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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 23 May 1985

Vol. 358 No. 10

Courts Bill, 1984: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Before we adjourned for Question Time I was talking about the futility of the Bill. It is a pity that the Minister in deciding to bring a Bill on court reform before the House did not decide to broaden it and deal with many of the areas which have been omitted. This Bill will only be a statistic in terms of the legislative output of this Government. It will only add further confusion to the complexity of fragmented legislation at present on our Statute Books. The need for court reform was never greater than it is now. The number of people coming before the courts is on the increase. That trend reflects on the economic climate and to an extent it reflects on this House. We have a higher number of unemployed on the live register than ever before and, while I do not condone law breaking, it is easy enough to understand why people are finding this sort of outlet in their economic situation. We are missing out on a great opportunity in this debate.

Section 4 of the Bill proposes that intoxicating liquor licences may, except in certain exceptional cases, be renewed annually by the Revenue Commissioners without the production of a certificate to a District Court. This change does not remove any great burden of work from the courts. The time taken by District Courts in granting licences was a very small fraction of the time spent on other cases. The method of dealing with applications was very efficient and organised and it was done largely by the clerks. Anybody who ever attended a District Court at the annual licensing procedure could appreciate the efficient manner in which applications were processed. From my inquiries in County Laois I know that the granting of licences in 1984 would have taken up only one hour of the court's time. That is really what we are talking about here today in the pretence that we are going some way along the road towards reforming and streamlining the court system. It is important that the House recognises exactly what is involved and acknowledges that there is a wider area which the Minister has decided to ignore in terms of the proposals put forward in this Bill.

The House will agree that the law relating to publicans' licences is complicated, as can be seen from the First Schedule to the Bill, which refers back as far as 1833. I can envisage the moonshiners operating in a very organised way back in those years. While I have no great desire to trace this Act of 1833 to see exactly what was contained in it, I feel that it will be totally irrelevant to the modern legislation society requires. There has not been consolidating legislation in the meantime. The laws have been revised in a very piecemeal fashion. The Minister should have availed of the opportunity in this Bill to update and consolidate existing legislation in relation to the licensing laws.

The House will agree that the sale and consumption of alcohol is generally of great concern, It has been commented on by community leaders, social workers, teachers, members of the Garda, the clergy and by the Road Safety Association. While the vast majority of publicans conduct their business in a creditable and responsible manner, there are isolated cases where this is not the case. I refer particularly to the effects of late night extensions which seem to be granted with great ease by District Courts under existing legislation. I would have thought this was an area the House should examine when debating this Bill. Deputies will be aware of the tragic cost to the nation in loss of life and serious injuries resulting from road traffic accidents. The Road Safety Association estimated that in 1983 road accidents cost the Exchequer somewhere in the region of £200 million.

The Deputy is now dealing with a matter which does not come under the Department of Justice. It comes under the Department of the Environment, strange as it may seem. The Road Traffic Bill and its enactment is a matter for the Department of the Environment. Its enforcement is a matter for the Department of Justice.

I respect the views of the Ceann Comhairle. I was making that brief introductory statement to lead into the points which I want to make on the section.

I thought the Deputy was going to say it should be amended.

Not exactly.

If I anticipated the Deputy, I am sorry.

Thank you. The estimated figures available from the Road Safety Association of Ireland indicate that in 1983 the cost to the Exchequer was £200 million in loss of production, higher insurance claims and treatment of alcohol-related illnesses.

I hope the Deputy will relate that to the Bill before the House.

I am moving slowly but positively in that direction.

By a circuituous route.

It seems like a time killing exercise. Has the Deputy not got the troops here to vote against this measure?

Order. Please leave this to the Chair.

I hope Deputies on the far side of the House share my concern about the very restricted measures in the Bill and that they will support my plea to expand the Bill into a much wider area for which there is a greater demand. A recent survey carried out by the IMI, published in the past couple of weeks, revealed that alcoholism is a major factor in our very high and costly level of absenteeism. Alcoholism and alcoholic psychosis account for more admissions to psychiatric hospitals than anything else. I make these points, not for the purpose of getting away from the Bill but to support my views.

Not deliberately. I can understand that most people associate the Road Traffic Act and its enforcement with the Department of Justice but that would not be in order on the Bill before the House.

Thank you for your consideration and leniency. Any legislation dealing with the sale of alcohol should be carefully considered and monitored by the House. There is more to this Bill than meets the eye. I hope I have demonstrated clearly that the provisions in the Bill do absolutely nothing for District Court reform. The issue of a summons by a court clerk, for example, for an examination order does absolutely nothing to deal effectively with the problem of debt collection. It does nothing to eliminate the waste of time and the duplicated efforts in the various legal procedures which must be complied with and which far too often end up in the final analysis with the non-collection of the debt. This view will be confirmed by many creditors and their legal representatives. I am sure Deputy Molony would agree with me on that.

If I got a chance to get in I might.

On section 4 we need clarification on what the Minister is really trying to achieve. To simply remove the need for a court certificate for the issue of a licence does very little to reduce the workload in the District Court, particularly when we know that the court will have to sit in any event to deal with objections under the various headings specified in the Bill. The Bill clearly identifies the areas in which objections can be lodged in regard to the renewal of an intoxicating liquor licence. Section 4 (5) provides:

Notwithstanding subsection (2) of this section, a licence shall not be renewable on expiry without the production of a certificate of the District Court for the district court area within which the premises concerned are situate where—

(a) a notice of objection to such renewal has been lodged with the Court within the time prescribed in rules of court, or

(b) there has been structural alteration in the premises concerned since the licence was granted or renewed, or

(c) the licence is one which is renewable by virtue of the provisions of section 30 (1) (b) of the Act of 1960, or

(d) any change is proposed in the nature of the licence (including the insertion of a condition) or in the conditions attaching to the licence.

To some extent the phraseology used there bears out the point I made about understanding the legislation. Many people feel the old system of renewing licences through the court provided the greatest safeguards for the community. I spoke to many members of the licensed vintners trade who agreed that the old system was very fair in safeguarding their interests as well. I could see some reason for supporting the proposal in the Bill if the Minister could convince me that he was streamlining the courts, but in fact he is not doing that. Nobody on the far side of the House would disagree with me, I am sure. Deputy Molony has appeared in more district courts than many of us in relation to the renewal of intoxicating liquor licences, and I am sure he will agree that the district justice was capable of disposing of all those applications in the course of ten minutes or a quarter of an hour.

Why are we debating a Bill today which was supposed to be introduced in the interests of court reform when it does nothing about it? The old system of renewing licences was more accommodating to the views of fire officers and planners in respect of the suitability of premises within their areas. Having regard to recent and not so recent tragic events, I doubt if anyone would question the desirability of an input in the matter of the safety of premises by people who have a view to express when licences are being granted.

There is an aspect of the Bill which concerns me and which I trust the Minister will be able to clarify when replying. I should like to hear how the general public are to be made aware of the fact that an application has been made to the Revenue Commissioners for the renewal of an intoxicating liquor licence. I will be happy to bow to the informed opinion of the Minister in this matter but as I read the Bill, unless there is an application before the court for the renewal of the licence there will be no basis on which anyone can object to the renewal. This is a very important aspect of the Bill.

The existing system worked well. The public are familiar with it and no one, not even the courts' administrative staff, is seeking a change in this area. I remind the House again that the amount of time involved annually in any district court in renewing licences is not much more than a couple of hours. Therefore, one must look elsewhere for the Minister's reasoning in bringing the Bill before the House. Can it be that he is not prepared to make additional facilities available to the District Court clerks? We know that there is much understaffing in this area. The Minister would be providing a better service to the courts system if he were to make more resources available to the District Court clerks for the purpose of streamlining their operation.

Reluctantly, I must ask whether the Minister is endeavouring, in some hidden way or by some back door method, to give more power to the Revenue Commissioners. If that is the case he should so inform the House and leave us in a position to judge whether he is justified in what he is trying to do but it is not fair to the House that we should be left to speculate in the context of what is not in the Bill for the purpose of trying to tease out what the Minister's aim is.

Section 4, among others, and particularly subsection (2) of section 4, are of much concern to many licensed vintners. That subsection (2) reads:

An officer of the Revenue Commissioners empowered to grant a renewal of a licence for premises which have been licensed in the immediately preceding year may, subject to subsection (5) of this section, grant such renewal without the production of a certificate of the District Court.

The cause of concern in relation to that subsection is the use of the word "may". Why is the word, "will" not used instead? As the subsection reads, there is an option for the Revenue Commissioners to introduce, by some side door method or otherwise, something that is not included in the Bill, whether in the area of taxation or in some other area. On Committee Stage I will be tabling an amendment designed at least to exclude the word "may" because this word leaves the Bill open to misinterpretation, misrepresentation, confusion and doubt. No one in the House could allow the Bill to pass without establishing what the Minister has in mind in terms of this section. It creates all kinds of possibilities. Up to now the procedure has been that a district justice granted a certificate which was forwarded automatically to the Revenue Commissioners and on that basis they granted the licence. However, under the proposed legislation the Revenue Commissioners may consider granting a licence following the submission of an application, if the application is in order. It would be in order, having been forwarded to them in the first place.

The Minister of State and myself faced each other satisfactorily across the House when dealing with the Animals Bill. I am asking her now to make a special note to ask the Minister to tell us when replying to this stage of the debate what he means by the use of the word "may" in section 4.

Unless we get clarification on this point everything else in the Bill could be misleading and irrelevant. We are talking about a section that represents a very serious change in the licensing laws but which has nothing to do with court reform. We must be told why, if an applicant is qualified under subsection (7), it will not be obligatory on the Revenue Commissioners to grant the licence automatically. The provisions of subsection (7) are very important. They are cherished by members of the Licensed Vintners' Association because they relate to the credibility of members in respect of operating commercial premises. The subsection refers to the good character of the licensee and to the peaceable and orderly manner in which the licensed premises were conducted in the year ending on the expiry of the licence.

Perhaps the Deputy would give us a break.

I shall be happy to listen to Deputy Molony's contribution but I am not aware that I have to give way. I am conscious of the fact that I was very often glad to be obliged by Members from the other side of the House, but the Deputy will appreciate that I have a job to do.

I could not agree more with the Deputy. Is he missing the troops? Are they out canvassing?

I am representing our spokesman, Deputy Woods, who I regret is not with us. I am sure it would be in order to wish him a speedy recovery and welcome him back to the House as soon as possible, but in the meantime I have been entrusted with the task of representing the view of our party on this Bill. While I would like to oblige Deputy Molony and my good friend, Deputy Allen, I would leave my case on behalf of my party unfinished and I would have to answer for that somewhere else.

Section 2 proposes a change in the law in relation to default on payment of fines. We must make provision in legislation for imprisonment where people deliberately break and defy the law, but in relation to this area of administration the act need not necessarily be one of defiance but inability to pay. We know of many cases where families are in severe hardship and they find it difficult to pay a court fine. One crib I have in relation to court fines is the fact that there is no provision whereby fines can be paid in instalments. An unfortunate individual could be faced with meeting a fine of £40 and, because of unemployment and so on, it might be very difficult for him to pay that. We should be able to make provision for court fines to be paid by instalments.

The Bill provides for prison sentences in relation to failure to pay court fines. I do not question the right of the Minister to insert in the Bill the need for prison sentences in certain instances, but it is ridiculous at present to be talking about prison sentences for small, insignificant, petty offences. For example, if a person does not pay a fine not exceeding £50 he could be imprisoned for five days. We all know that there is no prison accommodation at present. It is strange that the Minister did not refer to the possibility of substituting community service orders for prison sentences — in other words, that people who under the Bill would be faced with a prison sentence could be penalised by being required to perform some task under a community service order. This order has a lot of merit. I always supported the idea. In many instances it is a humane way of dealing with the petty offences we are talking about. Perhaps in the long term it might prove to be a great deterrent. In reply I hope the Minister refers to the possibility of substituting community service orders for prison sentences.

I appeal to the Minister to make his views known when replying and to let us know his proposals and plans for reforming the District Court clerk system as an essential part of the overall structure of the judicial system. This Bill does not touch the tip of the iceberg in so far as there are many shortcomings in the system. There is a monumental and unbelievable waste of time and money in the District Court. One can see 15 or 20 gardaí waiting for two or three hours for their case to be called while the court deals with dozens of uncontested and non-controversial matters. In the Dublin area it is more organised. They have staggered lists in operation, which means that certain cases are listed from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 2 p.m. until whatever time the court adjourns.

Most courts commence at 11 a.m., and there is nothing wrong with that since many defendants have to travel long distances and it would be unfair if the courts commenced work at 9 a.m. However, the normal procedure is that applications for bar extensions, lottery licences, draws, instalment orders, examination orders, commital orders, restoration of driving licences and other civil matters are heard first. The more minor of the Garda offences — no tax, no driving licences, no insurance and speeding offences — come next. After that the more serious criminal offences, such as drunken driving, dangerous driving and assault, are heard; and, finally, civil cases are taken, usually at the end of the day. Family law cases may be taken either at the very beginning of the list or else at the end of the list, depending on the attitude of the district justice and on the number of cases to be heard. If a district justice deals with a family law case first, there may be long delays while he adjudicates on a family problem but there might be 40 or 50 people, many of them gardaí, waiting for him to commence a day's work in court.

I estimate that approximately 60 per cent of the work to which I have referred is non-controversial and non-contested. By that I mean applications for bar extensions, local draws by various clubs, auctioneers' licences, speeding offences, no tax displayed on vehicles, no driving licences and failing to produce driving licences. A great deal of time is taken up in the District Court office writing each separate application into the list and in collating all the documents necessary for each application.

I now wish to turn to the role of the Garda. District Courts may have to deal only with a few serious crimes like drunken or dangerous driving, larceny and assault. However, several gardaí dealing with minor offences may be detained in court for a number of hours waiting for their cases to be called. Their prosecutions relate to speeding offences, failure to have a vehicle taxed, failure to produce a driving licence and other minor offences, all of which would be admitted by the defendant and would, therefore, be uncontested in court. At present a defendant feels that he has to appear in person to answer the charge or to employ a solicitor to appear for him. Many of these matters could be dealt with by an on-the-spot fine which many defendants would be agreeable to pay, although of course they should be given the opportunity to have the matter adjudicated upon by the court if they felt they were not guilty. The net result of such a procedure would free a massive number of gardaí to deal with more serious crimes.

One other major waste of Garda time in connection with the courts system relates to the serving of summonses. The present procedure is that, if a driver exceeding the speed limit is stopped, the local Garda will send the summons to the Garda station nearest the residence of the person who was summoned. A summons must be delivered to the driver in person and, if he resides in a flat, a garda may call there on numerous occasions before he finds the driver or someone prepared to accept the summons on his behalf. In civil cases a civil bill can be served by registered post; and it is ridiculous that a summons for a minor traffic offence cannot also be served in this way, subject to the right of appeal by the driver if he can show that he did not receive the summons. The system of recorded delivery is used very successfully in other countries.

One other shortcoming in the District Court system is that there is a substantial amount of money outstanding in unpaid fines. Some of these go back for a number of years because the District Court office staff are overworked and unable to issue the warrants to the local Garda to collect the fines. If each District Court office were allocated a junior civil servant the backlog could be dealt with, resulting in a great boost to the Exchequer.

The Bill has not dealt with the area of family law. When a dispute arises between husband and wife relating to maintenance, assault or the question of access to children, if either party wishes to have the matter adjudicated upon it will come before the local District Court. It is patently obvious that such a case will not be brought without one party having incurred months or years of agony, terror and fear. When innocent children are involved the problem is even more worrying. All these cases fall to be heard by a district justice whose main training is based on legal principles. A family law case may have been simmering for years and, if it is suddenly brought into the open, it is very unfair that it has to be dealt with in the course of an ordinary morning's work where the Judiciary and the administration are under pressure to maintain a timetable and to dispose of other numerous harrowing matters which come before them. There may be only one or two family law cases at a sitting of the District Court. It would be simpler and more efficient if one day was set aside every month in each town where the local justice would hear family law cases only and would be prepared to listen in detail to each side of the story. An even better solution would be for the district justice, assisted by a marriage counsellor or a social worker specialising in family law cases, to visit each county on one or two days per month. The cost of employing two or three extra judges would be offset by the amount of time which the ordinary justice could devote to disposing of the more urgent criminal and civil cases.

While the ordinary district justice might be an excellent lawyer and well capable of dealing with civil and criminal matters, he is totally ill equipped to deal with family disputes. Separate family law courts would also save the unfortunate litigants the embarrassment of waiting around in overcrowded courthouses and hallways to have their cases heard. I apologise for having to read through my final notes in relation to the Bill. I did so for the purpose of speeding up my contribution and to give the Members opposite an opportunity of expressing their views. I hope I have succeeded in convincing the House that the Bill does nothing by way of introducing even the simplest reform to the District Court system although the Minister stated that that is what he was setting out to do. I appeal to him to bring in new sections which will deal with the many areas of more urgent reform which we are crying out for. I thank you for your indulgence, Sir, and I also wish to thank the Members who have so patiently waited on the other side of the House to contribute. I sincerely hope that this debate will be broadened so that we will be all happy in the knowledge that we have contributed towards bringing about some kind of worthwhile reform.

I welcome any moves to take certain functions out of the court system. Even though the proposals in the Bill are not major, I hope they are the forerunners of many reforms which will come before the House over the next two years.

Many changes can be brought about by ministerial order and I hope that the Minister will use his powers to bring about other changes in the District Court system. I sat through the long contribution of Deputy Hyland — I did not realise he could speak at such length. I agree with many of his views, especially in regard to the need for a simplification of the legal jargon which many of us have to interpret in our role as legislators. There must be a major programme of demystification of some of the professions and we should start with the legal profession. We must also overcome any opposition we may encounter in this regard, especially in relation to the barriers which the public come up against in the legal system.

Some weeks ago I had to spend a day in the District Court in Cork, as I was called as a witness for the prosecution. I was very saddened by what I saw. I saw a production line operation between the legal people, and the lay people were pawns in the game. The witnesses, the plaintiffs and the defendants were there, but we did not know what was happening most of the time. There was inadequate amplification which resulted in almost a closed contest between the legal people, mostly a mumbling contest. I did not have a clue about what was going on, nor did most of the people in the court. I was there as a State witness but nobody had the courtesy to tell me when the case would be heard or how long it would be before I would be called. If I was treated like that as a State witness, God help the defendants and the defence witnesses.

Like Deputy Hyland, I had plenty of time to notice the number of gardaí sitting around wasting time. They should have been doing more constructive duties dealing with crime on the streets. Instead, because of the failure of successive Governments to deal with the operation of the District Court, they were forced to sit around all day waiting their turn. That is a sad waste of a scarce resource. The Garda are employed to detect crime and then to bring people to justice in an efficient manner. The Garda have been let down by the legal system in this way and in other ways. That day in court taught me many lessons I will never forget.

I welcome this legislation as a small contribution to District Court reform. My day in court convinced me that the legal profession must become customer orientated and stop being so defensive when legislators and lay people question the procedures forced upon us. They should welcome the steps being taken by the Minister to bring about reforms in all areas of legal justice and a reform in the courts system. If they adopted a positive attitude they would show that the profession has nothing to hide. Deputy Hyland inferred earlier that the legal profession, through the legal jargon and the mumbo jumbo that goes on, are attempting to carry on a closed shop.

The courts should make themselves more accessible and less forbidding places for the public. The courtrooms and courthouses should be modernised and made less forbidding. Persons participating in the higher courts should be obliged to wear proper dress and not the ridiculous regalia they wear at present. I believe the legal profession and the practice of law in the District Court are too removed from the society they are supposed to serve. People are confused about whether the law is supposed to serve them or they are supposed to serve the law. This comes about because of the failure to modernise our law, our legal system and legal practice. It has come about from what I consider the inadequate training lawyers get and the social background of most lawyers.

The Minister must continue to look at the administration of justice over the next number of months. He must, as a followup to acting in areas of the District Court, act in other areas of the administration of justice. I take this opportunity to appeal to him to look at the procedures in our courts and to tell us why we have to have so many lawyers in simple road cases. Why do we have to employ up to eight lawyers in a particular case? Why cannot we set up a system of pre-trial hearings outside the courthouses where the plaintiff and the defendant could discuss the case and come to some agreement? I submit that as that may not be in the best interests of the legal profession they would oppose it.

These issues must be looked at immediately because the present system has major consequences for our people. We only have to look at the side effects, which are evident today, of the present outdated system. I am not alone in saying that the cause of the huge premiums demanded by motor insurance companies can be traced back to the area of justice, the enormous public liability premiums being demanded by insurance companies, from sporting organisations and from employer——

I accept that this is a Second Stage debate, but the Deputy is ranging a little far from the Bill.

I am taking this opportunity to ask the Minister to follow up this small but important Bill with other legislation almost immediately. This is urgently needed if we are to make our legal system more relevant.

The Deputy is an opportunist. He is doing very well.

The Minister has committed himself to looking at the jury system immediately but he has to look at the whole question of legal costs in the District, Circuit and High Courts systems and the sooner that is done the better.

If the legal profession have a duty to co-operate with the Minister in bringing about a reform of the legal system, we as legislators must look at our role and at the role of the Law Reform Commission. That commission have an important function to carry out in bringing about a reform of our court system, be it the District, Circuit or High Courts. I contend that the Law Reform Commission are not carrying out their function in this area. They could be more relevant to everyday problems if they looked at the court system as it stands. We as legislators must look at the level of public dissatisfaction which exists in this area and tackle the problem immediately.

I will conclude by referring to one important person in this system, and that is the judge. There is a tradition in this House that we should not criticise the Judiciary.

We are dealing with the District Court now.

Yes. From time to time we see very inconsistent judgments coming from the District Court. The performance of judges at that level must be monitored closely. I detect from press and other reports which I receive in my clinic an inconsistency in the judgments coming from the District Court. Judges and justices are doing a job no different from that of most other people. They are dispensing a service of justice similar to anyone in the service industry. Their quality of service must be monitored closely at all times. Should District Court justices not be put through a period of training before they are allowed to sit on the bench? That matter should be examined.

On reading and rereading the Bill, I cannot see how the role of the Revenue Commissioners is increased by the provisions of this Bill. Any disputes between the applicant and the Revenue people can be referred back to the courts, anyway. I do not share Deputy Hyland's fears on that count. I have no reservations about supporting the Bill.

When I heard of a Courts Bill coming out of the pipeline, I assumed that it would be the first major reform to be undertaken by this Government. I was looking forward to it, as I always do to legislation relating to legal matters. I was contemplating it as being a Bill in the context of the many promises made, for example, by Deputy Fennell, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, who over the tenure of her office has been proclaiming the need for a reform of law, particularly in relation to illegitimacy. I do not deny that lady the right to do and say what she has been doing and saying but I give this as an example of promises unrelated to the reality.

The Minister has indicated on numerous occasions, to my certain knowledge, her intention and concern for reform of the law on illegitimacy. In the end we got a document which asked us to comment on her views and those of the Government in relation to that subject. That means that the question of illegitimacy has once more been put on the long finger. This was one of the hopes that one had on hearing about the Courts Bill, and what does one get? Instead of a major piece of law reform, one gets legislation which creates more confusion, more bureaucracy and does more harm than good to the courts system. First, we are told that it will improve the issuing of liquor licences. The second major law reform which comes in this Courts Bill is imprisonment for non-payment of judgment debts — two major shafts of wisdom in the area of law reform from this reforming Government.

I am sorry that I am a party to wasting the House's time on this Bill. However, I was requested to come and speak on the Bill, which is what I am now doing. I offered my views on it at the parliamentary party meeting yesterday morning. The Bill was introduced to that meeting in a very able fashion by the present spokesman for Justice, Deputy Hyland. The views expressed there on this piece of law reform were particularly worth hearing. It was a very good parliamentary party meeting in the context of this Bill and of law reform generally. The reaction at it is reflected by my reaction here, being given the opportunity of speaking on the Bill in Dáil Éireann. It is a fraudulent piece of nonsense. Meant to be a law reform Bill, it is nothing of the kind. It is my intention now to expose to the House the wretchedness of this production.

This Bill is an effort to mislead the House in the context of what is required — which is major law reform. The Courts Bill, 1984, is being discussed —"1984", let it be noted. We are now at the end of May 1985. Perhaps the Minister in responding might like to tell us how much time it took for the civil servants to produce this Bill. Undoubtedly, a lot of effort has gone into it on the part of the civil servants, the number of whom we do not know. It is extremely technical legislation, undoubtedly. There are seven sections and then a first and second schedule. One wonders at the research required to come up with this piece of unwisdom, because that is what it is. It makes my blood boil to have to stand on the back benches of my own party to be treated to this contempt of Dáil Éireann presented in the context of law reform.

We talk about bringing this House into disrepute. Is it any wonder that people have a low perception of us when we produce this fraudulence? The Minister for Justice is now present. Where is the rest of the Criminal Justice Act that we spent so much time discussing in this House? At that time he accused some of us of being weak on law and security. Nothing could be further from the truth. That accusation is made if one expresses a view in this House in relation to civil liberties. Where is the great family law reform that we were promised from this Government? Would it not have been better if the Minister, his acolytes, or assistants — no disrespect to the Ministers of State — had produced a Bill which would give many thousands of families hope, instead of having to queue up for justice in courts which would do justice to some of the courts in Iran under the Ayatollah?

This country needs, and needs badly, proper family law courts. Of course, people with family problems are on the increase as the economic pressures increase. Despite what some of our institutions — religious or otherwise — are telling us, the realities are there. What we want in this House is genuine law reform, not phoney law reform. What we want is family law reform, district courts and family law courts that will deal principally with family matters.

I am a qualified lawyer but I am not here to defend lawyers, the Law Library, the Bar Council or the Incorporated Law Society. They are all well able to defend themselves. However, when charges are made against lawyers they should be substantiated by facts rather than fiction. Lawyers are not afraid of change. If the jury system is to be looked at, it will be met with reasoned arguments by the lawyers. However, it is a matter for the Government to produce whatever reforms they have in mind in that regard. If the law must change let it change but those changes should be for the benefit of the people, not for the lawyers or other professions.

We read that this Bill is an Act to amend and extend the Courts of Justice Acts, 1924 to 1961, and the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Acts, 1961 to 1983, and to provide for other matters relating to the courts. The explanatory memorandum states as follows:

The Bill proposes certain amendments of the law designed to simplify procedures in the District Court in relation to a number of matters, principally the renewal of intoxicating liquor licences, and it also proposes certain other changes of which the most important relate to the periods of imprisonment that may be imposed in default of payment of fines.

Hurrah for the Government. They should be ashamed of their effort at law reform. It is a total waste of time and effort. They should be ashamed to come here with this pettifogging measure. The Bill treats the House with contempt. It is my personal view that the House has been humiliated because of it. It has been produced under the guise of law reform. The attitude is that we should hasten slowly, that we cannot have law reform overnight or in bulk. We are told we must have law reform in the context of the renewal of liquor licences and in relation to periods of imprisonment that must be imposed in default of payment of fines. All of these are regarded as major pieces of law reform. God help us and protect us from the efforts of this Government in that regard.

The question might be asked: why not bring before the Dáil another problem with which the Minister is confronted, namely, the role of the Garda Síochána in the context of the District Court? In any such court there may be only a few serious crimes; for example, drunken driving, dangerous driving, larceny, assault and that type of crime. The Minister might address his mind to the procedures in the District Court in connection with such crimes. Those of us who began our legal careers in the District Court often had to wait many hours to have our cases taken. On such occasions we saw many members of the Garda Síochána at the back of the court waiting to deal with matters such as summonses for speeding, tax offences, failure to have a driving licence and so on. In the ordinary way if those crimes were admitted by the defendant they would be uncontested in court and this would relieve the Garda Síochána of having to waste their time and the taxpayers' money. That is the kind of law reform we should be dealing with here.

The Minister is aware that there is a serious breakdown in law and security in Dublin city and county. It would be much better if members of the Garda Síochána were out on the beat rather than wasting their time in the District Court in cases dealing with tax offences and failure to have a driving licence. I am not suggesting that these are not serious matters but if one were to make a comparison between a case of assault and failure to have a driving licence I suggest the driving offence might be seen as a minor one. At the moment the defendant thinks he either has to appear in person in court to answer the charge or to employ a solicitor to act for him. Such matters could be dealt with by an on-the-spot fine. It is only where a defendant genuinely feels he is innocent that he should have to trouble the court.

If matters were dealt with in the way I have suggested, the Garda Síochána would be free to deal with the more serious crimes in this city and in the country. In that connection, perhaps we should pay a tribute to people in the rural areas. The urban sickness, in the context of crime, does not appear to have spread to a great degree to rural Ireland. I know that crimes are committed in rural areas but not to such a degree as in Dublin city and county and a tribute should be paid to our rural citizens for their attitude to the law. It is a pity that attitude does not exist among some of our less unruly citizens, particularly in Dublin city and county. The waste of Garda time in the District Court has to be seen to be believed. As somebody who practised in that court for a considerable number of years I found that one of the most stark matters with which one was confronted was the number of gardaí dealing with so-called minor offences. This is an area the Minister could well examine.

Another area he might well examine is that of the service of summonses by the Garda Síochána. Under present procedures, if, say, a driver is stopped in Dún Laoghaire for exceeding the speed limit the local Garda will send the summons to the nearest Garda station to the driver's residence. A summons has to be delivered either to the residence of the driver or to the driver in person. For example, a driver resides in a flat in Dublin. Those of us who lived in flats know what flatland is like — I lived in a flat in Galway for a number of years; I do not have much experience of flatland in Dublin. It is, to say the least of it a warren-type experience from the point of view of delivering a summons on the part of the gardaí. Why should a garda be exposed to attempting to deliver a summons in Dublin flatland? It is a will o' the wisp operation to which he should not be subjected, a waste of taxpayers' money. In civil cases a civil bill can be served by registered post. It seems ridiculous that a summons for a minor traffic offence cannot also be served by registered post, subject to the right of appeal by the prospective recipient. I understand a system of recorded delivery is used in other countries, which the Minister might well examine.

One other shortfall in the present District Courts system is that there is a substantial amount of money outstanding in unpaid fines. The Minister will be aware that a large number of them date back a number of years, the reason appearing to be that the District Court offices are so under-staffed and overworked they are unable to issue the relevant warrants to the local gardaí to collect the fines. If each District Court office was allocated a junior civil servant that backlog could be dealt with, thus resulting in a great boost to the Exchequer. I should like to pay tribute to our District Court clerks throughout the country who have performed their duties in an excellent manner. In the nature of things the District Court deals with so-called minor offences. District Court clerks have never been found wanting in their profession or calling, but the more we place on the District Court the more over-burdened become the district justices and clerks. An efficient District Court clerk is what makes for an efficient District Court, and the relationship between him and the district justice is all important. It is the clerk who sets the work for the day, informs the district justice what is before the court for that day and does an extremely valuable job.

This so-called piece of law reform has not touched on family law, which is a great tragedy. If the Minister wants to make a real name for himself he should allow his Minister of State, Deputy Fennell, a genuine and concerned person who has shown genuine concern for family reform, loose — and I use the word in its best sense — in the Department to produce genuine law reform. Let her get on with the production of this illegitimacy Bill about which we have heard so much from her on so many occasions. Let her implement the other views she has expressed in the context of family law reform. Obviously she is a very willing, able and articulate person. Here I may use an expression that may well get me into trouble, but I do not think she is getting a fair crack of the whip from the Minister; in the nature of things she is not being given her head. I appeal to the Minister to allow his Minister of State get on with the business of law reform in the interests of his good name, that of his Department and of Dáil Éireann.

Under the provisions of this Bill we are treated to the renewal of intoxicating liquor licences, which undoubtedly constitutes law reform but lower case law reform, as is the question of the periods of imprisonment to be imposed for default of payment of fines. Of course that is law reform, but is it genuine law reform? When we go into the technicalities of the renewal of intoxicating liquor licences we note that in certain circumstances a certificate of the court has to be obtained. If one is dissatisfied with the Revenue Commissioners with regard to what they may do in relation to the renewal of one's liquor licence one can go back to the District Court. This is ping pong legislation of the lowest type. Why has it not been left in the hands of the District Court altogether? Why has not the issuing of liquor licences been left in the hands of the District Court rather than engaging in table tennis legislation — if you do not get it one place you can go back to the other and if you do not get it in that place you can go back to the other, an ever spiralling piece of bureaucratic nonsense? If this is one way of creating more jobs in the Civil Service let the Minister say so. I am not against the creation of more jobs, but I am against the confusion of existing procedures.

When we have laws adjudicated on in regard to liquor licences they should be up front before the District Court, having it out in public. I say that with no disrespect to the Revenue Commissioners, who fulfil an important if intimidating role in our society. That is where we should have our laws adjudicated upon. I accept that the procedures may appear to be simple ones, but I can foresee an awful lot of hardship and confusion being brought about under that system.

Debate adjourned.