Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Public Prosecutions Procedures.


asked the Minister for Justice if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the former Select Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism recommended, having consulted the Director of Public Prosecutions, that changes be made in the procedures affecting the Director of Public Prosecutions to allow for a procedure which would make it possible for a statement to be made by a member of the Government or others when a prosecution does not take place in certain cases and where the public interest would demand this; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I am aware of the recommendation to which the Deputy refers. It was made in the fifteenth report of the Select Committee which is entitled Pros-ecution of Offences. While I have no statutory or other responsibility in relation to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution, I am aware that the general refusal of the director to give, publicly, reasons for decisions not to prosecute is not based on any reluctance to be accountable for his decisions but on the fact that a policy of giving reasons would inevitably, in very many cases, mean serious damage to the reputation of individuals. The same attitude was adopted over the years by successive Attorneys General who, before the appointment of the director, discharged the functions now discharged by him.

The Deputy will recall that the recommendation made by the select committee concerns the use of section 2 (6) of the Prosecution of Offences Act, 1974, which provides for a procedure whereby the Attorney General can consult with the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the director's functions. It is not a matter for me as Minister for Justice to determine the circumstances in which the Attorney General should consult with the director and I do not wish to make any comment in that regard.

In so far as I might have any role to play in relation to the committee's recommendation I must say that I am not persuaded that any useful purpose would be served by the introduction of a procedure as recommended by the committee whereby a member of the Government, or any other person, would be enabled to make a statement to the effect that having scrutinised a particular file he or she is satisfied that the decision by the director not to prosecute was taken in accordance with proper legal criteria.

Is the Minister aware that the report of the select committee was unanimously presented to the House after a meeting between the then Chairman, Deputy Woods, the then Vice-Chairman, myself, and the Director of Public Prosecutions as a reasonable way of allaying public fears when prosecutions do not take place, in circumstances where the public do not understand why a prosecution has not taken place? In all these circumstances would the Minister not agree that it would be reasonable for some facility to be found to explain the reasons for such non prosecutions?

I do not agree with that particular recommendation. In cases where there has been public concern from time to time about a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to take a prosecution the concern has been to know his reasons. I do not believe that a bald statement by another party to the effect that they had scrutinised the file and were satisfied that the director had taken his decision based on legal criteria would meet the nature of that concern. Furthermore, I doubt that the recommended procedure is in comformity with the Prosecution of Offences Act, 1974, under which the office of Director of Public Prosecutions was established. Under that Act the director is given independent status. On the other hand, under British law on which the committee's recommendation would seem to be based, the Director of Public Prosecutions is subordinate to the Attorney General.

Would the Minister agree that it is desirable that the Director of Public Prosecutions remain independent but that it is not desirable that he should remain beyond the possibility of being accountable, that there is a difference between being independent and being accountable? I leave aside murder or multiple murder, but let me mention multiple deaths resulting from car accidents. I had such a case concerning multiple pedestrians where prosecution did not take place, I am satisfied quite correctly given explanations were given privately. Would the Minister not agree that there should be a procedure whereby accountability is allowed without interfering with independence? Since the Minister referred to the 1974 Act, is that not what this House is for? Can we not change the Act if we wish?

On the one hand, Deputy Mitchell wants the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to retain its independent status and on the other hand he wants a degree of accountability. Let me take it from there back to his original question. He wants a position whereby the Minister or Members of this House would be in a position to comment on these decisions——

That is what the select committee wanted.

I do not agree with that recommendation.

The Minister's colleagues wanted it.

I am in the driving seat——

When the Deputy gets an opportunity——

The Minister should not keep making the offer. We might take it up.

Would the Minister not agree there is a precedent for what Deputy Mitchell is seeking in that the Taoiseach of the day found it possible to come in and explain the decision of the Attorney General in an extradition case? Is Deputy Mitchell not asking for something similar, that somebody can come in here and explain why after four months nobody has said anything about a case we understood had been referred to?

Now we are back to Question No. 4.

We are talking about accountability and credibility. I understand the DPP is agreeable to this procedure.

Let me say to Deputy Barrett that as one of the wisest public representatives in this House he knows better than any of us that there is no similarity whatsoever in the two cases he has just mentioned.

(Limerick East):“It's a long way to Tipperary.”

People outside wonder what is going on.

The difficulty is whether you want your jam on the top side of the bread or the botton. You can have it only on one side.

One side will do me.