately equipped to meet its present function. There is not sufficient accommodation, as the Minister will concede, because there is a growing volume of cases of this nature coming to that court. There is a shortage of consulting rooms with consequent lack of privacy. It is common knowledge that parties in that court are studiously trying to avoid each other by dodging around corners. The provision of consulting rooms would be very desirable. As I said, there is no reconciliation process and the idea is that the parties are kept as far apart as possible until the case is heard. This should not be the last word with regard to family law. We still have a long way to go.

I hope the provisions of this Bill do not give a false sense of security in this area. An open mind should be the order of the day from now on, because this is a growing problem which should be met with new ideas and new concepts rather than adapting a system which is not geared to meet the particular needs of the area in question.

This is a technical Bill and comments could be more appropriately made on Committee Stage. I do not propose to go through the Bill section by section.

On the question of the suitability of District Court premises to accommodate the increased volume of work, the Minister said they are the responsibility of the local authorities. At present there is a severe dearth of finance for all kinds of local authority work. From my experience as a member of a local authority for the past 15 years, there have been constant complaints about the conditions of courthouses and the inability of the local authorities to put them in order. I imagine they would require an enormous influx of money to meet the volume of demand this Bill will place on them, and I hope the Minister will make available a great deal of money in a very short time. This is hard to envisage in the present economic crisis. However, we will await the Minister's pleasure and hope he will have good news for us.

In the twentieth interim report of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure the point was made about the abolition of juries in civil actions in the Circuit Court. I would like the Minister to comment on the question of the loss of the right to a trial by jury. The Minister covered the point of being penalised for costs.

I wish to refer to the inadequacy of the present legal aid system. Legal aid is vital in the process of justice. This Bill is making legal services more accesible to a greater number of people but there is still the problem that those with disposable incomes over £2,500 will not qualify for legal aid and will have to pay for proceedings out of their own pockets. In an attempt to bring the process of law and the protection of the law to everybody it will be very necessary to extend further the system of free legal aid. The Minister said it is working well. In some respects it is working but, on the other side of the coin, there are a number of people who by any stretch of the imagination would be considered as people with low incomes and who would not have money in reserve. In many cases these people have been refused legal aid. A number of them often decide not to go ahead with their cases. I am not saying there are a great number of such cases but I know a number of them exist. This is denying the protection of the law to people of inadequate means.

I repeat what I said when I pressed for the implementation of a more generous and comprehensive scheme, that is, that this system should be improved. After a short and fair trial I hope the Minister will keep an open mind and improve it. In his speech he said the thinking behind this legislation is to make the law available on equal terms to all the people. We are a long way from that, but if we want this to happen we will have to ensure that our legal aid system is better than the system introduced in the recent past. We should learn from our mistakes, and I hope the shortcomings in that system will encourage the Minister to introduce a more realistic scheme.

The updating of the limits of jurisdiction are welcome but my main reservation lies in the area of family law. I ask the Minister to guarantee that the extension of the lower courts' jurisdiction will not mitigate against the establishment of a proper system of family law courts, a properly structured system with all the back-up services required in that area. No matter how much money is spent making nicer or better buildings, in the last analysis the courts are not equipped to deal with the problems arising in this area. I am not saying that everything that is necessary can be achieved overnight. We must keep an open mind in regard to this whole area but we must not consider our job complete until the whole matter has been dealt with. We must see the challenge ahead as being in terms of making the law more relevant, more accessible and less intimidating for all our people. Then, when that sort of situation is achieved we will get returns in the sense of respect for and understanding of the law. We must endeavour to make the law much more relevant in terms of the whole concept of citizenship and above all we must ensure that the law is accessible to those who are most in need of its protection and, more often than not, these are the underprivileged in our society.

We welcome this Bill as I am sure it will be welcomed by the vast majority of the people having regard to those matters that are causing serious concern. For example, the position in the High Court at present is that there are delays of between 12 and 18 months in respect of the hearing of cases. This is something that is preventing people from proceeding with their cases. The backlog has not cleared since the postal strike. Consequently, the problems continue with the result that people are being forced to settle cases rather than have them drag on for a long time. Usually, financial circumstances dictate that people settle rather than have matters protracted further. This means in effect that they will accept whatever is offered by insurance companies. I am aware that efforts have been made to remedy the situation and that the number of High Court judges has been increased but the situation remains far from satisfactory. This is the cause of much concern to those involved in the administration of justice. It is understandable that, say, a woman whose husband has been killed will try to settle the case with the least possible delay because of her commitments in terms of her children. We hope that this Bill will result in the solving of the problems in this area and we hope too, that it will be passed by the end of the year. Is it the intention of the Minister that this will be the case?

I should hope so. Indeed, I should hope to have the Second Stage concluded this evening and that there would be the minimum delay for consideration of amendments.

I understand that there are a number of other people who wish to speak to the Bill at this Stage.

My intention is to have the Bill processed as quickly as possible.

I am glad to hear that. The delays that are being experienced are causing much hardship and the poorer the people concerned, the greater is the need for having cases processed quickly.

I should like to refer first to the situation in the District Court. There are some changes that I should like the Minister to ensure are brought about in regard to that court. First, there is a need in every District Court area for the setting aside of certain specified days for the hearing of family law cases with civil cases and criminal cases being heard on other separate specified days. I understand that in Dublin and in Cork and, to a lesser extent, in Limerick, this is the situation but I should hope for a situation in which, say, three specific days would be set aside in every District Court area for the hearing of family law cases. The procedure in regard to these cases is that they are heard in camera in the District Justices chambers but what happens is that the court meets at 11 a.m. and family law cases are heard first. These are followed by petty offence cases and finally are heard — usually during the afternoon — the DPP cases. If, say, there is a case which involves a dispute between a husband and wife, what happens is that either one is called to the chambers and then the other person is called from, perhaps, a different part of the courtroom. Up to that time it is likely that the couple have been able to keep their differences secret but the chances are that by that afternoon everybody in the locality will be aware that that couple are experiencing problems. Reconciliation takes place in many of those family law cases and the families are re-united. The vast majority of cases come to a satisfactory agreement. However, once those cases come to court and the people in the neighbourhood know that the wife is taking a case against her husband orvice versa it becomes much more difficult to bring about a reconciliation or a settlement which is agreeable to both sides.

I hope from the passing of this Bill that family law cases will be held on a separate day. Those matters are bound to be brought to the attention of the public no matter how one guards against it, but if they are held on a separate day and nobody else is in court except the people directly involved it will help to reduce the publicity which follows such cases. The controversy and the talk which arises in family law cases in the city is not as bad as that which arises in closely knit communities in small towns where a lot of discussion takes place among neighbours.

I believe that it will be necessary to have civil cases heard on a separate day. The Minister and some of the senior officials in his Department should visit some of the court houses in rural Ireland where they will see three superintendents from three different areas, one or two inspectors, about ten sergeants and up to 50 gardaí in a particular court, as well as one or two State solicitors and, of course, witnesses. Some of the gardaí there may be on overtime, having worked the previous night. Some other people may be there at great inconvenience to themselves. The loss of manpower as a result of all those superintendents, inspectors and gardaí being present must be very great. Some people might not even have their cases heard after spending a full day there.

In those courts family law cases are taken first and can go on until 2 o'clock or 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The next matter dealt with is applications for occasional licences for clubs and so on, and towards the evening they may start on speed summonses. All of those people will then go home that much older but not that much wiser. The loss of manpower which the taxpayer is being asked to pay for is something which must be thoroughly investigated.

The increase in civil jurisdiction will lead to a vast increase in civil cases. If a specific day is not set aside for those cases there will be an even greater waste of Garda manpower, manpower so urgently needed for other work outside the courts. An effort should be made to try to have minor criminal cases heard on a specific day and then have the more serious cases heard on other days. Many independent witnesses are involved in Director of Public Prosecution cases and it should be possible to have those cases heard on one day and the minor cases heard on a separate day.

I believe that at the commencement of District Court sittings the list should be read over each morning by the District Court clerk so that everybody knows the cases which will be heard on that particular day. A person can be summoned to appear in court at 11 in the morning but his case may have no chance of going on. A particular witness may not be available and he may wait the full day in the court to find his case adjourned. I do not know if the Minister can put this into legislation or if his Department can send out some guideline to the different District Court clerks and the District Justices. But this would be of great benefit to people involved in all forms of litigation.

A very considerable amount of business is passing through District Courts. This further extension of the jurisdiction of the District Court will cause a gigantic increase in District Court work. The District Court will be stretched to the very limit to meet the extension of this work. A strain will be placed on existing staff such as the District Court clerks, their assistants and the District Justices. Some District Justices at the moment have to sit until 7 o'clock and 8 o'clock in the evening. A strain is placed on people, particularly elderly people, who come to the District Court at 11 o'clock in the morning and have to wait until 7 o'clock or 8 o'clock in the evening. The Minister can see what the extension of the jurisdiction of the District Court will involve. He may have to reduce the area the District Justices are involved in or else increase the number of District Justices. He will have to tackle this problem at the earliest opportunity.

In his speech the Minister stated:

Indeed, I am satisfied that the procedures can and must remain simple, thus preserving the District Court in particular as a forum where disputes can be brought to a speedy and just conclusion, with the minimum of formality and expense.

A certain amount of caution must be exercised here. District Justices have to deal with many cases and it is human nature to wish to get through them as quickly as possible. However, where sums of money ranging from £2,000 upwards are involved, due care must be exercised. I am sure this care will be given to cases by the District Justices but the Department will have to ensure that people are not put at a disadvantage. Increasing the jurisdiction of the courts can be of benefit to the less well-off but we must ensure that we are fair to everyone. Cases must be given due deliberation so that people will not feel aggrieved. To very many people a sum of £2,000 represents an enormous amount of money and if a decree for that amount is given against somebody it could place him in debt for his lifetime. People should not believe their own case has been dealt with in a summary manner, which might leave them with a grudge against the Judiciary and the legal system. While it is desirable that disputes be brought to a speedy and just conclusion. I do not think we should be too speedy. We must ensure that a just conclusion is obtained, not just a speedy conclusion.

Festina lente.

The lower courts are competent. They are capable of handling substantial cases, but they must ensure that the various proofs required are taken into account. We are changing the system but we must ensure that hardship is not caused to anybody. People must not think that their cases will be steam-rolled through the courts.

Although I did not hear all of the contributions of Deputy Keating and Deputy Eileen Desmond, I heard most of their speeches and they were excellent. We are proposing a figure of £15,000 for the limit of jurisdiction in the Circuit Court. If a person suffers a serious back injury he may have to go to the Rehabilitation Institute in Dún Laoghaire for treatment. or if he has a brain injury he may have to be admitted to one of the Dublin hospitals and the specialist who has treated him may be summonsed subsequently to attend a Circuit Court hearing in the provinces. A problem may arise in connection with his attendance at such a hearing. Doctors and top-class surgeons have very busy schedules and, while I know they have a sense of responsibility to ensure that their patients are adequately compensated, it is obvious that problems arise when they are required to attend at court.

There is no ready-made answer to this problem. There is no soft solution. I have given much consideration to the matter of sworn affidavits in regard to medical reports from both sides. The Law Society, in conjunction with the insurance companies, have arranged the exchange of medical reports, which helps to minimise the cost of the reports and the expenses in attending for examination. This is a highly desirable procedure. I should like the Department, in conjunction with the Bar Council, the Incorporated Law Society and the insurance companies, to discuss this matter to see if a satisfactory and equitable solution could be obtained. Obviously this matter will have to be investigated fully.

The jury system is being criticised nowadays. Some years ago there was a change in legislation whereby the jury system is retained in the Circuit Court in criminal matters but not in civil matters. I believe it is necessary in criminal cases and I believe that the Minister should consider the possibility of having a jury when this is specified by plaintiffs in civil cases involving amounts of up to £15,000. While the jury system is ponderous and involves inconvenience for some people, it is the safeguard of the poor man in that it provides the individual with the opportunity of having his case heard by people from the surrounding area who may have a better understanding of the realities of life than a judge who may have become a little removed from these realities. I would ask the Minister to reconsider the situation in regard to civil cases in the Circuit Court.

I gather that the insurance companies are not very happy with the existing system and are opposed to the jury system in the High Court. I believe the system is fair and should be retained. We in government would oppose any moves by the insurance companies to have the jury system abolished in cases involving personal injury and we hope that the present Government would also oppose such moves. When awards of £150,000 or, perhaps, £200,000 are made in compensation for injuries they are sometimes regarded as being too high and it is said that they would not have been made if a jury had not been present. Some years ago awards of £40,000 or £50,000 were considered gigantic but with the drop in the value of money in recent years it will be seen that such awards are barely adequate to compensate a person who is confined to a wheelchair for life or has suffered brain damage or lost limbs. Some of these people need permanent nursing care which is now very expensive. If the jury system were not used in these cases the poorer litigants who suffer injuries would be at a loss and the only people who would be happy are the big insurance companies. Judging from their annual reports they are making huge profits and we must ensure fair play for the private individual who suffers the loss or injury. This is a very important matter which I hope the Minister will consider.

Section 8 of the Bill extends the jurisdiction of the District Court under the Hire-Purchase Acts, 1946 and 1960. Section 8(2) states:

Section 33 (4) (a) of the Act of 1961 is hereby amended by the substitution of "£2,500" for "two hundred and fifty pounds" (inserted by the Act of 1971).

At present many people are having difficulty in making hire-purchase repayments. I am worried by this extension whereby decrees under £2,500 will become very readily available in the District Court. People may not get the thorough hearing they would receive in the Circuit Court. People looking for money from hire purchase companies do so in many cases with their eyes wide open but in other cases they would need the wisdom of Solomon to read the small print involved in these transactions. The Minister referred to speedy and just conclusions but I would not like to see the hire purchase companies getting speedy conclusions if they were not just. This amendment will simplify and accelerate the process of having cases heard before the courts and I would ask the Minister to consider some safeguard. I am very happy with most of the provisions of the Bill but I have reservations in this matter. Those involved in the hire-purchase business are in most instances providing a good service but I should not like to see decrees being given too freely.

Debate adjourned.