Amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 16 will be discussed with amendment No. 11.
Courts Bill, 1984: Committee Stage (Resumed).
On the last occasion I was making the point that this section would do very little to resolve the problems relating to the licensed trade which were raised here by a number of Members. While by way of his amendment the Minister is going some of the way towards dealing with that problem, if he had accepted in full the amendment tabled by us the matter would have been resolved more satisfactorily and the Bill would have been improved. Therefore, I am asking the Minister to give further consideration to the section. Am I allowed deal with the section generally?
No. We are on amendment No. 11 and with that amendment are being discussed amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 16. When we have disposed of those and of any other amendments to the section we will deal with the section itself.
Amendment No. 11 was introduced to allay fears expressed by Deputy Hyland and by representatives of the Licensed Vintners' Federation that the Revenue Commissioners were being given discretionary powers in relation to the renewal of intoxicating liquor licences. For drafting reasons, which were explained earlier in the debate, it was not possible to accept the wording of amendment No. 12 which was tabled by Deputy Hyland but the point is met by amendment No. 11.
On the last occasion on which the Bill was debated Deputies Hyland and Cowen welcomed this amendment and said it met their objective but later Deputy Hyland expressed the fear that in some way the provision would undermine existing controls including the power of objecting to the renewal of the licence. At that point he spoke in favour of his own amendment, No. 12, which would substitute the word "shall" for "may" in subsection (2) of section 4. Deputy Hyland's amendment would not have made any difference to the power of objecting to a renewal. That power is built into section 4 by virtue of the provisions of subsections (5) and (6). Accordingly, it is not clear as to how Deputy Hyland logically can object to amendment No. 11 on the basis that it would diminish the powers of objecting to the renewal of liquor licences. That would not be the case. The powers and facilities for objecting to the renewal of licences continue unchanged and are not affected by the amendment.
The purpose of the amendment is clear. It simply removes the necessity for the production of a District Court certificate except in the cases referred to in subsection (5) which include the case of an objection being made to the renewal of a licence.
Much has been said about subsection (2) and there is not much I can say that would clarify the matter further. However, for the record it might be useful if I outlined briefly the purpose of this subsection which forms the central provision of section 4. Subsection (2) proposes to give to the Revenue Commissioners power to renew intoxicating liquor licences without the applicant having to produce a certificate of the District Court. The purpose of the proposal is to contribute towards a more streamlined and simplified working of the Court. The advantage will be seen by way of a major reduction in the preparation for the licensing sessions by the court clerks. Consequently, they will be able to concentrate on more important work and undoubtedly a more straightforward system of renewal will be of more benefit to licence holders.
The power of objection to renewal by members of the public will not be diluted in any way. The only difference will be that a future notification of intention to object will have to be given in writing in advance of the annual licensing sessions. There is general agreement that a system whereby people can stand up in court and, without prior notification to anyone, object to the renewal of a licence was rarely used and could be abused.
Deputies Hyland and Cowen expressed the fear that under the new system for renewal of licences people who wished to object to the renewal of any licence might be unaware of the date of the annual licensing session at the District Court where such objections would be heard. I appreciate their concern on this point, concern that has been expressed to me by a number of other people also but the experience has been that people with a genuine interest are aware of the date of the court. It has not been the general practice to place advertisements in the newspapers advising people of the date of the annual licensing court though for special reasons advertisements did appear in 1954 and in 1984. However, in view of the concern that is being expressed I will consider having advertisements placed in the newspapers in advance of the date before which objections must be notified.
As I said at the outset, amendment No. 11 is intended to allay fears that the Revenue Commissioners were being given a new discretion in relation to the renewal of liquor licences. I should hope that the wording of the amendment is such as to make it clear that there is no foundation for this fear and that the amendment together with the associated amendments, Nos. 13 and 16, which are purely consequential, can be accepted without further debate.
I welcome the appointment of the new Minister for Justice and I wish him every success in his new role. I do not have to remind the House that the Minister has assumed a very onerous and difficult task. The Minister made the point in relation to this section that the transfer of responsibility for the renewal of liquor licences from the District Court to the Revenue Commissioners was a streamlining and a simplifying of the procedures in the District Court. He made the point also that this would remove some of the burden of work at District Court level. The Minister must be aware that the amount of time involved annually in the District Court in the matter of the renewal of intoxicating liquor licences is minimal. The ground work is done by the District Court clerks and the granting of the licences, except in cases where there were objections, involved only some ten or 15 minutes at the court sitting.
Therefore, I reiterate the point I made on Second Stage that the Bill does nothing to simplify the procedure or to lessen the volume of work at District Court level. I appreciate that the Minister has gone some of the way towards meeting the concern expressed by Members and in particular the concern I expressed on the last occasion, but the proposal outlined in the Bill is over-simplifying the system of renewal of intoxicating liquor licences from the public point of view. I say this particularly at a time when there is growing concern among the community about the increase in the use of alcohol and also about the great abuse of alcohol, particularly among young people. Any move towards legislation that would simplify and liberalise the licensing laws would be a move in the wrong direction.
Instead of liberalising and making more flexible the licensing laws we should be doing the opposite. I had intended on the last occasion to bring to the attention of the Minister the free availability of, for example, wine in supermarkets. I meant on the last occasion, under this section, to bring to the Minister's notice and attention the free availability of, for example, wine in supermarkets where young people can go and purchase unlimited quantities.
I am afraid that is outside the scope of the amendment. The Deputy might work it in to the section or some other section but not the amendment.
I am dealing with it under the section generally before we dispose of it. To be more specific——
I am not saying it is in order on the section but the Deputy I am sure will find some section.
The Deputy has said he is only making a passing reference.
Until we come to the section we had better not start arguing about what is or is not in order.
If I told you now, Deputy, you could raise it when we come to the section——
It is a bit like the Government. The Government take a long time to pass.
To be more specific and to confine myself to the section, as I already outlined, we should endeavour in relation to the licensing laws to ensure that we have a situation whereby the public can feel free to object and express a view as to how they operate at present. From a vintner's point of view, the ordinary decent vintners, the vast majority of whom conduct their business in a creditable fashion. There are always the cowboys who abuse the system. Therefore, the vintners regard the annual licensing court as an opportunity for them to be given a certificate of fitness in relation to their own performance. Many vintners expressed that viewpoint to me since the introduction of this Bill. It was an endorsement of their ability to run what is known in the trade as a "good house". They also, confining myself to the section, saw the licensing court as an opportunity both for the public and themselves to raise objections in relation to premises which were not well run and where abuses of the licensing laws took place. It is for that reason I regret very much that the new Minister could not find it possible to come further along the road towards meeting the amendment which I tabled. As I already indicated, it is an area which needs tightening up rather than more flexibility and liberalisation. The Minister has already indicated that between now and Report Stage he will give serious and sympathetic consideration to going all of the way towards meeting our views and wishes in this area. I can assure the Minister there is no political gain in this. It is simply an amendment tabled out of extreme concern for the many people at present who hold strong views on the licensing laws and what this House should be doing in relation to them.
I would like to join with Deputy Hyland in wishing the Minister every success in the Department of Justice. He was an excellent Minister for Finance. In connection with this amendment, Deputy Hyland made the point that he would be against liberalisation of the existing laws. I do not think this section is going to liberalise the laws in any respect. Deputy Hyland would not be in favour of prohibition either on the sale of drink. I would ask the Minister to seriously consider the amendment. I would be reluctant to take away from the District Courts jurisdiction over annual licensing which comes up in September. Normally they are finished inside 20 minutes. It does necessitate the District Court clerk having to go to the trouble of preparing the list of licensees and publicans of a particular area. There is a certain amount of work which has to be carried out physically by the District Court clerk in every town. Nevertheless, and experienced people will agree, over the years problems do occur about licences on the death of a holder of a licence, and on the sale, transfer or letting of a property. It is a great safeguard for the holder of a publican's licence to know that the matter was checked out by his solicitor, the District Court clerk, by the District Court justice and the Garda. He has that safeguard in the back of his mind that everything is perfectly in order once the renewal is confirmed in the District Court. It is good to have it recurring each year. There are never any great problems which cannot be sorted out in the District Court.
I will give the Minister a few examples of problems which I could see. I came across one instance of a person selling a licence where between the date of the selling of the property and the transfer to the new owner the original licence holder died. Confusion arose over the title which went on for a long time, extending into a second year.
Such a situation can cause enormous problems. The Revenue Commissioners stick rigidly to the regulations. I do not mean in any way to be disrespectful to the Revenue Commissioners but if you get in touch with them you find you are not able to put forward your viewpoint, have a discussion and get their viewpoint. If a difficulty arises on a licence in the District Court, where the power is with the District Court as distinct from the Revenue Commissioners, the district justice will have a certain amount of discretion in sorting out the legal problems. There are vast areas of potential pitfalls for anybody involved in the transfer of a licence. The district justice analyses and sorts out the problems there and then with the help of the Garda and the solicitor for the applicant. The Revenue Commissioners may not be well versed in the law or approachable. You may not be able to put forward the case properly and I can foresee many problems. I am saying that from an objective viewpoint. I have no personal interest in any way. Nobody pays a fee in regard to the renewal of licences. The work is carried out by the District Court clerk and the District Court justice. It is something I would not rush into and I would ask the Minister to be very careful. I do not know if the Ceann Comhairle will allow me, but section 4 (3) reads:
Where a renewal of a licence is granted by an officer of the Revenue Commissioners in pursuance of subsection (2) of this section and false or misleading information was given to the Commissioners in support of the application for such grant...
Deputy Enright should keep to the amendment which is concerned only with the dispensing of a District Court certificate on renewal of a publican's licence where the premises had been licensed in the preceding year. We will deal with the matter being raised by the Deputy when we come to that section.
In an instance such as that in section 3 the Revenue Commissioners can grant a licence after false or misleading information is given. A person with the best will in the world can furnish information that to him is neither false nor misleading. The person may not be clear about what precise licence he has. There is a great variation in the licences, and there is a grey area. When the Revenue Commissioners grant the licence the publican is later convicted in the District Court and may lose his licence. Once the case is dealt with in the District Court the Revenue Commissioners will not be able to analyse the position in regard to the licence. Because this cannot be done they will grant a certificate even though information may be false or misleading but it may have been given in honesty and in good faith. For a person to find himself in this difficulty is a very serious matter.
I take the points raised by Deputy Hyland about the amount of time taken up at the annual licensing sessions. Nevertheless, the procedure proposed in this Bill will bring about a useful simplification of work for the District Court clerks. They can therefore devote that amount of time to other pressing matters. As pointed out earlier, the measure we are talking about is one that was recommended by the rules committee for inclusion in the rules of the courts. That was done for a perfectly sensible reason which seems to be that this is a streamlining in procedures that can be brought about with convenience both to the court and to the licence holders. I am glad Deputy Enright agrees with me that this is not a liberalising measure. It does not liberalise the licensing laws. It will not result in there being an extra facility for people who apply for a renewal of a licence.
Deputy Hyland mourns the prospect of the passing of the licensing sessions in the courts on the basis that the court is the place to raise objections. I fully agree with that. We are not interfering in any way with the ability of people to raise objections in court, or with the availability of the court as a forum in which to raise objections. As regards Deputy Enright's comments, in any case where there is contention between the average midland solicitor, not to speak of the above average ones, and the Revenue Commissioners my experience has been that the solicitor has no difficulty whatever in holding his end up in an argument. Transfers of licences for whatever reasons have to come before the court. The provision now being discussed does not in any way affect that. In the case referred to by Deputy Enright the transfer of the licence would come before the court, would be subject to the kind of scrutiny to which it is already subject and would be open to be discussed in the same way as such transfers are now discussed. I do not intend to stray into subsections (3) and (4) now but I have noted the comments made by Deputy Enright and will refer to them later.
The purpose of the Minister's amendment is that where a renewal of a licence is required for a premises which has been licensed in the immediately preceding year it shall not be necessary to produce a certificate of the District Court to an officer of the Revenue Commissioners empowered to grant a renewal of such a licence. If the renewal application is for the immediately preceding year it will not appear in court. We all appreciate the value of speeding up court procedures. The Minister will naturally have our full support in that.
I would like to hear more from the Minister about the extent to which this will bring about savings in time. Has the Minister done any quantification of the savings which will result? When I saw this originally in the recommendation in relation to the rules of the court, it seemed like a very good idea in that it would bring about reasonably substantial savings. When you look into it further you find in fact these are dealt with fairly summarily and quickly each year. The savings which we thought might be involved initially will not be of the order we first thought.
The renewal application can be presented publicly in open court. There are two elements to this. On the one hand an application is being made where everyone can see and hear it in public, in open court. Anyone who happens to be in the court will see, perhaps even by accident, that these things happen and that a person is free to go into open court and make objections. That element is being withdrawn from the normal procedure. On the other hand, if the publican is a very well-meaning, wellintentioned businessman carrying out his business in a proper and upright way, he will no longer have his name presented in court as being a suitable and fit person to do this business. These are not major elements. A change is taking place which we do not see at first sight. We are all very anxious to remove the heavy workload from the courts and to do everything we can to assist in doing that.
The points made by Deputy Enright and my colleague Deputy Hyland are relevant. Perhaps we cannot have that kind of progress without losing something. Should there be some form of annual publication of a list of the people being approved in this respect? It is taken back into the domain of the Revenue Commissioners who have the power to grant renewal and it will no longer be necessary in the vast majority of cases to have a court presentation at all. On the grounds of management by exception it is a good idea and something we will support. The distinction between these matters seen to be placed before the court and before the people and being placed before some well meaning official in a room which is not an open court, is something we are removing by this measure. One could say it is the price of progress but there might be some way of compensating by publishing a list.
Recently the Minister, as Minister for Finance, was concerned to publish a list of people who were late or were defaulting on the Revenue Commissioners. That sort of list is now circulated with all the VAT returns. It is a routine thing. It applies mostly to the decent generally law abiding citizen who, when he slips a few days behind in payment, gets a notice to say that if he does not catch up quickly——
I have examples but I will not go into them in detail here.
We will stick to the Bill.
It is relevant. In that instance one is going the full cycle. We are saying that the people need to know what is going on. That is what is happening on the Revenue side. Here we are going away from the open court. In his calculation would the Minister estimate the projected savings resulting from this measure? Does the Minister think there is any merit in any form of publication within the District Court which would at least maintain the continuity of the presentation of the person as being a fit person and the fact that a control process takes place?
Lest there be a misunderstanding, I will refer to what Deputy Hyland said earlier. The Deputy was under the impression that I had said I would give further thought to the question of the certificates. The matter to which I said I would give further thought is the publication of the dates of the licensing sessions in the newspapers.
I accept that.
On the question of the savings, Deputy Woods said it now appears that the savings are not as great as was originally thought. I cannot quantify the savings but the rule committee took the view, and I take their advice, that there would be significant savings. Going back through the debate I cannot find any suggestion on the part of my predecessor in this office that the savings would be enormous.
Could I give the Minister the press reference? Maybe the handlers gave out a different story.
If Deputy Woods is going to interrupt he will not hear what I am saying.
This is Committee Stage and the debate usually goes to and fro.
Yes, but one usually stands up to speak. If there is a disappointment in regard to expectations, they are expectations which Deputy Woods built for himself rather than any claim made for the Bill. One of the criticisms of the Bill, in spite of the very straightforward approach taken to it by my predecessor, was that this was not a fundamental reform. It was never represented as a fundamental reform. I do not want to introduce unnecessary contention into the debate but I detect a certain inconsistency in the argument being made by the Opposition. I fully understand their concern with controls and so on, but the amendment put down by the Opposition which proposes to substitute the word "may" by the word "shall" is totally out of keeping with the kind of concern they are expressing. The effect of that would be to require an officer of the Revenue Commissioners to renew the licence on application without having regard to whether the requisite duty had been paid. The amendment put down by the Opposition would dilute the controls. My amendment does not in any way dilute the control that we would have on the issue of licences.
Where there are objections to the renewal of a licence the court procedures still apply. Where there is a transfer of a licence, the court procedures still apply. It is in the vast majority of cases, where there is no objection to the application and no difficulty, that the measure I am proposing brings about this gain in both the administrative practice, the time of the court and in the time of the applicant.
Is amendment No. 11 agreed to?
On the section——
We are not on the section. I would remind Deputies that this item will be concluded at 1.30 p.m.
There is no question about it, we will readily conclude at 1.30 p.m.
I thought it better to remind the House. We are on an amendment to section 4 now, and there are quite a few sections.
Arising from what the Minister said, subsection (5) (b) indicates instances in which the licences may not be automatically renewed by the Revenue Commissioners and states where
there has been structural alteration in the premises concerned since the licence was last granted or renewed,
This vague section on structural alteration will create tremendous confusion.
That would be more relevant to the Minister's amendment No. 14.
The Minister referred to this section in his initial comments.
I am only pointing out that it can be dealt with on amendment No. 14.
It is dealt with in a later amendment.
I will defer my comments.
Amendment No. 12 will not be moved as a result of the acceptance of amendment No. 11. Amendment No. 13 was discussed with amendment No. 11.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 6, subsection (3), line 14, to delete "in pursuance of subsection (2) of this section."
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 6, subsection (5), lines 29 and 30, to delete paragraph (b).
Amendments Nos. 14 and 17 are related so they can be taken together.
This section is to some extent confusing in relation to structural alterations. Earlier the Minister made the point that the whole purpose of the Bill was to streamline procedure in the District Courts. I suppose it would be difficult for the Bill to specify what is meant by structural alterations, but in view of the progress and the need for constant upgrading of licensed premises I can see this section presenting great difficulties for the licensed trade generally. What does the Bill regard as structural alterations? Because of the general vagueness of the section I can envisage that the applicant for the renewal of a licence, because of doubts in his or her mind, will notify the Revenue Commissioners or will apply to bring that instance to the notice of the courts, which will lead to more confusion and more complication of the system at District Court level. The Minister should be more specific in this section and try to give some indication as to what is meant by structural repairs. My interpretation of structural repairs as it should relate to this Bill would be where planning permission is required, say, from a local authority. We will have to have some method by which structural repairs can be identified——
I remind the Deputy that we are on amendment No. 14 which, as the Chair sees it, proposes to delete paragraph (b) and all reference to structural alterations.
You told me I could raise this matter under section 14.
I am not ruling the Deputy out of order. He can go on, but I am pointing out that if the amendment is accepted all that reference will be deleted.
I will be happy to wait to hear the Minister in relation to it. However, I want to say to him in advance of his reply, and to speed up the general process of debating Committee Stage, that this is a great weakness which has been brought to my notice by members of the licensed trade and could lead to utter confusion at either commissioner or District Court levels because people will not know at either level where they stand in relation to it. I would like the Minister to be more specific and keep my point in mind that structural repairs should relate only to instances where planning permission is required in the first instance from a planning authority.
I moved amendment No. 14 and No. 17 is being taken with it. They derived from the fact that, where licensed premises have been altered in area since the license was granted or last renewed, it is a matter for the courts to decide whether the premises as altered remain substantially the same. If they are substantially the same the District Court has jurisdiction to grant the renewal certificate. If the court decides that the premises are not substantially the same then an application must be made to the Circuit Court for a certificate enabling the issue by the Revenue Commissioners of a new licence. This usually happens when licensed premises are extended. However, it appears that it can happen also even where there is no extension in area but there is a substantial change, in the identity of the structure, so to speak. In addition to that, at the request of the licensee the renewal certificate granted by the District Court can specifically restrict the licensed portion of the premises. Section 4(11) (a) was designed to ensure that licences would not be renewed by the Revenue Commissioners where the structural alteration was such that a new licence was required. We have received representations to the effect that this provision requiring the applicant for renewal to inform the Revenue Commissioners of every structural alteration would impose an undue burden on the licensee since in many cases minor alterations are carried out which do not affect the existing licence. The fact that there has been structural alteration which may necessitate a determination by the courts as to whether a new licence is required is normally brought to the attention of the court by way of objection by the Garda. Such an objection would be covered under section 4 (5) (a) and (6). If on the hearing of such an objection the District Court decides that the premises are not substantially the same as the premises previously licensed, then the licensee will have to apply to the Circuit Court as a preliminary to the grant of a new licence by the Revenue Commissioners. In the circumstances it appears that section 4 (5) (b), 4 (11) (a), referring to cases where there have been structural alterations to premises, can be safely omitted without diminishing the existing controls. In that way the amendments we are now discussing meet the points raised by Deputy Hyland.
On the point made by the Minister, while I appreciate that the amendment will go some way towards meeting our reservations in relation to that matter, it does nothing for the individual applicant in terms of being able to decide whether the minor alterations which he has carried out to his premises during the year require notification to either the Revenue Commissioners or the District Court clerk. The Minister even strengthened my argument when he referred to the fact that improvements other than structural alterations could also affect the application. Therefore, one would not have to build, for example, an extension to a licensed premises before having to notify the Revenue Commissioners or the District Court clerk. For example, the applicant may carry out internal alterations, perhaps knocking down an internal wall and allowing two sections of a lounge bar into one, or whatever alterations he might find necessary to carry out during the year. This will create a great dilemma for the applicant in terms of knowing in advance whether he should notify the authorities, be they the Revenue Commissioners or the court, as to the extent of the alteration. One way or the other, the applicant is not going to take a chance. He is not going to put his licence in jeopardy. Therefore, every alteration to a licensed premises is going to be notified either to the Revenue Commissioners or the courts and that is going to jam the situation instead of streamlining it, which was the Minister's intention in bringing in the Bill in the first instance. I can see tremendous confusion and duplication of applications and everything else which will slow down the process and lead to unnecessary work in terms of the application to the courts or the Revenue Commissioners.
The Bill as it was proposed without the effect of the two amendments I am now putting forward might be claimed to have potentially the effect that Deputy Hyland has just mentioned, but the amendments that I have proposed are designed to take those factors out of it. The normal way in which the question of structural alterations is brought to the attention of the courts is by way of objection from the Garda.
With the two amendments that I propose, any publican would be perfectly within his rights to consider that he could remodel the interior of his premises, change the furnishings and make all the improvements that publicans make without extending the premises and be happy in the knowledge that would not affect the renewal of his licence. It is also quite clear, both from existing practice and from what is in the Bill, that if a publican undertakes a major extension of his premises that is clearly a case where structural alterations have been brought about. The question then as to whether, in terms of the legislation, that means that the premises are not substantially the same as before is one that would have to come to court and be decided there. If the court were to decide that the premises were not substantially the same, it would be a question of going on with the procedure of issuing a new licence. If on the other hand the court, having looked at the presentation made to it, decided that it could conclude that the premises were substantially the same, it would simply be a question of renewing the existing licence. Taking out the two parts of the two subsections mentioned in the amendment would make it clear that it is the existing practice which continues.
Amendment No. 15 was discussed with amendment No. 10.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 6, subsection (5), lines 33 to 35, to delete paragraph (d), and substitute the following:
"(d) it is proposed to insert a condition in the licence in pursuance of section 8 or section 9 of the Act of 1927.".
Amendment No. 16 in the name of the Minister was discussed with amendment No. 11.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 7, subsection (10), line 25, to delete "pursuant to subsection (2) of this section".
Amendment No. 17 was discussed with amendment No. 14.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 7, subsection (11), lines 36 to 38, to delete paragraph (a).
Amendment No. 18 was discussed with amendment No. 10.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 7, subsection (11), lines 40 to 42, to delete paragraph (c) and substitute the following:
"(c) that he proposes to apply to the District Court for the insertion of a condition in his licence in pursuance of section 8 or section 9 of the Act of 1927.".
We have spent much time debating this section in general. The only conclusion to which one can come in that respect is that the section does nothing to relieve the burden, congestion or additional work in the District Court. As I explained in my opening comments, the procedure for the annual renewal of intoxicating liquor licences was a very small fraction of the court's work which took place on one set day of the year and was disposed of within the court in a half hour. On the other hand, it had the advantage that the decision making took place within the county in which these businesses were being conducted. The system always was that the annual renewal date for these licences appeared in the local papers as a matter of routine, which brought to the notice of the public that on a fixed day at a fixed time the renewal of intoxicating liquor licences was being considered by the District Court. The provisions in this Bill in relation to such renewal is a retrograde step because it does nothing to remove the burden of work at court level and takes away from the local scene the function, which perhaps is more important than ever before, of the renewal of these licences. This Bill which was introduced in the interests of court reform generally is just another statistic in legislation which does very little, if anything, to streamline or reform the operation of the District Court.
The Bill could have been useful and this section, in particular, could have been broadened to deal with off-licence premises to which I referred earlier. Before we reach Report Stage, the Minister should give very serious thought to the fact that young people in this city and many rural towns have direct access through supermarkets to unlimited quantities of wine. Wine happens to be a cheap drink with a high alcohol content.
The Deputy did not tell me last January that wine was cheap.
The Minister has a different portfolio today. We have to address him in terms of the administration of his new Department, that of Justice. I am sure the Minister shares with me the concern of parents, teachers and community leaders throughout the country expressed daily in our newspapers, on radio and television about the present very high level of alcohol consumption. I am sure the Ceann Comhairle would not allow me to, but I am not going to go into the broader area of alcoholism except to say that it is becoming a national disaster in terms of lost man days from work and of continual family distress caused as a result of the abuse of alcohol. I have no objection to the reasonable use of alcohol but in the present social climate with very high levels of unemployment and young people having no real alternative outlets for their daily activities, these young people find themselves to a great extent depending on alcohol to boost their morale.
When we have this forum to debate and discuss the availability of alcohol, it would be a great tragedy if we did not avail to the greatest possible extent of the opportunity of tightening the law with regard to the availability of alcohol, particularly to young people. A boy or girl of 11 or 12 years of age can walk into a supermarket, provided he or she has the money, and bring out one or two bottles of wine and go into a retreat with comrades——
I think you are going outside the scope of section 4. You are now embarking on a Second Reading speech.
I am, I hope, confining myself to the section. It deals with the licensing of licensed premises and places where alcohol can be purchased.
It deals with the renewal of licences.
We are dealing with the renewal of licences for legitimate licensed premises. The scope of the licensing laws should be extended to take under the Minister's control the unlicensed areas where alcohol is freely available. I accept that the Minister is as concerned as any Member of this House in this regard. He has ample scope between now and Report Stage to see if he can incorporate in this Bill a provision which will restrict and control the availability of alcohol outside the scope of the existing licensed premises.
That would hardly be in order on section 4. I have allowed the Deputy to make the point.
I appreciate your indulgence. I do not know under which section I could raise this relevantly. I appeal to the Minister to tighten up the legislation in this respect for the genuine reasons I have outlined. He will have the blessings of the teachers, parents and clergy because this is an enormous problem.
I hope the Minister will reply to Deputy Hyland's point. The purpose of the section is to have licences renewed annually, except in exceptional cases, by the Revenue Commissioners without the production of a District Court certificate. What will be the function of the local superintendent in future?
The role of the local superintendent will continue as at present. The channel that is available to the local Garda and to the public to object to the renewal of licences will be available and will not be affected by this section. There will be no change in that respect.
I am interested in the details, the way the process will proceed. Will licences have to go through the local Garda superintendent?
The procedures now available to the Garda and the general public for objecting to renewals will continue to be there. If an objection is raised to a licence the renewal process will have to go to the court and the court will have to decide. When there is not an objection to a licence it will be renewed by an officer of the Revenue Commissioners in pursuance of this section.
Would the Minister please describe the process as it exists?
If a person applies for renewal of his licence and there are no problems, the application has to go through the superintendent, so the superintendent will be involved in the process. It may well be that a licence or a premises may have been brought to his attention during the year. The superintendent will know when the annual licensing session comes about and he can object to a licence. Otherwise, the licence would be renewed by the Revenue Commissioners.
From now on the ordinary process will by-pass the superintendent completely.
I am not sure the Deputy understands the process. If a superintendent feels he has reason to object to the renewal he will have made a particular note of the matter during the year and he will be able to object to the renewal at the licensing session. It is the kind of thing I would expect the superintendent to do during the year when premises are brought to his notice. In regard to what Deputy Hyland said earlier, I cannot see how he can conclude that this measure does nothing to relieve the work of the courts.
It does not. The annual licensing session would last for only a half an hour.
This was proposed by the rules committee. The Deputy said we should be dealing with the availability of alcohol. We are not——
We should be.
We are not debating licensing. The Deputy is in a hurry to do so. This Bill is intended to do a limited number of specific things, simple reforms which are required in order to bring the rules of court to the point at which the rules committee think they should be.
As far as under age drinking is concerned, and drink abuse generally, I am looking at further proposals which I will bring to the House in due course. Then we will have an opportunity for a wider debate on the issues of concern to Deputy Hyland. I would find it useful, when my wife is doing her shopping, that she would be able to buy a bottle of wine in a supermarket. I would prefer that to her buying it elsewhere where she would not have such a comprehensive range to choose from and possibly she would pay more.
I am sure the Minister will be able to legislate for that.
It is probably true that a local superintendent will make notes during the year but how would he know the date on which an application for a renewal will be going to the Revenue Commissioners?
There will still be an annual licensing session and that would be the occasion for objections. The local Garda would know as a matter of course the time when the annual licensing session would be held.
This may be an improvement in administration but the Minister will appreciate that he, as Minister, can deal only with things that are brought before him. In the case of the superintendent, if licence applications go to the Revenue Commissioners and do not come before him formally, he may not know about them. There has been some discussion about the lack of quantification. The original recommendation from the rules committee was that there could be savings in this area. It is a deplorable state of affairs in any Department, given that a committee make a general recommendation which would result in savings, that now, several years later, we have never actually quantified the position. Bringing a measure like this before the House without quantifying it shows a very serious lack in the Department. The Minister may say everybody is very busy and that may be the case, but if it is, there is need to change the operation so that when we come to look at questions like this the Minister will be in a position to have some reasonable quantification to put to Deputies. We are not in a position to do this. We are not running the Departments. As far back as 1984 there were newspaper references to the substantial savings which could be made in this area.
This Bill was introduced on 14 December 1984 but nothing has been done about it since. This is a very poor reflection on the way this House is operating and the way factual information is being brought before this House so that Deputies can take decisions on matters like this in the knowledge that there is a well quantified position and if a change has to be made, we will know it is being made for very good reasons.
Deputies raised a question about how valuable this might be in practice. They said that all we may be doing is excluding the overview of the Garda from these routine renewals. That in itself may not be a good thing, although it may be desirable if there are substantial benefits to be obtained. All we can do at this stage is to take it in good faith that there is reasonable benefit to be obtained, even though it has not been quantified for us, and in that spirit we support this measure. Other elements raise question marks about controls which in practice will exist. The opportunity to object will be there because it is written into the Constitution that the laws will be conducted in open courts where they will be subject to the scrutiny of the ordinary "Joe Soap" who comes into the courts and asks what happens in courts, what things are done there and so on. We are removing this area from that kind of open inspection.
Deputy Hyland pointed to the fact that a decision which up to now was taken in a specific county will no longer be taken there but will be referred to the Revenue Commissioners. That is getting back to a removal of local delegated control. I have no objection where there are substantial benefits and where because of rationalisation and modernisation we have to go along with that kind of development, but I wonder if we are taking away some of the control that exists in those areas. That is why I ask the Minister to give some consideration to that element before Report Stage, particularly in relation to the publication in the open court of these matters, even though they are being treated as routine. In that way, the supervision of the open court could still apply.
I want to make one or two brief points in reply to Deputy Woods. It is not a question of the local Garda inspector or superintendent losing control in any way because at present he does not exercise any control. What he can do, and will continue to be able to do under the provisions of this Bill, is to object in cases where he believes an objection is appropriate, having given due notice. As I mentioned before, for somebody to stand up in court and for the first time voice an objection, is unfair to the licensee and is undesirable as a matter of proper procedure.
I am not so sure that I can agree with much of the rest of what Deputy Woods said. He claims to find it deplorable that we have not quantified the savings. We can be sure that any District Court clerk coming to an annual licensing session, since he will not have to prepare for the session, review all the applications, put them in order and make arrangements for the court, will have been saved more time than Deputy Woods spent this morning expatiating on the issue. This is that kind of issue where it would be very difficult to quantify in terms of numbers of man hours per court clerk, depending on the size of the district being covered by the court. I am not particularly impressed by that argument.
As to the Bill "being left for a long time without being proceeded with", it was published in 1984, the debate was taken as a matter of agreement between the Whips and it was organised for various times during 1985, and now today. It is always open to the Opposition Whip to ask that a particular Bill be included in the Order of Business for any day in the session. The Whips meet every Thursday afternoon, or Thursday morning, and fix the business for the following week. Therefore, there is the opportunity every week for the Opposition to make their concerns known in that way. Although I am happy that today we have got agreement to conclude Committee Stage, I hope the Report and Final Stages will not be delayed.
I endeavoured to bring to the Minister's attention a point which was represented here by a number of Deputies this morning about the open court aspect. In relation to the publication of even these routine cases within the court precincts or somewhere locally, I would ask the Minister to consider that aspect. Deputy Hyland pointed out that because these sessions take place and are published locally each year, ordinary people get to hear about them, not merely people at the various levels of officialdom.
It would appear that the Minister is not impressed with questions about the savings involved. It is deplorable that a Minister comes into the House, gives no quantification whatever and can give none. It should be said that Committee Stage affords Deputies an opportunity to extract that kind of information from various Departments. It is deplorable that the Minister cannot say, for example, that in such a case this is what would happen. I would ask the Minister to endeavour to get more of that type of factual information in the future. I accept that he changed to this Department only recently. It should be remembered also that all other Departments must quantify every piece of information they supply to the Department of Finance. Therefore, the quantities are available. Why conceal them from the public?
We are not concealing anything.
It is an appalling state of affairs that we do not have that kind of quantification available to us here. I would ask the Minister to provide such quantification in relation to future Bills and proposals. I am sorry that the Minister is not impressed with the need for this kind of quantification, particularly bearing in mind the Department from which he has come. I know that the Department of Finance always want to know——
The Deputy used to criticise me for doing the opposite.
For doing too much of that?
But we do not do sufficient of it in so many areas.
The Deputy is becoming Thatcherite on this Bill.
Not at all.
Where did we hear that phrase before?
We want to get the information, that is all. We support the Minister in this section.
In the same way that there is a specific date laid down for the renewal of intoxicating liquor licences in the District Court, it would be a help if the Minister would arrange that there be laid down a specified time, within certain limiits, within which licences could be renewed through the Revenue Commissioners. I would hope that the Minister would take whatever action is necessary to advertise in the national and local papers, the timespan within which licences can be renewed annually, thereby affording the public an opportunity of having an input into their renewal. He would also be bringing to the notice of the public — sometimes these things escape the public mind — that within that period of time decisions are being taken by the Revenue Commissioners or within the courts system in relation to the renewal of licences. If the Minister could so arrange it would be of help in regard to what we have been saying.
The most rewarding piece of information I extracted from the Minister today was the assurance that he is preparing additional legislation to govern the sale and the control of intoxicating liquor generally throughout the country. I would urge the Minister to bring such legislative proposals before the House as soon as possible.
The provisions of this section propose an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967. On Second Stage I made the point that there is urgent need to update and consolidate all of the Acts under which our laws are administered by our courts. The Minister would be doing a solid day's work if he would put in train arrangements for the consolidation of all legislation, particularly that under which our courts operate. It is a farce to suggest that our laws are understood by the average citizen. Indeed, it is a reflection on this House that they are not fully understood. Even if one were to circulate this simple Bill, give it to any member of the public and ask that person to explain in simple language what the Minister is endeavouring to do in regard to its provisions, I would hazard a guess that that individual would be unable to explain or to understand what the Minister is endeavouring to do. On many occasions I burned the midnight oil trying to understand what the Minister was endeavouring to achieve, not in relation to this Bill only but in regard to legislation generally. The Minister is a practical man. He should give some thought to having these Bills written in simple, everyday language, easily understood by members of the public.
In relation to this section it should be said that the public do not understand the law under the Criminal Procedure Act of 1967, an extremely complex Act. Even solicitors in court sometimes find it difficult to disentagle its many provisions. One of the great problems is that its provisions are dealt with under so many different Acts. Therefore it is extremely difficult for an individual, or a solicitor, to pull together all of the strands of law affecting a given case. If these Acts could be consolidated it would lead to a saving of time and greater efficiency in the judicial and legal system generally. Apart altogether from that, the citizen has the right to know and to understand the laws governing him. Burying part of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1967 in this Bill will lead only to further confusion, greater difficulty for the legal profession and the ordinary citizens wanting to define how it will affect them.
Parts of the section represent a limitation on a citizen's right to liberty. Nobody is querying the right of a court to remand a person in accordance with section 24 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1967 but the effect of subsection (2) is that if a person is remanded for a period under the Principal Act and the court does not sit on the appointed day he will continue to be held in custody until the next sitting of that District Court. The example I shall give may be a rare one but it could occur. We are all aware that on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Saturday or Easter Monday the courts do not sit and an individual remanded to a sitting of a court on any of those days would be kept in custody until the next sitting day. In other words, a person who is innocent is remanded in custody until the next sitting of that court. Something similar could occur at Christmas time although, generally speaking, the legal people are sympathetic to people at that time of the year. It is possible that a citizen may be remanded in custody unfairly and for an excessive period of time. We must protect the rights of accused people who are considered innocent until found guilty by the courts. We should not include a provision under which people could be detained for an excessive period in custody.
I should like to deal with the first point raised by Deputy Hyland, in relation to the consolidation of legislation. There is no argument that over many areas of our existing legislation it would be desirable to go ahead with work on consolidation. The Deputy had in mind something that is not all that unusual, a particular part of our body of statute law that goes back over a century and considerably more than a century in some cases. We have a proliferation of statutes that have to be taken into account in order to arrive at a conclusion on a particular point. That is entirely desirable but I must point out — I am sure Deputy Hyland will agree with me on this — that it is a very time consuming business. The work involved in carrying out a consolidation process is very time consuming and, given the fact that we do not have an unlimited amount of resources to devote to the drafting of legislation, we have to strike a balance. Generally, the balance tends to come down more in favour of current legislation or legislation that is needed immediately or in the near future. The Deputy can be assured that I understand and largely share his concern in that regard.
I am not quite sure what the language of legislation has to do with section 5. We should not exaggerate the facility with which we might call ordinary everyday language can properly be used in legislation. I have seen cases, and I am sure other Members have seen them, where attempts were made either wittingly or unwittingly to do this and problems arose afterwards in terms of the interpretation of what was in the minds of the legislators at the time. I will not speak at all about the most celebrated recent instance of attempts to accommodate ordinary everyday language to a highly legal and rather contentious matter. It is not a simple matter.
I should now like to refer to Deputy Hyland's suggestion that the change we are proposing to the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967 in effect means that we are burying part of it in this Bill. That is not what we are doing. We are not burying anything in the Bill. We are bringing forward today a particular proposal to make an amendment to an existing statute and I cannot see how that could be classified as burying anything.
I understand Deputy Hyland's concern with regard to the protection of the rights of those remanded in custody but I should like to draw his attention to the fact that there are two separate provisions, one concerning those remanded in custody and the other concerning people remanded on bail. We should be careful that we do not go too far either in second guessing the courts or in restricting or predetermining the results of what a court might decide in any particular case. The Deputy will be aware that courts always have a good reason for remanding somebody in custody rather that on bail. We should be very careful not to second guess the courts on issues like that or to restrict the freedom of courts to take a particular course of action in a case. The two periods mentioned by Deputy Hyland, Easter and Christmas, are the only times in the year when the problem may arise. One is tempted to advise anybody who might be in a position of being remanded by a court that if he does not wish to be excessively circumscribed in his liberty he should take care that he does not get into that position approaching Easter or Christmas. I am fully conscious of the fact, as Deputy Hyland pointed out, that in the case of one of those periods the courts tend to lean more in one direction than another for the reason he mentioned. The provision we are making is required in order to clarify the position with a view to facilitating the courts and those who appear before them.
Under the section, the Minister proposes certain amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967. It provides that if, because of illness, or for any other reason, a district justice conducting the preliminary examination of an indictable offence is unable to proceed and the preliminary examination is continued by another district justice that the latter may, for the purposes of the 1967 Act, treat a deposition or statement taken or signed by the former as if it had been taken or signed by him. I do not wish to bore the House unduly about this but I must suggest that this amendment to the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967 should not be contained in a Bill dealing with the courts. I accept that the Minister did not introduce the Bill but I must point out to him that this provision is lost in the Bill. It is not hidden from Members. The Minister is openly saying what is happening, but that is not the point. It would have been possible to bring this criminal procedure amendment forward as a simple Bill and to pass it so that it would be noted in its own right. Anyone checking on criminal procedure would know that such a change had been made, whereas there is much greater difficulty in finding it in a Courts Act.
Something similar was done in an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, when it was amended by a very short Act in 1973. If Bills relating to criminal procedure are incorporated in Bills dealing with the courts it is bound to create difficulties. The Minister may say that this is related to a Courts Bill in that District Courts are involved but that is not really the case as the amendment is straight forward. The Bill says that it is an amendment of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, and that is quite clear.
Section 5 (1) states:
Where under Part II of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, a preliminary examination of an indictable offence is being conducted by a particular justice of the District Court and, owing to the illness of that justice or for any other reason, is continued by another justice, a deposition or statement taken or signed by the former may for the purposes of that Act be treated by the latter as if it had been taken or signed by him.
There is no problem in regard to that section but it would be preferable to have it contained in a small Bill which could pass through the Houses of the Oireachtas quickly and make life much more simple for everyone who has to check on measures of this kind. Deputy Hyland made the point that these matters should be consolidated and I hope that can be done. However, until this happens the confusion will remain. Perhaps the title should be the Courts and Procedure Bill because it deals with two main items, the courts and criminal procedure.
Section 5 (2) states:
The Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, is hereby amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (5) of section 24:
"(5) (a) Where there is no sitting of the Court on the day to which a person is remanded in custody, he shall stand so remanded to the sitting of the Court next held in the same district court district.
(b) Where there is no sitting of the Court on the day to which a person is remanded on bail, he shall stand so remanded to the sitting of the Court next held in the same district court area.".
This measure is simple in relation to a person on bail because the person is obviously free. Deputy Hyland raised the question of Christmas and Easter and the Bill mentions the fact that a District Court justice may not be available due to illness, that someone else may have to be called in and that there may be a gap in time. All that hardly matters to a person on bail, but it is very different when applied to someone in custody.
Perhaps the Minister thinks I am labouring points but he should remember that the Bill covers a very wide area. The offence of larceny may be very minor but it is still an indictable offence. One can also be sent to prison for the nonpayment of fines of the order of £50 or so. If a person is remanded to Mountjoy he or she is mixing with convicted prisoners, some of whom are serving long sentences. There is no centre where remand prisoners can be treated differently from those serving sentences. It would be desirable to have a special remand centre but that is not the case at present. Our prisons are all overcrowded which creates further difficulties.
We cannot take a measure like this too lightly because it could be a limitation on a person's right to liberty. We are obliged to ask questions about writing into law something which is convenient from the point of view of administration but is not very helpful to the person concerned. A proportion of the individuals concerned will be found to be innocent, regardless of whether the charges against them are serious. That proportion might be 25 per cent. We were given percentages in this regard in respect of Mountjoy but obviously the figures vary from time to time.
We are talking about a system in which people found subsequently to be innocent will have been remanded in custody. That sounds simple enough but in practice that means, in the Dublin area anyway, being remanded into the company of persons who have been convicted of very serious charges. I do not know what the practice in Mountjoy is today but earlier the practice was that people from the hospital wing exercised with people on remand. In this day and age that is very undesirable. It is for these kind of reasons that we as members of the Opposition are asking questions about the extension of the remand period.
Paragraph (b) of the subsection is fine. It is a question of remanding on bail and the provision ensures that the system is tidied up administratively and that there are no loopholes. Likewise, paragraph (a) helps the courts in managing the situation but it involves also a limitation of the citizen's right to liberty. From that point of view we would wish to be reassured that there is no possible extension of that limitation and that the circumstances in which it might occur would be rare. There may be prolongation in some parts of the country. This is a matter that the Minister might consider for Report Stage.
When we are passing this kind of legislation we do not have available to us all the information from the different situations that can occur throughout the country. These circumstances are very often brought to our attention by the press. We might find that there is some provision in the law whereby given exceptional circumstances, even circumstances outside those outlined by Deputy Hyland, a person would be remanded and incarcerated for a period while on remand in custody. That is the concern we would have in that regard.
This section is included in the Bill because to a large extent what we are doing here is providing for matters for which we should make provision in the context of the court rules. To that extent it is appropriate for these matters to be dealt with in a Courts Bill. It seems to me to be absolutely unarguable that if one is talking about giving effect to court rules, a Courts Bill provides the appropriate opportunity. I ask Deputies on the other side to take that into account.
It is not without precedent to have criminal provision dealt with in courts legislation. One example is the Courts Bill, 1980. Section 31 of that Bill deals with criminal provisions. So far as I recall Deputy Woods was in a different position then from the position he is in now. I do not know what his opinion was then but I am putting forward the case as one precedent for the kind of situation we have here now.
In subsection (1) we are enshrining in legislation something that is covered already in court rules. Rule 40 of the District Court (Criminal Procedure Act), 1967 Rules, 1967 reads:
Where in the course of a preliminary examination by a justice such justice is, by reason of illness or other unavoidable cause, unable to complete the preliminary examination and another justice is proceeding with the preliminary examination, the depositions (if any) already taken before such first mentioned justice shall be deemed to have been taken before such last mentioned justice.
What we are doing here is removing any danger that there might be grounds on which in such cases it might be considered that proceedings would have to be recommenced. I am sure Deputy Hyland would agree that a sentence which reads:
the depositions (if any) already taken before such first mentioned justice shall be deemed to have been taken before such last mentioned justice.
is not one that we would use in common language. The reason for that kind of phraseology in the rules is to make it absolutely clear that the effect has the precision that is required and that the complete absence of ambiguity would be a characteristic of legislation and rules in this area. There are times when apparent circumlocution and legal jargon are needed in order to ensure precision. I only mention this in passing.
That is not a very good example. The sentence the Minister read could be understood easily by anyone.
I hesitate to take issue with Deputy Hyland. While he and I will understand that terminology — he perhaps more than I with greater facility — there are many people who would not understand it, including those whom we might call mythical people who walk in off the street to the licensing sessions of the District Court and who wish to know what is going on.
We must remember the man in the street.
If Deputy Woods wishes to follow that line, I can pursue it too. The provision in section 5 (1) removes any danger of a challenge to rule No. 40. So far as subsection (2) of the section is concerned, I assure both Deputies opposite that the concerns they have expressed in relation to persons remanded either in custody or on bail are very much in my mind in bringing forward the proposal. The House will note that there are two different provisions here. One relates to someone who is remanded on bail where the provision means that he is remanded to the next court sitting in the same place so that he is not remanded to a court that might be some distance away.
In regard to a person remanded in custody we are taking the opposite view. We say he is remanded to the sitting in the District Court area that is nearest in time to the first remand. It might be at a distant location. In order to ensure that the period of remand in custody is kept to the minimum we are providing that he will go to the next nearest sitting date. This is with a view to ensuring that people are not remanded in custody for a longer time than they need to be before the court, and get the opportunity to hear the case and come to a conclusion.
There will be no court sitting in Easter week?
That is a fact. I do not intend to bring in a provision in this Bill to oblige the courts to sit in Easter week. Our Judiciary and court officers need a rest in Easter week just as much as anybody else does. There are other provisions in other cases as the Deputy will know where, when required, the Judiciary can react quickly to an emergency situation. These are not the ones we are dealing with here. I want to assure the House that the concerns which have been expressed about the length of remand in custody are being met in so far as that is possible by the provisions in subsection (2).
Can I take it that the Minister will be anxious also that people who are remanded in custody will be treated separately as soon as he can make provision that that will apply? That is the question I raised earlier. People remanded in custody in Mountjoy are mixing with convicted prisoners. As I pointed out, some of these people will be innocent and they are all innocent until proven guilty. Would the Minister agree, therefore, that as soon as is practicable he will make arrangements that such people will be treated separately within the prison system.
From the benignity of your countenance, Sir, I do not think I am being disorderly in replying to a matter that is, strictly speaking, outside the scope of the Bill.
It is not.
I share Deputy Woods's concern and intend to move in that direction as soon as is practicable.
Amendment No. 19 in the name of the Minister has been substituted by an amendment on the white list which is related to an amendment No. 25, also on the white list. Amendment Nos. 19 and 25 can be taken together for discussion if that is agreed. Agreed.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 8, lines 24 to 28, to delete subsection (2) and substitute the following:
"(2) The collective citation `the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Acts, 1961 to 1986' shall include this Act other than section 4 and the First Schedule in so far as they relate to the law on intoxicating liquor) and the said Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Acts, 1961 to 1986 (other than the said section 4 and the said First Schedule in so far as they relate to the law on intoxicating liquor) shall be construed together as one Act."
This is a very technical amendment in order to bring the short title, construction and collective citation into line with what has already been provided for in the Bill as it reads so far.
The amendment proposes to delete subsection (2) and substitute the subsection which the Minister is proposing. Subsection (2) says:
The Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Acts, 1961 to 1983, and this Act (other than section 4 and the First and Second Schedules in so far as they relate to the law on intoxicating liquor) shall be construed together as one Act and may be cited together as the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Acts, 1961 to 1984.
The Minister is proposing to delete that and to put in its place the following:
The collective citation "the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Acts, 1961 to 1986", shall include this Act (other than section 4 and the First Schedule in so far as they relate to the law on intoxicating liquor) and the said Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Acts, 1961 to 1986 (other than the said section 4 and the said First Schedule in so far as they relate to the law on intoxicating liquor) shall be construed together as one Act.
Within this Bill we have a fairly serious amendment of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967. In relation to the short title can we include in any way the fact that there is an amendment to that Act?
As I explained when we discussed that provision, what we are doing in relation to section 5 (1) is ensuring that a particular part of the court rules will not be open to challenge. The same applies to the remainder of section 5. What we are doing is properly dealing with court rules. The business of dealing with that part of the court rules requires an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967. That is why it is in this Bill.
Under section 7 this Act may be cited as the Courts Act, 1984, followed by the short title. I would suggest to the Minister that, while he is very concerned about the court rules, I am concerned about people. We are making an important change in relation to the remand of people in custody and the question of bail. It is a problem. The Minister may say it happened before, but that is no reason for doing it again. The Minister mentioned 1980. In 1980 I was very busily working on the codification of the law on social welfare. We produced an Act after enormous difficulty, great pain and suffering as any of the Members of the House who were involved will know, which brought all the previous social welfare legislation up-to-date into one Act. It is marvellous to have it and we suggested at that time that it should be reviewed every five years as much social welfare legislation goes through the House.
While consolidation is very valuable — it does not exist in relation to this area but hopefully will come in the future — it costs a lot of money as it means that you have so many specialists trying to find out these things for you. If they are all put together, the legal costs we talk about from time to time for barristers and solicitors etc, are simplified. The Minister describes this as an amendment of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967. If barristers or solicitors, who cost a lot of money, search for this for their clients they will not find it under the short title. They will have to read the Bill itself. The Minister could consider on Report Stage including in the short title the fact that this Bill also involves an amendment of the Criminal Procedure Act.
The Criminal Procedure Act deals with the basic rights of citizens, their freedom, their liberty and the circumstances in which they can be detained and incarcerated. If the Minister does not want this mentioned in the title and if he feels that this is principally a Courts Bill and that this is included in a secondary way, is there a possibility of including it in the short title? We have discussed this enough to realise that there are problems in that area. We are compounding those problems for some reason. The Minister may give as his reason the fact that it comes from the court rules. Hereafter it will be included in this Bill.
While I cannot say offhand if I will be able to meet the concerns raised by Deputy Woods, I will have a look at it again before we come to Report Stage. If a way can be found to meet his point, I will be happy to do so.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 8, subsection (3), line 29, after "Section 4" to insert "and section 6".
This is purely a technical amendment. The First Schedule to the Act cannot stand on its own. It is subject to section 6 and therefore section 6 must be mentioned in the collective citation.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 8, after line 32, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) Section 6 of this Act and the First Schedule to this Act, in so far as they relate to the Registration of Clubs Acts, 1904 to 1981, shall be construed together with those Acts and may be cited together with them as the Registration of Clubs Acts, 1904 to 1986.".
This again is a technical amendment. Section 6 when read with the First Schedule amends the Registration of Clubs Act, 1904. It is therefore necessary to include this amendment in the collective citation of the Registration of Clubs Act, which is what the amendment brings about.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 8, after line 32, to insert the following subsection:
"(5) This Act, other than sections 2, 3(1), 3(3) to 3(5) and 5 the repeal of those provisions of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851, and of the Small Penalties (Ireland) Act, 1873, provided for in section 6, and section 7, shall come into operation on such day or days as may be fixed therefor by order or orders of the Minister for Justice, either generally or with reference to a particular purpose or provision, and different days may be so fixed for different purposes and different provisions of this Act."
This amendment proposes a commencement provision in accordance with which certain provisions of the Bill would not come into operation until a commencement date, or commencement dates, to be fixed by the Minister by statutory instruments, are made under the commencement provision. The reasons for the amendment are that the operation of section 1, which provides for a new section 15 of the Enforcement of Court Orders Act, 1926, depends on new District Court rules. It now seems that they are unlikely to be promulgated before the Bill is enacted into law. That operation must therefore be deferred. Section 3 (2) of the Bill proposes a change consequential on section 1 so that the operation of section 3(2) must also be deferred. Section 4 of the Bill relating to intoxicating liquor licences could probably be operated without the new rules. However, depending on the time of the enactment of the Bill, administrative problems could arise. It would be preferable to be in a position to delay the operation of section 4 accordingly. The amendments and repeals provided by section 6 relate in the main to section 4 and therefore likewise fall to be deferred. The only amendments and repeals that do not refer to section 4 are the repeal of the Petty Sessions Act, 1851, the provisions of the Small Penalties Act, 1873, which can operate together with section 2 of the Bill, and the amendment of the Registration of Clubs Act, 1904, for the operation of which the new rules may be required and which should accordingly also be deferred.
Can the Minister give us any idea when the new District Court rules will be promulgated and when the new provisions which are included in the Bill will be brought into effect?
I cannot give the House a date on which the new rules would come into operation. Examination of the draft new rules is being completed in my Department. Following that examination a number of matters have been referred to the District Court Rules Committee with a view to their consideration and settling some of the proposed new rules in a final form. It is only after that that I would be in a position to concur with the making of the proposed rules. It will be done as quickly as possible. I can assure the House that everyone involved in the process is anxious to have the new rules finalised and promulgated at the earliest possible time.
The Minister told us that he cannot continue with these new arrangements until the new rules are promulgated. Is he talking in terms of three, six or nine months? We are not talking about days. What sort of time scale?
I regret to say that I am not in a position to talk about a time scale. We were not talking about days or a couple of weeks. I do not know how long it will take the rules committee to consider the matters that have been put back to them.
The introduction of new District Court rules is perhaps the one great merit contained in this Bill. While I appreciate that the Minister, for obvious reasons, is not in a position to indicate when the rules will be available, would he consider that with the contents of the rules and the extent to which the new rules will alter existing District Court procedure, the changes should be brought to the notice of the House? I am not saying that they should be done in full detail, but if there are any widespread alterations in relation to the procedure in District Courts surely the Members of this House should be informed of those proposed changes. It seems strange that we are discussing a Bill the main function of which is to bring into operation new District Court rules. Yet I, along with my colleague Deputy Woods, do not know what is contained in the new District Court rules. We do not know how they will affect the performance of the District Court. We hope that they will lead to greater efficiency and output from the District Court system.
It seems wrong that we should be legislating almost in a vacuum because we are legislating for the introduction of new procedures for the District Court. I would have hoped and expected that the Minister before the conclusion of this debate would have been able to outline to the House in the broadest details what is envisaged in the new District Court rules. We have talked a lot in this House over the past 12 months of the need for court reform. We have expressed the view on many occasions that as far as District Courts are concerned there is a need to increase and strengthen the jurisdiction of the District Courts. Will the proposed new District Court rules do anything to broaden the jurisdiction of our courts system at District Court level? What other changes are contained in the new District Court rules? We on this side of the House could not give blanket approval to proposals which hopefully will bring about major District Court reform. The Minister could not expect blanket approval in a vacuum where we do not know exactly what is contained in the rules. Before Report Stage, for the purposes of the credibility of this debate, we should be informed in the broadest possible sense as to what is contained in the District Court rules.
I do not agree with Deputy Hyland's contention that we are legislating in a vacuum. We are taking measures that for a variety of reasons appear to be justified. The new District Court rules would of course come before the House and the Deputy can be assured that they will come before the House in this instance, not necessarily before Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 9, after the reference to the Enforcement of Court Orders Act, 1926, to insert the following:
Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1927
In subsection (3), the deletion of ‘or renewal’ and the insertion after ‘such certificate’ of ‘and in every such six day licence renewed thereafter’.
In subsection (3), the deletion of ‘or renewal’ and the insertion after ‘such certificate’ of ‘and in every such early closing licence renewed thereafter’.
This is a technical amendment necessitated by the fact that a court certificate will not be required as a preliminary to the renewal of six day licences and early closing licences.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 9, after the reference to the Enforcement of Court Orders Act, 1926, to insert the following:
Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1927
(a) In subsection (1), the deletion of ‘a certificate for’ where whose words first occur;
(b) In subsection (2), the deletion of ‘a certificate for’.
(c) In subsection (5), the deletion of ‘as certificate for’.
This also is a technical amendment made necessary by the fact that in the ordinary way the applicant for renewal of an on licence will not have to obtain a certificate from the District Court.
Amendment No. 25 on the Title was already discussed with amendment No. 19.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 3, line 7, to delete "1983" and substitute "1986".
When is it proposed to take Report Stage?
Next week, subject to agreement between the Whips.
Will the Minister indicate a date?
I am not in a position at the moment to indicate a date.
The Minister can indicate a date subject to agreement between the Whips.