Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Garda Complaints Procedure.

1.

asked the Minister for Justice when the complaints procedure for Garda Síochána as provided for the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, will be introduced; and the date it will be implemented.

2.

asked the Minister for Justice if the change in the law in the Criminal Justice Bill allowing for consecutive sentences to be imposed on those who commit crimes whilst out on bail could be implemented separately whilst delay in setting up the independent tribunal to coincide with the coming into force of the Criminal Justice Bill takes its course; and when it is proposed to have this tribunal set up.

3.

asked the Minister for Justice in view of the number of crimes being committed by people on bail, if he will review the present legislation and introduce the necessary legislative changes to improve this situation.

Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3 inclusive, together.

I hope to introduce the Bill establishing the complaints procedure in the Dáil during the present session.

The provision in the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, providing for consecutive sentences for offences committed while on bail has been in operation since 1 March 1985.

Two other important changes made by the Criminal Justice Act in relation to the law on bail have also been in effect since 1 March. First, to make the provision on consecutive sentences effective, so far as sentences passed in the District Court are concerned, the Act increased from 12 months to two years the aggregate term that a district justice can impose when passing two or more consecutive sentences. Second, the Act made absconding on bail an offence for the first time.

The three changes in question made by the Criminal Justice Act represent a very considerable tightening up of the law in the bail area. They have only been in operation for a very short time and it would be premature at this stage to consider further legislative changes.

I did not hear the relevant section of the Minister's reply. Did he indicate that the complaints procedure will be brought before the House in the present Dáil session?

(Limerick East): Yes.

No doubt the Minister is aware that further bail has been granted to people against whom other charges are being preferred. In particular, where the number of such charges is considerable, has the Minister any proposals for ensuring that in such cases bail is not so readily granted? Would the Minister consider introducing legislation in cases where a certain number of charges have already been preferred against people so that some action might be taken in this area?

(Limerick East): When the Government were considering proposals in the Criminal Justice Act they examined this matter and decided on three initiatives. The first was to introduce consecutive sentences for offences committed while on bail. Until the Criminal Justice Act, or those decisions relating to bail, were implemented on 1 March last, if somebody committed an offence while on bail in effect they had immunity from punishment because sentences would be concurrent — there were not consecutive sentences. The second proposal implemented under the Act is that absconding while on bail was made an offence. Third, the jurisdiction of the District Court was raised to two years to allow for consecutive sentences in the District Court. Of course, there can be consecutive sentences in the Circuit Court as well for offences committed while on bail and there can be modules of three, four or five years added on for a whole number of offences to make quite extensive sentences.

The question of implementing any other fundamental changes in the right to bail would run us into constitutional difficulty. There was a Supreme Court decision at the end of the sixties which decided that bail could be refused only in the most restrictive circumstances and that, in effect, to refuse people the right to bail would be a form of preventive detention. As people are innocent until they are proven guilty it would be preventive detention to deny access to bail and bail would be denied only where there was very strong information that somebody was going to abscond or was going to intimidate witnesses. Otherwise bail is freely available.

The provisions of the Criminal Justice Act are being effective now, and will continue to be effective. We may not have as big a problem in the future as we have had. It seems to be a problem more in areas like car stealing, burglary and larceny than in other areas, and consecutive sentences are appropriate in those cases.

Bearing in mind that it is now probably 20 years since that decision was taken would the Minister consider that a constitutional amendment might be necessary if the measures he announced are not successful?

(Limerick East): My advice is that change along the lines the Deputy suggests would require a constitutional referendum and we have no proposal to hold such a referendum. I would ask the House and the Deputy to look at the other side of the question. There are examples in other jurisdictions where somebody is refused bail and is in jail awaiting trial for one and a half, two or two and a half years. It would be a major encroachment into the civil rights of the citizen if we made that kind of constitutional change. The only other information I can offer which might be helpful is that in the assessment of say, car stealing in the Dublin area in the first three months of the year approximately 20 per cent of people being arrested by the Garda in April-May were people who were out on bail and who were repeating offences. The problem certainly is there but these people are being processed through the courts now and will be subject to consecutive sentences. We will see how that will progress.

Would the Minister not consider taking proceedings which would go right to the Supreme Court again to enable them, 20 years on, to review the decision to which he referred? The Minister will be aware that the Supreme Court have for some time found that, in the light of current circumstances they are entitled to review decisions taken by that court previously. In view of the restrictive application of that particular decision — into which I do not need to go in detail now — would the Minister not consider that it would be worth while to have the Supreme Court review the position at this point?

(Limerick East): That is a possibility and I will consider that suggestion.