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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 29 May 1985

Vol. 358 No. 13

Courts Bill, 1984: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I want to make some brief comments in relation to this Bill which is not of earth-shattering proportions in relation to the amendments which are proposed. Nevertheless, I am not here to criticise but to encourage the line taken in regard to reforming or amending the law. A journey of 1,000 miles starts with one step and I take the point in the Minister's speech when when he said that, if they did not start somewhere, we would not get very far this session.

Previous Members, particularly Deputy Andrews, have spoken of the enormous task facing us in updating procedures in all the courts. Many injustices take place because of out of date procedures and Acts, and perhaps we can encourage the Minister and his Department to make further and more drastic changes which are necessary. I know that we are dealing mainly with the intoxicating liquor laws, a subject not dear to my heart. I do not think we need spend a great deal of time discussing it because most of what is envisaged in this Bill is to be welcomed. This gives us an opportunity to make further changes in procedure which will benefit those who work in the courts and those unfortunate enough to be called before the courts. When updating reform procedures are brought before this House, it is very tempting to make a meal of it but I do not intend doing that because this legislation is technical and restricted. It is not earth shattering and I am not here to criticise the contents of the Bill. I welcome these measures and encourage the Minister to continue this reform through the other courts.

In the case of the judgment debt it is very sensible to reduce the number of hearings to one. That move is to be welcomed. I would like to comment on the reduction from the maximum period of one year to 90 days under section 2. This section deals with periods of imprisonment which may be imposed on summary conviction in default of payment of a fine and any associated cost, compensation or expenses. It is unusual to see sentences being reduced. In a sense this is a social reform and, recognising the time we are in, it is to be welcomed. This is an outdated and unjust situation under nineteenth century law. At that time the property classes controlled the parliaments in Ireland and in Britain and the poorer classes were unable to pay even small fines and were very heavily penalised by their masters. These laws have been left on the Statute Book for far too long and I welcome this reduction.

Very of often the fines were not related to criminal offences and the perpetrators did not intend commiting a crime but because they were unable to pay the fine, they had to serve an alternative term of imprisionment. Very often this resulted in a form of justice which was never intended. These Bills are drafted by individuals in the Department in consultation with the Minister but I often wonder how much thought is given to the sentences imposed. For example if a person gets a £100 fine or six months in jail, £1,000 fine or nine months in jail and so, I often wonder if the people who decide on this alternative term of imprisonment appreciate and understand the difference between the two punishments. If one has money and can afford to pay the fine, it is no real punishment but if one does not have the money and ends up in jail that can be a terrible punishment. It can be a traumatic experience to have to spend, one week, one month or two months, or even 24 hours in such an environment. This can be devastating for somebody who tried to stay within the law. Perhaps this reduction is a recognition of the possibility of such injustices happening. If this is just a start in reforming procedures, it means we could end up with very enlightened legislation.

Without affecting the power of the district justice, I would like to comment on some of the fines and the alternative prison sentences imposed. For example, in the case of motor taxation, if a fine is not paid a prison sentence automatically follows. I do not suppose a great deal of thought has been given to this problem but there may be another alternative method of punishment as we have seen in recent legislation, community orders. I suggest that there should be more than one alternative if a person does not pay a fine, not in every case but in some cases. I am sure justices would often welcome the opportunity not to send a person to prison because he disobeyed a ruling. I recognise that it is essential that the court powers should not be impugned.

For some reason there is a great number of motor taxation fines with alternative prison sentences imposed in Ireland. The main reason is that at one time we were able to tax our cars for three months, six months or nine months and people advertising their car for sale said it was taxed for the rest of the year. This was an attraction. If we had the same system as other countries, we could remove this difficulty in one fell swoop by taxing all cars for a minimum of one year on a certain date. This is done very effectively in many other countries. For example, in Canada on 31 March all cars have to be taxed. They have a very simple method of alternating the colour of the number plates. If this year's background is blue, next year's will be white and so on. On 1 April the police go out on the roads and if any car has the wrong number plates the driver is waved off the road. Everybody buys these very cheap plates, fixes them to the cars and no longer does anyone have to use a flash light in the middle of the night to see if a car has a blue, pink, yellow, gold or rose coloured tax disc, whether it is taxed for three months——

The Deputy is getting very involved in his colours. I appreciate that the Deputy is making a point about convictions for not taxing or insuring cars but perhaps you could stay with this limited Bill.

I thought I was.

You were on colours for a while.

For the last 25 years I have watched the ridiculous situation where the motor taxation office in Coleraine Street has to tax over one million cars in the city of Dublin and the people have to queue there or pay people to queue for them. This nonsensical, ridiculous, out of date, silly, frustrating, stupid, crazy system drives everybody crackers. My suggestion would remove that anomaly from the system. As we become more technologically conscious and advanced, we begin to think we are either very stupid or we have very backward people working in certain sections of our administration.

The substitute of the fines is not always just. The most important thing in this Bill is the application for renewal procedure in the case of intoxicating liquor licences. The proposed procedure will liberalise the system and, with the exceptions mentioned in the Bill, appears to be a sensible procedure. It changes the onus on to the applicant for renewal of a licence. He or she must inform the commissioners of structural alterations to the premises since the last licence was granted or renewed. Would that the planning laws had had such sensible precautions included in them. We might then have had a lot less flouting of those laws. However, the record in the licensing trade is not bad. Flouting of the laws is more inclined to happen in the property area.

As the Minister has set out on the road to reform, could I appeal to him and his officials to look very urgently into the higher court system? I am just going to make a passing reference. I am a qualified barrister but never have and never will understand why we have such a tortuous and unfair system, putting such hardship on members of the community who have cause to take actions in the higher courts. These people are suffering physically, waiting for as long as five or six years for justice to be administered. Very often this seems to occur for want of an extra judge or two, the paraphernalia and administrative back-up and the necessary premises. I have heard that the reason is the extra cost involved. I could give innumerable examples——

You are dealing with the District Court.

It says in the Explanatory Memorandum that the Bill proposes certain amendments of the law. I promise not to say more than two or three sentences on the matter. The Minister is setting out to reform the law and I am appealing to him to look at that aspect. I am sure that there are complicated reasons for there not having been changes up to now. I am also sure a lot has to do with inertia and lack of will to get this done. Judging by the performance of this Minister since he came into office, even if there are complications to stop him from solving the problem, he will overcome them. No previous Minister has tackled this problem, as far as I know—and I have spoken to previous Ministers. I am asking this Minister to be the first to earn the gratitude of all the victims of the present procedures in our higher courts. I am asking him not to hesitate — he is not that type of man—to give us the extra judges that we need and the extra administration we need. If an action is to take place in the High Court one can be frustrated in having to wait——

I can allow only a passing reference to the High Court, but you are writing a story about it at the moment. This Bill is limited to the District Court.

I am trailing off the subject. I think I have made my point clear that the system should be changed so that people will not have to wait beyond a reasonable length of time to be certain of their case coming to court. I welcome this first step along the road to reform of our court procedure. I encourage the Minister to take steps along those lines as quickly as possible.

Mr. Cowen

It is with some amusement that one sees this Bill coming in under the guise of court reform, particularly as it states that these amendments are designed to simplify procedures in the District Court. Two of the procedures most quickly got through in the District Court are first, the renewal of a publican's licence and, secondly, application for an examination order. They take approximately 20 seconds. I am amused that a Minister who has shown some credibility in this area since coming into office should try to bring in the present Bill in the guise of being a first step in court reform. This is not the first step in court reform. It has nothing to do with court reform.

(Limerick East): It is to enable me to bring in the District Court rules. I cannot do that until I get this Bill.

Mr. Cowen

That has been under review for some time.

(Limerick East): It will be brought in as soon as we pass the Bill.

Mr. Cowen

The two sections relate to the renewal of a publican's licence and the fact that one can go to the District Court clerk for examination orders. It makes little or no difference whether the District Court clerk or the district justice makes an examination order. At the moment one simply gets up in court, moves an examination order, the district justice asks what date is required and that is the end of the story. To say that the two sections simplify the procedures in the District Court is a nonsense.

With regard to the renewal of a publican's licence, when one applies for a certificate of competence in the District Court, as I understand it one also applies to the Customs and Excise for the licence. They give the licence automatically once a person has the certificate from the court. In the event of the 99 per cent of licensees who do not have to apply to the District Court because there is no objection from a citizen or from a superintendent of the Garda to the renewal of the licence, the Bill is saying that the Revenue Commissioners "may" renew the licence. In my opinion they must renew the licence: there should be no "may" about it.

An objection to the renewal of a publican's licence can be only on the basis of the character of the applicant and on whether he runs a good house. If there is no objection in the District Court the Revenue Commissioners should be given no discretionary powers with regard to renewal of the licence. The section seeks to give an additional power to the Revenue Commissioners but there is no need for that. They have enough powers as it is. I do not see any reason why they should have a competence to determine whether a person should have a publican's licence when members of the public in the area should be the people to decide if there is to be an objection. The fact that a publican may not have his income tax or VAT returns up-to-date is irrelevant in relation to the renewal of his licence. It has not been clarified to me whether this roundabout way of bringing in the Revenue Commissioners might not, by implication, expand the grounds under which a publican's licence might be renewed. The section gives the Revenue Commissioners a discretion but there is no need for that. Even if the Minister can give an assurance to the House on this matter, I suggest that the word "may" should be replaced by the word "must".

The explanatory memorandum states that this Bill is designed to simplify procedures in the District Court. The fact that one will go to the District Court clerk instead of the district justice for an examination order is irrelevant. It is not a reform of the procedure: it may even result in a more inefficient procedure. When one goes to the District Court one has all examination orders together and it does not take ten minutes to go through them. The district justice gives his ruling on the matter. If one goes to the District Court clerk he might have to wait for the district justice to come back to the area to stamp the examination order. I do not know if that will be the case; we will have to wait and see. I presume the district justice will have to sign the examination order or perhaps the District Court clerk might get that power. In any event it is a minor, trivial change.

The real problem with regard to debt collection is not whether one goes to the district justice for an examination order or to the District Court clerk. The real problem is to get the decree enforced. At the moment the person who is owed the money cannot get anybody to collect it for him. The situation in the sheriff's office is farcical.

Apart from the introduction of the District Court rules, what is proposed in the Bill is minor. If the Minister had told us that the Bill was simply to enable him to bring in the District Court rules that would be fair enough, but to put in the other two sections under the guise of court reform and of simplifying court procedures is a totally different matter.

(Limerick East): They are part of the new rules.

Mr. Cowen

I am not disputing that. What I am opposed to is the presentation of this Bill as a major effort at court reform. All legal practitioners welcome the introduction of the District Court rules.

With regard to court reform, the main problem is that the sittings of the District Court are held at times of the day that have not changed to cope with the needs of people. The courts are there to serve the people. In many cases up to 40 gardaí have to wait in the courts to proceed with summonses and there can be up to 80 people who have to take the morning off from work to be present on a charge of driving at 46 mph in a 30-mile zone.

Why not arrange that the District Court sit in the evening or on a Saturday to suit people generally? At present the civil list is taken first, with those people on road traffic offences and instalment orders perhaps getting out before dinner time, or they might have to return at 2 o'clock. Many district justices, recognising the fact that defendants arrive at the court on the day, apply the provisions of the Probation Act to them on the basis that they will have lost sufficient money already by taking a day off work whereas, had they not arrived, they might have been fined £10 or £15 only. Being honourable and answering the summons, therefore, costs more. When we talk about reform and rendering the courts more accessible to people, why then not have such cases heard on a Saturday when most people are free from work?

I welcome the introduction of the new District Court rules, which do not constitute an achievement of this Minister only. The contention that the additional provisions contained in this Bill will minimise delay in District Court procedures is fallacious because there is at present no delay in those procedures with regard to renewal of publicans' licences and examination orders. In regard to publicans' licences, as I see the position we are giving greater power to the Revenue Commissioners which they have no right to have, and is an area in which they have no competence. I would ask the Minister to change the word "may" to "must" in section 4(2). In the case of individual publicans not having to get a certificate of competence from the District Court, they being exempted from the provisions of the subsequent section because they are not changing the nature of their licence, which would cover 95 per cent of cases annually anyway, the Customs and Excise and the Revenue Commissioners should automatically grant that licence.

The grounds on which licences are renewed have been set out in Woods'District Court Guide for anybody to read. The discretion being given the Revenue Commissioners under section 4(2) could in certain circumstances allow them to take into account other aspects of a publican's affairs, his character or business, which are at present totally irrelevant to the renewal of his licence. Suppose such a publican was in arrears with income tax returns or whatever, then the Revenue Commissioners could use that as a lever for delaying the renewal of his publican's licence. In law they have no such power at present and I contend that that subsection affords them such power. If the provisions of this Bill propose that one does not have to go to the District Court for one's certificate of competence and in the same Bill it is said that the Revenue Commissioners may renew one's licence, then the Revenue can take their time renewing a licence if a publican has not submitted his VAT or income tax returns. That would be an abhorrent situation. It should be remembered that the Revenue Commissioners have their machinery for proceeding against people in arrears of income tax and there should be no way in which they could use that fact as a lever against renewal of a publican's licence.

I welcome the Bill in that it introduces the new District Court rules, but until such time as that subsection to which I referred is amended I would have to oppose it on the basis that, whatever about the intentions of the Minister, given a directive from Government or elsewhere the Revenue Commissioners would be enabled to slow down the process by which a publican's licence is renewed and do so on grounds totally irrelevant at present.

I am in agreement with the introduction of this Bill, which is essentially a technical one. One would hope that the changes in relation to the licensing laws and the applications for renewal of licences would constitute a rationalisation procedure rather than what was outlined by Deputy Cowen. I would hope that the provisions of this Bill would short-circuit procedures while giving interested parties ample time to make their case whether by way of objection or time in which to present their case properly. The whole purpose of the Bill in relation to the licensing laws should and must be to improve the situation, ensuring that less time is wasted with less public money spent on the duplication of administration or administrators.

I am wondering whether there is provision for all licences to be renewed simultaneously. Probably this is catered for under the provisions of the Bill. In that respect one must concede that owners of licensed premises are responsible people, they themselves being anxious to ensure that the procedures are to the advantage of all concerned, and that includes the procedures with which they must comply in order to renew their licences.

This Bill constitutes the first step towards the introduction of the new rules of the District Court. While not a legal person myself, having spoken to people involved in the profession I gather there is anxiety that the new District Court rules be introduced.

In the course of his remarks the Minister said:

The main change that would be brought about by section 1 of the Bill is that, where enforcement of a judgement debt is being sought, a single sitting of the District Court will normally suffice to settle the matter.

One would hope that this would simplify and/or speed up matters in relation to problems that arise increasingly in times of recession with regard to judgement debts. Here I would be somewhat reticent in that I would not like to see a situation develop in which it would be too simple to allow latitude to a creditor on the basis that a simplified method of obtaining a judgment debt would automatically follow. A certain amount of responsibility falls on the debtor and the creditor in the initial stages in the sense that there is always great anxiety — I am making passing reference here only — to ensure that debts are collected once incurred. That is acceptable and laudable. On the creation of the debt in the first place, people should be made aware that at the end of the day they will be liable. From dealing with constituents problems I know of people who got themselves into difficulties in relation to debts and they ultimately ended up in judgments where unfortunately the person purchasing the service or the product would present a very acceptable case that he could not live without the service or the product and little regard was had to explaining to them at the time of purchase the consequence of the liability. That should be borne in mind.

Section 2 refers to the new scale in relation to the period of imprisonment that may be imposed on summary convinction in default of payment of the fine and associated costs, compensation and expenses. Does that apply to maintenance orders? My experience with maintenance orders normally relates to representations on behalf of deserted wives and occasionally a wife may bring her estranged husband repeatedly to court because of his defaulting on a maintenance order. In some cases there appears to be a little doubt as to the validity of the repetition of these returns to court.

Section 4(2) with regard to the application for renewal of a licence sets out very clearly the criterion under which the Revenue Commissioners will be able to operate. If things were to proceed as Deputy Cowen suggests we would have some difficulties in relation to the operation of the section. If a publican in a small country town were not up to date in relation to the affairs of the Revenue Commissioners, if he could not renew his licence until such time as he could regularise his affairs it could mean that he would be out of business as a result of the delay in issuing the renewed licence. Generally publicans are concerned to comply with the regulations and if they fall behind they are the first to accept their responsibilities and to try to put matters right.

The Minister said:

One significant change proposed in the First Schedule is the amendment of the Registration of Clubs (Ireland) Act 1904 which will ensure that all club certificates will be renewable on a common date, in practice the date of the annual licensing District Court.

Will this apply to ordinary publicans in their applications for renewal of their licences?

I welcome this Bill which is only a first step towards doing a major job which needs to be done in relation to updating legislation dealing with the courts generally. I hope the new licensing laws which have been promised will come before the House in the not to distant future and that all parties will have ample opportunity to make their submissions.

I will be brief, like most Deputies who spoke on this Bill with the exception of my good friend and colleague, Deputy Hyland. We are all talking about how we might reform the District Court but it seems that we might seriously consider how we might reform our activities in this House. We have spent so much time dealing with a measure which is so technical and simple in what it seeks to do. It is extraordinary that this House should spend nearly two full days dealing with something as simple and straightforward as this. I would urge anybody who reads the Official Report or who has any interest in Dáil reform to keep this sort of thing in mind. It is a great pity that something as simple as this should be drawing such fire and that we should be wasting such time on it.

I welcome the Bill which has three provisions. The first provision is to expedite the debt collection process. The second is the alteration of the penalty structures bringing the existing law into line with the practical realities of the District Court. The third is to improve the efficiency of the licensing applications for publicans at least. In relation to improving the efficiency of the debt collection process speaker after speaker from the Opposition has made the point that this will do very little and that examination orders are dealt with in the District Courts in a matter of ten minutes. This is generally the case but there are more people than district justices involved. The staff of the District Court have to deal with every examination order application as if it were a full application. It must be recorded, it must be issued by the court, stamp duty has to be paid and the receipt of that money has to be recorded and accounted for at a later stage. The solicitor processing the application must deal with it as one application and his staff are concerned with it also. Finally the person waiting for the debt to be repaid has to wait because at the moment most District Courts outside Dublin sit monthly or in some cases bimonthly and the creditor has to wait an additional month or two to begin to collect his debt because of the system.

I assure Members of the Opposition or anybody else who sees no point in changing this part of our debt collection process, that it is eminently sensible, that it will do no harm, it offends nobody, it is not unfair to either creditor or debtor and it will certainly speed up our District Courts. It will assist the District Court staff in that they will have more time in which to deal with other more pressing matters and it will leave the whole system more efficient. I welcome this provision without reservation. As somebody with some limited experience in the area I do not believe that a single solicitor would not welcome this provision.

The section dealing with fines does not require any discussion. The law being changed is antiquated and the proposals simply bring into line the ordinary practice of district justices and the fines being imposed in the District Court in debt collection default cases. As a matter of tidying up the law it is a good idea and I welcome it.

On the question of the applications for publicans licences, I am surprised at the level of intrigue and excitement that this provision has engendered on the opposite side. I must pay a special compliment to Deputy Hyland for his tremendous response to duty when it called here last week, when he spoke for a couple of hours on this Bill and dwelt at great length on the hidden purpose of section 4. Of course, any observer of the goings on in this House, particularly at this time of the year, who heard what Deputy David Andrews said afterwards is well aware that the reason Deputy Hyland had to speak for two hours last week was that no other Fianna Fáil speakers were willing or able to speak on the measure or were around to do so. The proceedings of this House were delayed for two hours for that reason. The same thing happened here a couple of weeks ago with Deputy O'Kennedy on the Finance Bill. There was one person only on the Fianna Fáil side and on this side several Deputies were waiting to speak last week but we could not do so.

I cannot understand why Fianna Fáil cannot get their act a little more together on this, or perhaps we should take Bills such as this out of the House altogether and discuss them in the committee room where nobody will notice whether Fianna Fáil Deputies are present. I appeal to Fianna Fáil to stop abusing the Second Stage arrangement that we have in this House. It was not fair even to Deputy Hyland who performed extremely well by reading sections in detail to the House and imagining and prognosticating what intrigue or mischief the Government might be up to in what is effectively a very simple provision in this Bill. My sympathies go to Deputy Hyland for being put in that position. It is not fair to a Deputy to ask him to go into the House and waste the time of the House on his own time for two hours engaging in that type of exercise. The only reason we had that performance last week was that Deputy Hyland was instructed to come into the House and speak.

I am not sure whether Fianna Fáil are opposing this Bill. Last week Deputy Hyland in one paragraph would give the impression that they were opposing it tooth and nail and in another paragraph would give the impression that it was probably sensible enough in certain ways. One point that has emerged from contributions from the other side of the House was referred to by Deputy Hyland and later by Deputy Cowen. It is section 4(2) where in the instance of the publican's certification being removed from the District Court procedures, the Revenue Commissioners would now not require this certificate and would have the right to issue licences to applicant publicans without the certificate of the court. There is concern that, because section 4 (2) provides that the Revenue Commissioners, may, subject to other sections of the Act, grant a renewal of a licence for premises which have been licensed in the immediately preceding year, the Revenue Commissioners may have a discretion which they do not now have. As I understand it, the proposal from members of the Opposition is that the word "may" should be taken out and the word "will" be inserted in its place.

On my reading of the Bill as drafted it is simply an enabling section. At the moment it is the Revenue Commissioners who issue the intoxicating liquor licence to the publican in any event, and at the moment the Revenue Commissioners have not the power to issue such a licence unless they get the appropriate certificate from the District Court. This provision is simply allowing the Revenue Commissioners to issue an intoxicating liquor licence to a publican notwithstanding the fact that a certificate from the District Court is not produced. On my understanding of the English language the proper word to be used in these circumstances is "may" rather then "will". The word "may" implies simply that the Revenue Commissioners in the past did not have the power to issue a licence without production of a certificate from the District Court. Now because of this law they may so do.

The section as proposed by Fianna Fáil would read: "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 will grant such a renewal." If that provision were in, for example would the Revenue Commissioners be obliged to issue an intoxicating liquor licence to somebody who refused to pay the cost of the licence? At the moment there is a charge. I do not know what it is but let us say it is £20 or £50 and that a publican writes in and refers to section 4(2) of the Bill as drafted à la Fianna Fáil's proposal and that there is an obligation, a compulsion on the Revenue Commissioners to grant the licence. The publican could tell them to stuff their £50, that he was not going to give it to them this year, that the law says they must give him the licence. I am sure the Minister will take another careful, close look at this but on my reading of it there is nothing at all to worry about in this section. The sole purpose of the word “may” in section 4 (2) is to permit the Revenue Commissioners to do something that they did not have the power to do previously, and “may” rather than “will” is the appropriate word in those circumstances.

Why not "shall"?

I would not agree that "shall" should be used. If it is used in that section as it stands then a publican would not be obliged to make the payment that he has to make to the Revenue Commissioners at the moment for the issue of a licence. I have very little doubt about the construction of the section as proposed by Fianna Fáil. To anybody who looks at this carefully, particularly in the context of the powers the Revenue Commissioners have at the moment, the point I am making will be seen to be correct. I am absolutely satisfied that there is no mischief or intrigue behind this section and I am quite convinced that when the Minister replies to the debate he will be willing to look at it very carefully.

A number of Deputies made the point that when they viewed the District Court in action they were astonished at the number of gardaí within the district court whose time seems to be wasted. I have considerable sympathy for that point of view. We could be engaged in a good deal more reform of the District Court. Let me give a couple of examples. Most of the cases that the Garda are directly involved in in the District Court are what I would call trifling traffic summonses and petty crime. In most road traffic offences, for example people driving without tax or with bald tyres or without proper lights or indicators, it is ludicrous that they should be served with a summons, should have to go into the District Court and go through this process that must cost the State a couple of hundred pounds per summons I suppose, and at the end of the day — I have seen this in people whom I have represented in court — they go out and get into the same car that had the same bald tyres or is still missing the indicator light and nothing has been achieved.

The fine imposed for such trifling things might be £10. The cost to the State in processing the whole case might be a couple of hundred pounds or a good deal more if it comes to the time of gardaí and everybody involved in it. Surely the purpose of all of these sanctions and sections in the Road Traffic Acts is not to charge somebody £10 if that person has a broken tail light but rather to ensure that if a tail light is broken it is fixed. If somebody is caught with a broken tail light or a bald tyre or whatever, the car should be produced a week later at a Garda station with whatever defect it has cured. Charge £10, have a nominal fine that is collectable on the spot, and if the person fails to produce the car in proper condition, then by all means prosecute that person. At the moment the system is crazy. I have suggested this previously in both this House and the Seanad and it has never been taken up. I cannot understand why so much time must be wasted in the District Court on such petty things as broken tail lights, bald tyres and the like.

I believe I am totally within the competence of this Bill in talking about a hobby horse of mine in relation to reform of the District Court. I listened this morning on the radio to somebody whose name escapes me and who is representing the insurance industry in this country at the moment. He complained that district justices, notwithstanding the fact that they now have the right to fine up to £1,000 for no insurance, are still fining only between £50 and £100 for the offence. Sometimes demands are made of the courts, of the judicial system or legislators that are silly and impossible to deliver on. I have tried to make this point. We seem to be of the view that if somebody is to be fined £1,000 there will be no problem; every district justice in every case he meets will fine persons £1,000. Many of the people who come before the District Court on no insurance charges are there because they did not have the money to pay £1,000 for their insurance. That is what young people are required to pay.

District justices do not impose a fine of £1,000 on a person who is unemployed, or somebody with a job that puts him in a low income category. There is no point in fining somebody earning £100 or £120 a week £1,000. They have not got the money. If they have not got the money, they must go to jail to discharge their debt to society. We know the problems we have in jails already. People in the insurance industry should think very carefully before they place these demands on our courts system. District justices have to deal with the realities of the cases presented to them. By and large they do a very good job.

Deputy Allen speaks from time to time about the legal profession. He expressed surprise about his visit to the District Court. He went there as a prosecution witness. As a man who takes such a close interest in the legal profession he should attend courts regularly to see what happens there. If he did he would not be surprised when he went to court under the obligation of a summons to give evidence for the prosecution. We who come in here and make pithy and worthy contributions on Bills like this have an obligation to look at the operations of our District Court. The reason we do not go there is that there are precious few votes in the District Court.

For donkeys' years we were quite happy to let the District Court, the Circuit Court and the High Court trundle along in their own way without giving a whit or a damn about whether the system we imposed on them was operating properly. We imposed the system. We pass the legislation which determines how our court system is to run. Deputies complain about delays in our court system. The reason for those delays is the legislation we have imposed on the courts and the manner in which we have insisted the courts should be run. We have been waiting for years for the District Court rules, which this legislation provides for. The legal profession have been shouting for years for that, but there are no votes in it.

Much reform is necessary. Reforms could be introduced which would be most desirable. There is not a will to bring about those reforms. We could reform our own manner of operating here and divide the House into a committee system related to Departments. A committee of the House concerned with the activities of the Department of Justice could even occasionally look at the operations of the court system. We should think a little more clearly about the needs of the District Court and other courts.

Over the past couple of years a great deal has been done to speed up delays in other courts. There was never a major problem of delays in the District Court. Delays in the Circuit Court and the High Court are being tackled. I want to compliment all those responsible. We have passed legislation from time to time relating to family law matters and other matters in which we have imposed extra duties on the District Court. Deputy Allen went into the District Court in Cork and was very distressed at the lack of comfort in his surroundings, and the fact that people did not tell him when he would be called, that everything would be all right, holding his hand, and so on. He was a State witness in a prosecution in the District Court in Cork.

Think of the position of spouses with family difficulties and matrimonial differences hanging around outside the court waiting for their case to be called. Some of these cases are dealt with in a little room off the court which is used perhaps once a month and is draughty and damp. Sometimes they are dealt with in the ordinary chamber of the court just before lunch, or before the court starts in the morning. We provided in legislation that all these cases should be heard in camera. We had some vision that the couples involved would never be seen by members of the community and the fact that they were having marital differences and family difficulties would not be displayed to the whole local community. Our views about that are completely wrong.

In some courts I practise in the District Court clerk comes out at 10.30 a.m. and calls Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So who have to parade through the open court to go into the little room off the court to have their difficulties sorted out. Everybody is well aware of what is happening. They had to wait outside without proper facilities. The absence of those facilities means that, whatever little hope there might be of reconciling differences, there is nothing conductive to an atmosphere in which parties can talk out their difficulties.

Since I became a Member of the Seanad in 1977 I have not come across any Deputy or any Senator who was not in favour of a family court. This shows that we are very caring and socially concerned, but no Government have ever taken the step required to introduce a proper system of family courts.

The Deputy is moving away from the Bill.

We are talking about reform of the District Court. Some of the saddest, most difficult and most sensitive cases of married couples are dealt with in that court. The facilities are not there for those cases to be handled. I regret that frequently district justices have to deal with these cases, although I have to pay tribute to many district justices who go to great lengths to provide facilities which the State does not provide, and to provide concern where the State seems to provide very little concern.

We have paid lip service to that over the years on all sides of the House. Little of substance has ever been done and the reason is that there are no votes in it. We do not give two hoots about it for that reason. I will not be in the next Dáil but I predict that for the remainder of this Dáil and all of the next Dáil any time the word "family" is mentioned, caring voices will come from all sides of the House: "I Deputy So-and-So or I Senator So-and-So want to see a family court provided". We do not give two damns about it. We have the power to bring about this change but it has never happened. I ask people to stop paying lip service to this. If there were the political will to do something about it, it would be done. We have the power. Let us do something about it.

It could have been done in this Bill.

It could have been done by Fianna Fáil years ago.

I will not engage in that sort of thing. I listened to Deputy Hyland making this point. I made it myself before. Too much old party bickering goes on in this place. It is all cod. I will not go further than that. If the will were there, the change would have been made. Fianna Fáil had very little difficulty in changing their mind about the local services charges when they went out canvassing. It took them a couple of years to get around to it. There is real political will in action. I know Deputy Hyland and Deputy Cowan are socially concerned. If we were serious we would go to our parliamentary parties and push it. I am tired of listening to nice words in debates.

I want to change tack. Deputy Hyland and Deputy Allen referred to the legal mumbo-jumbo lawyers love to engage in. That is absolutely the case. The legal profession did not father the legal mumbo-jumbo. The legislators are the true fathers of legal mumbo-jumbo. If we look at much of our legislation we can see quite clearly why and how the lawyers use it. I am sure parliamentary draftsmen are in short supply, like everybody else in a specialised scene. From inquiring about delays in different areas of legislation coming before the House, I know that people who are charged with this task are overburdened with the amount of work they have to do. A lot of our legislation is badly drafted and is doing more than we imagine for the legal profession in trying to interpret what the legislature meant. Perhaps we could concern outselves more often with reviewing legislation and updating and bringing the language up to date, making it more sane, sensible and regularly understandable to the ordinary members of the public.

The point has been made that the District Court is far removed from society. That is a popular view. It could be said that the Circuit Court is further removed from society and the High Court is still further removed from society. That is perhaps an unfair view in relation to the District Court. I am not defending the legal profession, the Garda, District Court justices or District Court clerks. This fact has been borne out by journalists who have taken trouble to spend time in the District Courts. For a long time The Irish Times published a daily article on the goings on in the District Court. If Deputies honestly believe that the District Court is removed from society I believe there is a real danger that those Deputies are removed from society. All of the horrors and all of the difficulties we see in society, particularly in difficult times, are reflected on a daily basis in the District Court. I believe Deputies could do a lot worse with their time than to spend an hour in any District Court in Dublin or in their various constituencies.

I welcome the Bill. I see it as a minimal reform in a couple of areas which need to be tackled. In the context of the enforcement of debts, the provisions contained in the Bill are translating into statute what has been happening in practice for some time in the District Court. It is welcome so far as it makes the enforcement of debts easier and requires fewer court applications to be made. I feel that in dealing with that issue, as we do in relation to other issues, we are tinkering with problems and are not really coming to terms with the basic structural problems relating to our court system and, in particular, in relation to the type of problems that come before the District Court.

I do not believe anybody could have any valid objection to the reforms provided for in this Bill relating to the examination of a debtor in relation to his means and the amendments made to the Enforcement of Court Orders Act. We are in fact tinkering with a system which takes considerable time in operation and does not necessarily meet modern needs. To take up the line that my colleague, Deputy Molony, was developing, whenever elections are about to take place there are two reforms in the context of courts, particularly the District Court, that everybody is massively in favour of. One is the provision of family courts — I will come back to them in a moment — which Deputy Molony and other Deputies referred to and the other is the provision of small claims courts to deal with the non-payment of small debts or where consumers have problems in relation to purchases valued £50 or £100 and seek to enforce their rights against shopkeepers.

We lack a traditional tribunal system which enables people to litigate their problems where necessary, resolve them by a judicial official making a decision between two contesting parties in a way which does not incur a great deal of expense and in a way which takes the minimum of time. My view is that the whole area of small debts should be taken out entirely from District Court jurisdiction, and we should provide small claims courts like those that have been provided in other countries and have been successfully provided in a number of states in the United States. The reason always given for not doing this is that, if we provide a small claims tribunal or a small claims court, it will be massively expensive and increase public expenditure over and beyond what it currently is, particularly in relation to the administration of justice.

That is a fallacious argument because nobody knows how wasteful the current court structure is. District Courts are overburdened with increasing work and, in many cases, archaic procedures which give rise not merely to expenditure in the context of public expenditure but which frequently give rise to unnecessary expenditure by having to employ lawyers to make simple court applications. The person who brings any civil action in the District Court for the enforcement of a debt or proceedings in relation to consumer goods without being represented by a lawyer is at a distinct disadvantage and is extremely unlikely to succeed. We need to look at a way of minimising the financial impact not merely on public expenditure but on the individuals concerned who need some judicial figure to resolve simple disputes relating to small debts. We do not have that, I can recall Government and Opposition election manifestoes going back to 1977 talking about small claims courts. Everybody repeated it again in 1981. We did not have time to repeat it in February 1982, but we certainly got round to it in November 1982. These are fine sounding things at election time but they are never really translated into reality in this House.

Deputy Molony made the point, which is worth repeating, that the legal profession deserve to be criticised for all sorts of reasons on occasion, but a portion of the criticism directed at the legal profession is the fault of this House. It is the fault of politicians and legislators, who are unwilling to reform laws and legal structures, and then they blame the lawyers who have to administer those structures for the faults contained in them. I am saying that as someone who has been fairly critical over the years of certain aspects of the legal profession, albeit I am a member of that profession. Nevertheless, they provide great targets for Members of this House to throw missiles at. If Members of this House got on with reforming basic legal structures, court systems and updating legislation they would alleviate many of the current problems that relate to the administration of justice. In the context of the enforcement of debts procedures at the moment, the whole procedure whereby the sheriff can distrain goods, the whole operation of the city and county sheriff in various parts of the country needs to be examined. That system is not working and usually it does not recoup money due to people on foot of court judgments. Serious questions must be asked as to whether it is worth retaining at all.

I always fail to understand why when we discover ways of resolving problems in one area we do not try to translate them into another. In the context of talking about judgments in relation to small sums of money obtained in the District Court that are not paid and where there is difficulty in enforcement, I have always found it curious that we cannot provide for a system of attachment of earnings to require people to comply with court judgments in the same way that we provide a system of attachment of earnings in the family law area. Take the case of a person who has a judgment registered against him or her for £100, £150 or £200. There are elaborate proceedings provided for applications to be made for examination of the debtor's means and for the courts to make an instalment order. Possibly that instalment order is not paid and the only thing that can then be done then is to make an application to have that person imprisoned. Instead of that could there not be a process, if somebody is in employment, for the courts to make an attachment of earnings order, in the same way they can do in relation to maintenance proceedings, to require that an employer deduct by instalments a portion of the sum due under a court judgment and pay this money directly to the courts who then pass it on to the person entitled to the money. That would seem to me to be a relatively simple procedure which could be implemented.

Deputy Molony talked about the District Court facilities. It should be said that many district justices have to tolerate, in trying to administer justice, facilities that render it virtually impossible for them to perform their functions. In sensitive areas of law, such as family law, as they operate in the District Court, the type of court facility provided creates major difficulties and greatly exacerbates the problems of the people concerned. The other problem in this area is simply not a problem of court facilities but of the inadequacy of the law as it applies in the District Court. Perhaps the Minister would use this Bill to reform other aspects of the District Court jurisdiction that need to be dealt with and that would require relatively simple amendments. I wish to refer in particular to the area of family law and difficulties being experienced in this area in the District Court jurisdiction on the basis presumably that such matters will continue to be dealt with in the District Court.

The Courts Act, 1981, which was introduced by Fianna Fáil extended the District Court jurisdiction in the area of family law matters. It is ironic that Deputy Hyland should express concern about the capacity of the District Court to deal with some of these matters, though I would share some of that concern, in the light of the fact that Fianna Fáil in Government extended the court jurisdiction in this area. There are a number of problems arising currently in this regard but there is one in particular which I should like to draw to the attention of the Minister and his Department. This relates to the powers vested in the District Court to determine court proceedings under the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964, to make custody orders in relation to children and to grant access orders in respect of children.

If I am wrong the Minister may correct me at a later stage but it appears to me that if the District Court makes a custody order or an access order or any other order under the Guardianship of Infants Act and that if the husband and wife in respect of whom the proceedings are heard or either of them fails to comply with the order there is no means within the District Court of enforcing the order. In my legal experience I have not had occasion to bring applications of this kind but such cases do arise. The situation is different in either the Circuit Court or the High Court because if orders made by either of those courts are not complied with the mechanism of contempt of court may be invoked. Apparently that mechanism cannot be applied in the District Court, so if that represents a lacuna in the system I urge the Minister to give it consideration so that an appropriate amendment could be made to this Bill.

I wish to deal also with another issue to which I shall be devoting much more time later during the debate on the children legislation which will be before us tomorrow and presumably next week or the following week. The District Court deals currently with a large number of court cases relating both to the care of children and to children who come into contact with the criminal law. There are special sittings of the courts, in particular the Dublin Metropolitan Children's Court in which many of the child offenders are dealt with and in which also care proceedings are brought. In dealing with care proceedings before those courts, the courts on occasion will require back-up assistance and this is provided by the various health boards and sometimes by the court welfare service.

It may not be appropriate to explore this matter on this Bill but I am asking the Minister to consider legislation to amend and expand the powers of the probation service, to turn it into a statutory welfare service as opposed to simply calling it a welfare service. It is really a probation service. I have made this request on every occasion on which the opportunity has presented itself since I spoke here first in 1981. The probation service should provide background reports to the courts dealing both with cases of children and of family law. In many family law cases district justices rely on the probation service for the provision of back-up reports or for some assistance from social workers in dealing with couples experiencing marital difficulties. Very often family law cases are adjourned to allow for the provision of such reports. The problem is that the probation and welfare service has no statutory responsibility in this area. It is extraordinary that this service has provided a service to the courts on and off and I emphasise, "on and off" because on occasions the service is so stretched as to be incapable of providing the type of service reqired or can only provide it unevenly. The service is not available in all district courts throughout the country. It is provided occasionally in some of them and more regularly in Dublin.

Regularly we voice our theoretical compassion and concern in respect of these areas of law but with about 2,000 family law cases being dealt with eachyear in our District Court system, it is extraordinary that we do not provide the basic back-up service to district justices to enable them to obtain welfare reports in respect of children who are the subject of custody disputes, or that there is the inability to obtain welfare and social work reports in respect of couples who are experiencing marital difficulties and who seek the protection of the court.

In the criminal area the probation service would have formal statutory involvement. It is time we stopped talking about these matters and did something to rectify them. In the context of family law as such, there is one very simple amendment I would ask the Minister to bring before the House. This is the first Courts Bill to be before the House since 1981. The Act passed then increased the financial jurisdiction of the District Court in respect of family law cases from £50 to £100 per week in respect of the maintenance of a spouse and from £15 to £30 per week in respect of a child.

Money has devalued greatly in the meantime and I presume we will not have another courts Bills for some time. Therefore, would it not make a great deal of sense at this point to extend the financial powers of the District Court in relation to maintenance orders? In order to avoid the financial limits of maintenance orders being eroded too quickly, I suggest that the courts be empowered to order maintenance of anything up to £200 per week for the support of a spouse and up to £75 or £100 per week in respect of a child. In many instances orders of that nature would not be made because the necessary financial means would not be available to the paying spouse. We should not force people into the Circuit Court to get maintenance orders. For example, wives may require £120 a week for support and if they want to get something beyond the District Court maximum they must to into the Circuit Court. There may be difficulty getting access to circuit courts outside of city areas. It could be once every four or five months that one would have the possibility of getting into those courts to make an application. It is a more expensive exercise than going into the District Court.

I ask the Minister to amend the financial jurisdiction to deal with maintenance orders for spouses, maintenance orders for children and affiliation orders. The maximum order an unmarried mother can get from the father of the child for its support is £30 a week in the District Court. Some weeks ago a colleague of mine asked if unmarried mothers could get affiliation payments or have the fathers of their children contribute towards their support. It seemed that my colleague and the Minister answering the question were oblivious of the fact that since 1931 the District Court has had jurisdiction to make affiliation orders but the maximum amount an unmarried mother can obtain at present is £30 a week in the District Court. In the Circuit Court there is no financial limitation but, for the sake of minimising the legal expenses and for the sake of speed in getting into court the District Court jurisdiction should be extended and people should not be forced to go into the Circuit Court. I see no reason why the financial limit should not be increased. It is four years since it was increased and it would make sense to deal with it in this Bill.

There has been talk about the need to change the structures and to revitalise the legal system. They are all fine-sounding phrases but we never seem to get down to the specifics of what we are talking about. Deputy Molony paid tribute to the work done by district justices. Anyone who observes what takes place in the District Court can only marvel at the diversity of legal problems that a justice might have to deal with on any one day stretching from family law cases to criminal law cases, to consumer law cases, to rental disputes. There is a whole panoply of law that comes before the District Court and more law cases come before them than before any other division of our court system.

It is amazing that the system functions at all because, with the best will in the world, no lawyer in practice can be an expert in all areas of law. The vast majority of District Court justices were solicitors before they became justices. An increasing number of solicitors are specialising in particular areas of law and may be expert in labour law or family law or conveyancing law but there are few solicitors who would acknowledge that they have legal expertise in all areas of law. Despite that, what happens in the context of appointments to the District Court? Since the foundation of the State the practice has been that if a vacancy occurs an appointment is made by the person who is being appointed being told one day: "You are being made a district justice" and the following morning that person can be required to go anywhere from Skibbereen to Dundalk, to Dublin, to Tralee, and sit in a district court. The morning after an appointment a solicitor who might have had nothing but a conveyancing practice suddenly finds he is elevated to the position of district justice and has to sit on a bench in a district court in some far flung corner of the country and adjudicate in all areas of law which he or she may never have practised in as a solicitor.

It might happen to the Deputy yet.

God forbid. In that context, it is extraordinary that the system functions at all. In an increasingly complex society where degrees of expertise and speciality are necessary, we should not appoint district justices in this way. On the continent where there is a different type of judicial system, before someone becomes a magistrate or examining or investigating magistrate within the lower court structures, there is specific training which they have to go through. In some countries practising lawyers do not become judges in that way but must go through third level education and at the end of that qualify as a magistrate.

The time has come to re-examine the criteria applicable in appointing members of the Judiciary and look seriously at the need for some form of basic training for those lawyers who find themselves elevated to district court justice or member of any other court. Someone who is an expert in conveyancing law or criminal law does not necessarily make a good district justice to adjudicate on family law problems. A person who is an expert on family law cannot necessarily turn into a good district justice to cope with criminal law. The time has come to recognise that. This is a particular problem for example, in the area of family law. There are many justices who deal with family law problems with a great deal of sensitivity, understanding and compassion and who not only know the law but apply basic common sense in adjudicating on problems. There are others who have no insight into how to deal with cases of this nature and very often exacerbate the family conflict by the manner in which they deal with the cases which come before them and by the decisions they deliver.

It is not popular for a practising lawyer to make a comment like that. One of the problems we have in the House is that those who are not lawyers are unaware of the problems and the lawyers do not want to speak about them in case it is taken badly by some members of the Judiciary before whom they may appear some day. There is a problem in the District Court system as to how family law is dealt with and administered. In some courts it is dealt with very expertly and well and in other courts it is appalling. That is added to by the facilities available in district courts around the country. In some district courts, consultation rooms have been made available and the buildings have been modernised. Other district courts can best be described as Dickensian. The conditions which married couples, the unfortunate victims of a broken marriage, have to tolerate can accurately be described as degrading and humiliating.

I wish Members of the House who talk about law reform, social reform, the Judiciary or the legal system would go into the courts and see how they operate. It is surprising that Deputy Allen had his first experience of a court only a few weeks ago having regard to all the comments he has made about it. I would love Deputies to visit the Circuit Court in Dublin on a Monday morning when family law cases come before it. They would see the manner in which we treat family life and marital problems. They could see in one morning something like 36 different married couples with family law disputes coming before the Circuit Court, all of them having to hang around in a draughty hall with their lawyers and with no possibility of any privacy in consultation rooms, with criminal cases being heard in adjacent courts, with gardaí pulling people in and out of the hallway in handcuffs and court criers calling out at the top of their voices the names of the poor unfortunate individuals who will next have a case determined in that court. I believe that if people saw what was happening in those courts they would be outraged, but of course the only people affected are those unfortunates caught up in the heartache and distress of a broken marriage. They are anxious to solve their problems and they have no time to politically agitate for change. We should be dealing with that area and it is a classical example of how badly we deal with that area.

Deputy Molony and other Members referred to the question of family courts. In asking that there should be amendments made to the Bill to deal with an updating of the financial limits in the District Court to deal with family matters, I am doing so because I presume that the District Court will be dealing with these matters for many years to come, certainly for the next couple of years at any rate. I repeat the plea made in the House to make political decisions to provide a family court structure to deal with family law problems. Like Deputy Molony, I have no tolerance for people seeking newspaper headlines by promising that they will examine the need for family court structures. On appropriate occasions, at the right public meeting, politicians are inclined to confirm, hand over heart, that of course they recognise the need for change and for family courts and that things must be done differently. This is seen by some Members and the public as irrelevant political waffle, because if we are serious about change and implementing reform there is a very simple remedy. We merely have to introduce legislation here — and on this issue we do not need any more reports.

We have had the report of the Committee on Marriage Breakdown and others from a whole series of voluntary agencies about the need to change the court structure in this area. It has been clearly spelt out that having the District Court, Circuit Court and High Court dealing with family cases in an overlapping and sometimes contradictory court structure is not merely wasteful but, due to the absence of specialist knowledge in areas of family law and the lack of facilities, can create major additional traumas during a very difficult phase in people's lives when their marriages are collapsing. I do not understand why there is a lack of political will to introduce legislation to tackle this problem. The usual response from Governments in the past is that they cannot do anything because of the cost involved. I have no doubt that if somebody did research into the current system, its operation and how different types of family law problems end up being dealt with in different parts of the judicial hierarchy, whether the District, Circuit or High courts, it would be discovered that the current system is massively financially wasteful and not only exacerbates problems but deals with them in an extraordinarily inefficient and inappropriate way.

I suspect, if we provided a unified system of family courts, that in the long term it would save money; but, even if that was the only reason, it could still be justified. However, there are more basic reasons for dealing with matters in this way.

I am pleased that the Bill is before the House. It is not a major but a minor law reforming measure which could provide the vehicle to deal with some of the matters I raised. But it cannot be instrumental in providing small claims courts or family courts. However, I hope that in the not too distant future, especially in the area of family courts, we will move away from the waffle and political rhetoric and get down to providing a decent and proper family court structure, with judges fully and properly trained and relevant back-up welfare and support services to provide a more humane, efficient and sensitive court system to deal with family problems, which is something we do not have at present. In the short term I hope that steps can be taken to remedy the structural problems in some of our courts which result in many people, especially in the area of family law, having to suffer Dickensian facilities which shame this House, because they are a clear indication of the lack of real concern beyond the rhetoric to provide the type of facilities which are so badly needed.

Deputy Shatter very correctly pointed out that the measure before us is relatively minor legislation, a tidying up which affects a few matters, basically in regard to debts that are due and changes in the methods of hearing those cases, changes in regard to conviction or payment of fines, changes in regard to intoxicating liquor laws and changes in criminal procedure.

Over the years I have attended many sittings of the District Court and one of the most unsatisfactory things about it is that one does not know when one's case is to be heard. There may be anything from 50 to 200 cases to be heard in the day and the local superintendent, inspector sergeant and in a number of gardaí are all gathered in the courthouse without the faintest idea whether the case in which they are involved will be heard. They do not even know if the family law cases will be held in camera. They do not know which case will come first, a case concerning a boundary fence or a civil matter in relation to a debt collection. Cases could also relate to the renewal of an intoxicating liquor licence or a bingo licence. Solicitors and witnesses are there at considerable expense. It should be possible to ensure, at least three days before the court is due to sit, that the solicitors and the Garda in the area should know exactly what way the court will operate that day and in what order the cases will be heard. There should be a list which the district justice can follow.

In the Circuit and High Courts lists are published setting out the order in which cases will be heard. This means that people know approximately when their cases will be heard. This would be a simple improvement to make. I am sure it would not change the administrative system of the District Courts if introduced. It could be done by circulating solicitors practising in the area or by publishing in the Four Courts the lists of cases to be heard in rotation a few days ahead. This would be much fairer to the Garda Síochána because the superintendent and the station sergeant would know with a certain degree of accuracy which garda will be required to attend the court on a particular day. That is the way matters are ordered in the Circuit and High Courts and it should be possible to do it in the District Courts as well. My only reservation about displaying the lists in the Four Courts would be in the area of family law and cases where young people are involved, because it would be wrong to have these names published. A procedure could be adopted where the people concerned would be notified of when their cases were likely to be heard.

I cannot understand why say, in the Bridewell, at Court No. 1,200 people attend for their case to be heard at 10.30 a.m. on a Monday. I cannot understand why everbody should arrive at any court in any town at the same time to have their cases heard. Admittedly, there has been a little improvement in Dublin because some cases are listed for 10.30 a.m. and others for 2.30 p.m. As I know from experience, the position is most unsatisfactory and we should try to streamline the system.

I have been in courthouses which were filled with heavy smoke because a boiler was not working properly, where the rooms were cold and draughty and it was impossible for anybody to understand what was happening in the courtroom. Cases are heard in bingo halls, dance halls and even in hotel bars. It is not right that cases should be heard in such unsuitable places. In my view the local authorities should consult with the Department of Justice and the Office of Public Works when libraries are being built and courthouses should be attached to the public libraries. This would mean a great saving for the Department and the local authorities. When these buildings are being provided there does not seem to be any consultation between the interested parties. I strongly recommend that the Department of Justice take the initiative and have urgent discussions with local authorities and other interested bodies about the provision of courthouses. It is unfair and improper to allow cases to be heard in unsatisfactory centres. Again I ask that this be looked at urgently.

I have seen many family law cases — husbands and wives separating, the wife looking for a barring order against her husband or perhaps the custody of children is involved. It is very distressing to see many of these cases being discussed in hotel lobbies, in draughty corridors or in derelict courthouses. When decisions on a family or custody of children are being taken by district justices it is important that the proper atmosphere should prevail to enable them to make the right decision. The courthouses should also be such that the advocates for the parties concerned should be in a position to make reasonable, fair and proper cases for their clients. At present that is not possible.

I wish to deal very briefly with the Intoxicating Liquor Acts. I am pleased to see the inclusion of section 4. It has been a ludicrous and unnecessary practice for all these cases to be called out annually in court. There was one famous case concerning a person who had been refused a pint of Guinness in a particular part of a bar and who opposed renewal of the licence in the District Court some time later. I gather that there was serious concern on the part of the proprietors. This amendment will mean that that situation cannot arise because notice must be furnished beforehand.

All these Intoxicating Liqour Acts need to be codified into one Act. The present situation is not satisfactory. A person of any age can buy a large quantity of wine in a licensed supermarket. It is wrong that there should be such a loophole. The Vintners' Association are concerned about this situation. This is a serious matter and it is necessary to bring in an amendment to prevent this continuing. I have been informed that quite a number of youths are going into licensed supermarkets and purchasing unlimited quantities of wine. If a publican were knowingly to sell intoxicating liquor to person under age he would be prosecuted, and quite rightly.

I wish to refer to a matter which has caused me some concern for some time. I want to draw the attention of the House to this important matter.

It is relevant to the Bill?

It is absolutely relevant to the Bill. It deals with prosecution for offences——

In District Courts?

In District Courts. Very briefly, under Bunreacht na hÉireann the judges of the Supreme and High Courts are appointed and exercise their functions.

You said you were referring to the District Court.

I am making a passing reference. District justices are appointed by the Government of the day. A controversy has arisen recently because a district justice on a number of occasions has criticised the Director of Public Prosecutions and has been widely reported in the national media.

You are moving a little out of the ambit of the Bill. I would prefer if you did not bring the DPP into this matter. Just as passing reference.

I beg to differ with you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. There is no passing reference in this.

You are bringing the DPP into this. I am saying that you are not in order in doing that.

You can go to court on this one, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

This is a matter of public importance.

I am asking the Deputy to stay on the Bill we are discussing. I would much prefer that.

I am very serious about this and would ask for a direction. We are dealing here with the Courts Bill. In Dublin a district justice has taken it upon himself to dismiss cases because the DPP, as he alleges, has not furnished the books of evidence. At least six cases have been dismissed by that district justice without those cases being heard. He has placed the blame for this matter on the shoulders of the DPP. I believe that I am absolutely correct in discussing this matter here.

Do not take unto yourself the power of the Chair, Deputy. I am allowing you a passing reference, but I would not like you to dwell too long on that particular case. I know it is an important legal matter, but we are on a very restrictive Bill dealing with District Courts. Two sections of the Bill deal with intoxicating liquor licences and another aspect. I would much prefer if you would stay within the parameters of the Bill. It is a serious matter, but a matter for another day.

I am looking for a direction on this.

That is the direction that you have been given.

I do not think that you fully appreciate the point, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I am fully aware of and cognisant of the whole matter, having read it in the papers. I do not think that that is a matter for this Bill.

We are talking here about convictions and fines in criminal cases brought by the DPP before the courts. The DPP is the person charged with that responsibility. The court imposes a term of imprisonment or whatever penalty is appropriate on conviction. I think in this instance that I am perfectly within my rights and totally in order in making a reference to——

A passing reference. You should not write a story about it, please.

A number of cases have been brought on charge sheets before the Dublin District Court and the person charged had a right of election to go before judge and jury or to be heard in the District Court. Because the book of evidence was not furnished, a district justice——

You are repeating yourself now.

I shall explain the matter. Because the book of evidence was not published in time the district justice dismissed such cases at least six times, if not more.

That is repetition.

The district justice in question made personal and unfair attacks on the DPP, accusing the DPP of dragging the courts down to his own level of inefficiency. He also stated that he was sick, sore and tired of requests for remands because the DPP failed to serve the book of evidence on the defendants. These matters are serious and important because we are dealing with our courts. Personal remarks and attacks on the office of the DPP are unfair and do harm to the courts and to this Bill.

Might I remind the Deputy that any references to or attacks on district justices are also out of order in the House? There are two aspects to this.

I feel that I have power, if the necessity arises, to raise in this House the question of the fitness and competency and conduct of a district justice. If I am not satisfied with the conduct of a district justice I have the power in this House to ask the Minister for Justice to move to have a district justice dismissed. I am totally within my rights in doing that.

Not on this Bill, Deputy. I am surprised. You are a man of experience, both legally and in the House.

I have been practising in the District Courts for 20 years and am 16 years in this House and have never yet made any attack on any person. However, if District Justice Delap wants to make attacks on the Director of Public Prosecutions——

You have named the district justice now. That is not what you were doing originally. I would ask you to cease your line of activity.

I would have to ask the Minister for Justice in the House to consider——

That is your entitlement, but not on this Bill.

—— having him suspended because his conduct has been unfair. I believe that what I am saying is correct and totally in order.

You are out of order and you are being disrespectful to the Chair. I have given you an indication.

What I am saying is totally accurate.

It may be accurate, but it is out of order in this House.

There has been an attack on the dignity of the office of the DPP. Books of evidence, in fact, are not prepared in that office but in the Chief State Solicitor's Office.

Looking through the Courts Bill and the explanatory memorandum which accompanies it, I want to make reference to section 2, which proposes new lower limits on the period of imprisonment which may be imposed on the summary conviction for failure to pay fines, together with any associated compensation costs or expenses awarded. I am one of those Members of the House who have a serious question mark to place over the propriety of people being imprisoned in this way for this type of civil offence.

I had occasion recently to visit Cork prison and saw a prisoner who had defaulted on a loan to a finance house. He was imprisoned in a multi-occupied cell, sharing that accommodation with hardened criminals, some imprisoned for violent crimes. This man was in prison because he was not in a position to make repayments to this finance company. I do not believe the State should have to act as guarantor for banking institutions. As one Deputy put it "They want your soul wrapped up in a box for a grant". If they have that kind of security I do not see why the State should imprison people who cannot make repayments. Two weeks ago a man in Cork prison was sharing accomomodation with hardened criminals. I recommend to the Minister to look again at the whole question of the State acting as a guarantor in cases like this. This is particularly appropriate when we consider that the banks and finance houses are falling over themselves to give money to poor individuals, some of whom can barely sign their names, at exorbitant interest rates, and then when the people cannot make the repayments the bank or the finance company asks the State to put these people in jail for the sake of a few hundred pounds.

I have serious misgivings about this section. I have serious misgivings about the State acting in this way. It is not the person who owes £500,000 who is sent to jail: it is the poor person who cannot make the few pounds repayments on his television set. He finds himself sharing a cell with others, perhaps thieves, so-called joyriders and violent criminals. I recommend the Minister to look closely at section 2 to consider if it is the function of the State to act in this way.

With regard to simplifying the procedures in the District Court, it would help greatly if the courts were allowed to hold their sessions in public, which is provided for in our Constitution. Putting people in a room that is filthy and overcrowded and where it is impossible to hear the prosecution, the defence or any of the witnesses is not holding a case in public. Perhaps the Minister or his officials would visit some of the District Courts to see the scruffy, dirty state of premises where our district justices are expected to hand out justice. They should see the inaudible way in which cases are conducted. We cannot say we are discharging our responsibilities to hold cases in public when such conditions prevail. At the moment people are brought into court, many of whom cannot read or write. Somebody holds up their hand, says a few words and he is then taken down without knowing what has happened. While we allow these conditions to operate we cannot ensure that people see that justice is being done. Seeing that justice is being done is as important as ensuring that justice is done. In addition to ensuring that adequate equipment is installed in the courts so that people may hear what is going on, many of the premises could do with a good wash and a coat of paint. It is my view that many of the locations should be re-examined.

I should like to make a passing reference to the matter of simplification of procedures in the District Court. We spend a lot of time talking about local government and Dáil reform. How long is it since we had court reform?

Here we are talking about the District Court.

Yes. I am talking about court reform of any kind, but specifically the reform of the District Court. Would it not be a simplified procedure to appoint magistrates who are living in the communities concerned and who could be advised by lawyers? For instance, people in Crumlin who are pestered morning, noon and night by so called joyriders and by drug pushers are the appropriate people to mete out sentences on those who are making life a hell for them. I realise that our district justices have served the State well and I do not wish to attack them or to be unfair to or critical of them. However, some of them do not live in areas that suffer from the problems of drugs, stolen cars, burglaries, handbag snatching and so on. Therefore, they do not understand the effect this has on communities. It would simplify procedures in the District Court if we were to have a magistrates system in areas such as Crumlin, Drimnagh, Kimmage or Walkinstown. In this way we would have magistrates who live in the areas, who were advised by lawyers and who would have power to mete out sentences up to a certain level for crimes dealt with in the District Court.

I presume that is the passing reference the Deputy mentioned.

With regard to the application for intoxicating liquor licences and their renewal, one could have a sporting amenity in an area where the local publican objects to the granting of licence. This is not because it is not in the interest of the public but because he is fearful there will be a bar in the premises and that will mean competition for him. When objections to such applications are being considered the bona fides of the objector should be established. We should write into the measure that the law does not have any right to protect or uphold the share of the market for any person. Competition is the spice of life and the Intoxicating Liquor Act should not make provision for all objectors just because they do not want competition on their doorstep. We live in an open democracy. If a competitor thinks he can provide an attractive facility, objectors should have to prove their bona fides in the matter before they go to the District Court and state their objections. For instance, a community association would have a good case if under other proposals that have been put forward licensing laws were to be extended to 1 a.m. I do not think there is any case for that in most of the urban areas in Dublin.

The Deputy is moving away from the Bill.

The best thing to do would be to extend the normal closing time on Sunday night and give drinking hours up to 12 o'clock. We should forget this business about late night drinking. In the case of intoxicating liquor licences and extensions generally, where residents' associations and community groups have a genuine worry they should be given an opportunity to voice their objections. However, objectors should have to establish their bona fides. Just because a person owns a public house within a mile of the premises should not entitle him to object.

I welcome any provisions that will simplify procedures in the District Court. All courts, but particularly the District Court because people come into contact with it in their daily lives, need to be reformed. It is time we took on the reformation of the courts including the way junior and senior counsel are allocated in the higher courts and the way barristers and solicitors — having to brief barristers — are used in the District Court. The whole area of court procedure is one that very badly needs to be overhauled and reformed. While these simplifying measures are to be welcomed there is a major undertaking to be carried out in the courts generally to ensure that they are reformed, so that when we examine areas affecting society, such as local government and Dáil reform, we do not omit the courts. It must be remembered that the courts have not been properly reformed since the 1937 Constitution. All of the courts procedure must be examined in order to ensure that the public receive the best possible service. The Dáil and Deputies are often criticised for the hours worked. As a Deputy who works seven days a week, from early in the morning until late at night, I can assure critics of the Dáil system that Deputies do not work an 80-day year — this nonsense that appears in the paper — for three days of the week.

It should be remembered that when Deputies leave this House they must work in their constituences and have much other work to do in the House whether or not the Dáil is sitting. Can the same be said of the District Court? I doubt if it can. By and large when district justices finish in the courtroom they are finished. They do not have to work in constituencies like TDs during the summer, at night time or over weekends. In this day and age one must ask if it is acceptable that the District Court should sit for the number of hours it does and the number of days in the year that it does. It begs examination. I suppose that district justices, like everybody else, would have the attitude that what they have they hold and lawyers in the Law Library would not want their lot upset, but it is something that warrants examination. I very much doubt if the hours kept by our district justices and our judges generally can be justified while there is a backlog of cases obtaining in many areas.

I hope the Minister will give consideration particularly to my comments on section 2. I look forward to the introduction of a major Bill on reformation of the courts in the near future.

Limerick East): As I said at the outset of this debate, this Bill is designed to facilitate the introduction of revised comprehensive rules for the District Court that have been in preparation for some time and whose promulgation must be preceded by the changes in the law the Bill proposes. They are quite extensive and, as a number of Deputies have said, they have been around for some time but they cannot be brought into being until this small Bill is passed. Therefore the Bill has merit in its own right, as debated by Deputies. Because the statutory changes which are made in the legislation can be incorporated in this, and a whole lot of other changes can be made administratively, it is vitally important that we free the process so that the new rules for the District Court can be introduced. They are long overdue.

I thank Deputies of their contributions. Deputy Hyland was concerned at the importance of the role that is played in the operation of the District Court by the District Court clerk, that it should be acknowledged. I am glad to do so. I can assure the Deputy that their role is in no danger of being forgotten or overlooked. The Deputy also referred to the provisions of section 2 in relation to the payment of fines and other payments that may be ordered in connection with fines, such as costs and expenses. He was concerned about the ability of certain persons to pay fines. The position there is that the court already has the power to direct how and when fines shall be paid and is already required to have regard to ability to pay when fixing the amount of fines. Since that is the case the question of imprisonment can arise only in connection with wilful refusal to pay.

The Deputy also asked for greater use of such sanctions as community service orders instead of fines. A community service order may be applied as an alternative to a custodial sentence but not as an alternative to a fine. Since the Act introducing community service orders has been scarcely two years on the Statute Book I could not engage in another debate on it even if one was to come within the ambit of this Bill. The scheme itself is working very well and over 100 people are now engaged on community service. It was introduced as an alternative to imprisonment. It was deliberately decided that the courts could use it as an alternative to imprisonment only rather than an alternative to fines. I was afraid of the situation in which the probation and welfare officers would be tied up supervising a whole lot of people on community work who could be dealt with quite easily through the fines or probation system, as it obtains at present, and that it would not achieve the dual objective I sought, that is, to reduce pressure on prison space and provide alternative sanctions to the courts to enable them to deal with people who came before them.

Deputy Hyland mentioned the amount of Garda time devoted to attendance in the District Court. I can assure him that this is a matter which is already receiving careful attention and action is already in hand in that regard. Section 21 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, already includes one important provision relevant to that question, that is, the provision of proof by written statement. This enables the need for oral evidence to be dispensed with in criminal proceedings in so far as it concerns matters that are not in dispute. Certainly that will reduce the amount of time the Garda have to spend in court because many of the matters about which they give evidence are not in dispute. The same applies to engineers, when we are talking about the width of the road or whatever, and frequently also to medical evidence, which is not in dispute at all and it is simply a question of a doctor having to appear in court. Since the implementaiton of the Criminal Justice Act, those portions of it which were brought into law on 1 March last, this can now be done. That will meet to some degree the problem in the District Court the Deputy identified.

The question of the service of summons by the Garda was raised also by more than one Deputy. This question is having active attention. However, the matter is one that would take us too far outside the scope of this Bill. Obviously there is a problem of proof that a summons was actually served. It would be important to distinguish between serious and less serious offences but we are giving that careful consideration.

The administration of family law also falls outside the scope of the Bill, though many Deputies referred to it. I might point out that the district justices are already free to make their own arrangements on the hearing of such cases in consultation, where appropriate, with the President of the District Court.

With regard to section 4, Deputy Hyland questioned the desirability of giving the Revenue Commissioners the power to renew a liquor licence without the production of a District Court certificate in every case. As I said in my opening remarks, the new procedure is being introduced on the recommendation of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure and the District Court Rules Committee. Experience has shown that the present system is wasteful of the time of court clerks since in the great majority of cases there is no objection to renewal. In effect, under the present system there is duplication of effort between the court clerks and the Revenue Commissioners. The considerable amount of office time which will be saved when this new streamlining provision becomes law can be put to more effective use by the District Court clerks. So far as licensees are concerned, there will also be a saving of time since in most cases they will now be able to apply directly to the Revenue Commissioners without having to apply first to the court.

Deputy Hyland mentioned some specific points in section 4. He referred in particular to the wording of subsection (5), which subsection lists the circumstances in which a District Court certificate will be required, including cases where objection to renewal has been made. Clearly there is a continuing need for a decision by the court in such cases to guard against possible abuse. So far as the wording of the subsection is concerned, it is as recommended by the draftsman and is quite straightforward.

Deputy Hyland also referred to section 4 (2) and said that the use of the word "may" in that subsection was a cause of concern and suggested that the word "will" should be used instead. What this subsection does is remove one of the conditions for the renewal of a liquor licence. It enables officers of the Revenue Commissioners to renew licences without the production of a District Court certificate. In that sense subsection (2) is merely an enabling provision and the use of the word "may" is accordingly appropriate. Beyond that the provision does not give a new discretion to the Revenue Commissioners so that under existing law they will be required to renew licences where the relevant conditions are fulfilled. This includes the requirement that the duty applicable to licence renewal must be paid to the Revenue Commissioners. It is not appropriate to replace the word "may" by the word "will" as suggested by a number of Deputies. I can look at it again but as far as I am concerned there is not a need to change it. When Deputy Molony was speaking he put it rather well by saying that in effect what it is doing is saying now the Revenue Commissioners may issue a licence without a certificate from the District Court. This gives no further discretion.

Why not use the word "shall"?

(Limerick East): The problem about using the word “shall” is that other conditions such as paying a subscription must be fulfilled. If the word “shall” were used it might enable people to demand a licence on that basis. I will have another look at it. There is not an intention to introduce a more restrictive regime. This is to introduce a less restrictive regime so that the licensee to whom there is not an objection may get his licence directly from the Revenue Commissioners rather than having to go to the courts first and then to the Revenue Commissioners with the court order.

The Minister would be amazed at the amount of concern this is causing in certain areas.

(Limerick East): The Deputy did not do anything to allay those fears by what he said in the House.

I gave them an assurance that their interests would be protected.

(Limerick East): It enables them to act without the District Court certificate which they require at the moment. It is an enabling provision.

In relation to section 4, Deputy Hyland asked how the public are to be made aware of the fact that an application has been made to the Revenue Commissioners for the renewal of a liquor licence. There will not be a change from the present position. Liquor licences are granted year after year and must be renewed at the end of September each year. Interested parties will be aware of this and the right to object to the renewal of a licence will continue as before. The Deputy suggested that under the Bill unless there is an application before the court in connection with the renewal of the licence there will not be a basis on which anybody can object to the renewal. This is incorrect. I refer the Deputy to section 4 (6).

In relation to the renewal of liquor licences, Deputy Hyland mentioned that the old system was more accommodating to the views of fire officers. The amendment to the Fire Service Act, 1981, on the First Schedule ensures that the same notice of intention to renew a licence must be given to the fire authorities as under the old system. Deputy Hyland also raised the question of the licensing laws generally and referred to some of the abuses. The liquor licensing laws are under continuing review with a view to deciding what amendments are required to counteract abuses and any legislation necessary will be brought before the House in due course. In relation to section 4 and the associated amendments and appeals listed in the Schedule. I am satisfied that these provision will effect a useful improvement of procedure which will facilitate licensees, courts and clerks alike.

Deputy Allen was concerned about what he called legal jargon in the Bill. Any discussion of this question would take us far beyond what this Bill seeks to do. Wording in a statute must be as certain as possible in regard to its meaning and it is inevitable that this involves what some people might call jargon. The Deputy spoke about the amount of Garda time being spent in court and I have already referred to that. The Deputy also raised larger questions in relation to court administration and the cost of litigation. That is a matter for another day and another place. This Bill is aimed at clearing the way for the introduction of the new District Court rules.

The same observations apply to what Deputy Andrews had to say about the scope of the Bill. The Deputy descended upon us here late one afternoon and, if he was misled about the scope of the Bill, he misled himself because I presented this Bill as the measure that it is and in the context of it enabling me to introduce District Court rules, which are very important. I thought that the Deputy would have appreciated that. Nobody suggested that this was a major piece of law reform and I did not present it in such a way.

I thank Deputy Skelly for his contribution. Deputy Skelly talked about the possibility of a further Bill that would reform procedures in the Circuit Court and the Superior Courts. I will have a Bill to deal with that situation.

The Deputy also talked about delays in the courts which are caused largely by lack of space. It is over 12 months ago since two new full jury courts were provided in the Four Courts. Also the Government decided to appoint an extra Circuit Court judge and the President of the High Court says that he is allocating that judge to Cork. Provision is also being made to appoint an extra High Court judge. The Government have already made these decisions and they will require legislation to implement. The Bill will be published some time next week. The lists now are cut back dramatically. Civil cases which do not require juries must wait only two or three months. The waiting period in jury cases in Dublin, where most of the work is done, is down to 12 months. Talking in terms of personal injury cases it would be very difficult to have a waiting period for less than nine or ten months unless one tried to evaluate the level of the injury to someone who was still in plaster. The medical process must be gone through and the injured person must recuperate before one can assess the level of personal injury.

For jury trials the minimum waiting period that one could achieve would be nine or ten months, and it is now down to 12 months, with the exception of cases in Cork where there is a particular problem. The fact that the President of the High Court has decided to appoint the extra Circuit Court judge to Cork and the fact that the president intends to clear the lists in Cork very rapidly next winter should be helpful there. I would like the profession in Cork to be aware of the problem and to facilitate the courts. In Cork there are too few practitioners taking on too much work and frequently when the court is ready the practitioners are not. That is in hand.

The Deputy suggested legislation and I have legislation in mind apart from the legislation which enables the Government to appoint extra judges, which will help in the pre-trial stages and will facilitate in cutting down the delays. The Deputy also referred to where imprisonment can follow failure to pay a fine only where there is wilful refusal to pay the amount and taking into account the time and the circumstances of the person ordered to pay.

Deputy Cowen welcomed the District Court rules which will be implemented. As a member of the legal profession the Deputy knows the benefit of that. The Deputy also referred to using the word "may" instead of "shall" and I have already dealt with that. The Deputy also raised a question on section 1 (b) which amends the 1926 Act. The issue of the examinations summons is proposed to be made by the District Court clerk and it will not require the intervention of the district justice. The Deputy had some idea that both would be involved all the time and that there would not be any gain in the new procedures. The changes are being made at the instigation of the District Court Rules Committee. We are drawing on the recommendations of the District Court Rules Committee in what we are doing.

Deputy Shatter asked for the introduction of an attachment of earnings to secure payment of debts instead of relying on the Enforcement of Court Orders Acts of 1926 and 1940. I hope when resources permit, with Government approval, to bring in new legislation along those lines; but it is some way off yet because other things take priority and it would be premature to go into it in detail at the moment.

Deputy Shatter also asked for a further extension of the family law jurisdiction limits of the District Court beyond the limits set down by the 1981 Courts Act. That jurisdiction was very substantially increased by that Act and has been in operation for only three years. As a matter of priority a re-examination of it at this stage does not arise, but it is something we must keep in mind. We must constantly review the area of jurisdiction both of the District Court and of the Circuit Court and if an extension of the jurisdiction makes them more efficient we should be prepared to do it.

Deputy Gay Mitchell raised a point about section 2 which was not to preclude from imprisonment on foot of non-payment of civil debts. That can happen for wilful failure to pay under the Enforcement of Courts Orders Act. Section 2 deals only with non-payment of fines and any associated levies such as cost and expenses.

I thank the Deputies very much for their contributions. This is useful legislation. As I said when I introduced this, it is not a major Bill in its own right but the sections in it contain soundly based, sensible provisions which are recommended by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure and the District Court Rules Committee, and we are implementing those. The major advantage then is that we will be in a position once this is passed through both Houses finally to introduce the District Court Rules which have been going around for so long. I understand that this is the second printing of the District Court Rules and the date on it is 1978. While I was being belaboured by people opposite to bring in more significant legislation and being asked why I was bringing in such a footling Bill, it is significant because, apart from what it does itself, it clears the way to bring in the District Court Rules which are very important and long overdue. In particular I thank Deputy Hyland who has carried a bigger burden than I have on this. He was longer in the House and made a major contribution when the Bill was introduced.

Question put and declared carried.

Can the Minister indicate when Committee Stage will be taken?

(Limerick East): Next Tuesday, subject to agreement between the Whips.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 4 June 1985.