Deputy McCartan was in possession. Members will appreciate, having regard to the Order of Business yesterday, that the Minister for Justice will intervene not later than 1.40 p.m. and the debate will conclude not later than 2 p.m. and any votes thereon will be postponed until next week.
Criminal Evidence Bill, 1992: Second Stage (Resumed).
I do not intend to keep the House until 1.40 p.m. Yesterday I spoke about Part II of the Bill, dealing with the question of evidence being called and adduced by way of document, in a radical modification of the hearsay rule that has heretofore hampered criminal prosecutions in a very significant way, particularly in this whole area. I asked if the Minister in reply could give some practical examples with regard to the way in which the legislation would work and I sought the guidance of the Minister with regard to the overall legal constitutional framework in which this legislation could work having regard to the precedent in legislation that has existed heretofore, in particular the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 and the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967.
Sections 21 and 22 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, deal with the question of proof of witnessed statement by documentary evidence. Section 21 provides for the proof on notice or by documentary evidence and specifically lays down as a direct condition, under 21 (2) (d), that the evidence can be adduced so long as an objection is not raised within a 21 day period in advance by any of the parties on the other side to the criminal prosecution. Consequently, there was an absolute power or an opportunity available to the opposing party to object to the evidence being produced in this way. My understanding is that the 1984 legislation was drafted in that way to have regard to the fact that we had an adversarial system of justice that required balance to be achieved. This constitutional balance was there. It recognised that if an accused was to object then the evidence would then have to be produced viva voce and the witness produced in court and be available for examination and cross-examination. That position does not pertain in the new legislation. Will the Minister advise the House on the development of the law in this regard or the changes that have occurred that give the Minister and the Government confidence that they can stand over this type of radical departure, a development in the criminal law which I fully support as a legislator? In doing so I want to be certain that the legislation will stand constitutionally and otherwise once passed by this House.
With regard to the improvement of the law and allowing for the proof of facts by way of documentary evidence, provided the law stands and is effective, it will prove to be a remarkable aid to the Garda Síochána dealing with the investigation of fraud, particularly commercial and banking fraud. I am sure many Members of the House are aware that the Garda Síochána have a stolen vehicles section to deal with the widespread problem of stolen cars. Effective legislation will be a major aid to them. As a natural consequence of this I anticipate a significant increase in the number of fraud and commercial fraud cases being brought before the courts.
If this legislation had been in place two years ago I wonder if the Director of Public Prosecutions would have made the remarkable decision not to prosecute in the case of the DPP v. Gallagher? Mr. Patrick Gallagher had established a bank in this State with its headquarters in Dublin. He defrauded the bank's customers on a large scale and conducted the business in a way that led him to be prosecuted in Northern Ireland for the activities of a bank established in Dublin. He was imprisoned there but when he returned to our jurisdiction and was available for prosecution, the Director of Public Prosecutions found there was no basis in law upon which he could proceed against him. That seems extraordinary. The general principles of law were similar in both jurisdictions and my belief is that the Director of Public Prosecutions had a problem in the evidential proofs area because he did not have the capacity to call the witnesses available to him and equally was not able to produce documentary evidence on the wide scale which will be available to him under this Bill.
I hope there will be a very significant increase in the number of prosecutions for fraud coming before the courts in the revenue, commercial, banking and other areas. This is a major problem. Given the inevitable increase in cases, I hope that adequate resources will be made available to the Garda Síochána to enforce the legislation and deal with the mushrooming of prosecutions in this area.
There was a suggestion in the course of discussion that the Government would consider the establishment of a technical or specialist unit along the lines of the Serious Fraud Office in the British Constabulary which is available to the British prosecuting authorities. If fraud is to be pursued with the same vigour as are other areas of crime which are a major social problem in our community, it will require added professional, technical and other resources. I would like the Minister to assure us that those resources will be made available and that we will not get the standard reply to questions in this House: "that as far as the Commissioner is concerned the resources are adequate for the purposes of the law as it stands". We all know that the fraud section of the Garda Síochána is seriously under-resourced, understaffed and is not adequately equipped to deal with the scale of the problem at present and the vast number of prosecutions that require to be pursued and investigated in detail.
Part III deals with the presentation of evidence in cases of sexual offences, child sexual abuse, sexual assault and violence to spouses generally. This is the most radical part of the legislation, which departs more than any from the norm and from the standards used in the prosecution of criminal trials. It is being suggested for the first time that evidence may be given by persons sitting outside of the court room in an environment that is not intimidating or overpowering, such evidence being video recorded and transmitted to the court room. There is the possibility of employing an intermediary to convey to the witness the questions asked by counsel and, if I understand correctly, the potential that the answers will be transmitted to the court by the intermediary. There are proposals with regard to the evidence given at the District Court preliminary inquiry stage being used at the trial per se, thus not putting the onus on the person giving the testimony to attend at the ultimate trial. There is the suggestion also that witnesses living abroad or in remote areas of the country would not of necessity have to travel to the capital to give evidence in these cases but could give their evidence by way of a television link to the court house. This is not spelt out clearly in the Bill and I would like the Minister to assure us that if we can facilitate the giving of evidence by television by visitors to our country who have returned home, can we not equally help young people and others affected by this part of the Bill to give their testimony from their own town, if necessary, or a location convenient to them? There does not appear to be any reason why we cannot develop the system in that direction. In this regard it must be remembered that all cases of alleged rape must be dealt with in Dublin at the Central Criminal Court, so that witnesses have to travel.
The general question I have already posited in this regard is why we confine all these innovatory developments to sexual offences. I made this point yesterday so I will not go into it in details, but it is time to reappraise the criminal process generally in order to see to what extent we can use modern technology devices to create a more caring and manageable atmosphere to help witnesses in all cases to feel at ease in giving their testimony before the court.
I welcome the radical new departures being proposed in his Bill, particularly in cases in which it is difficult for witnesses to testify, but in many other instances the problems can be as traumatic. By way of illustration let me cite a criminal trial that ended in Dublin very recently involving the conviction of a man for a very serious robbery of a post office. The unfortunate proprietor was held for many hours in terror believing he had a bomb strapped to his back. That man had to sit in court with the man he alleged had done this to him. There was a woman involved in the case who was terrorised into giving her assistance, according to her testimony, which the jury believed. She had to identify the accused in court as the person who had abused her trust. People in those circumstances are as much traumatised and as much in terror and fear of having to relive their ordeals by going into court to give evidence as they were in the first instance. I am not suggesting that we should remove all testimony to a remote location, but we should be looking to a wider context. Efforts should be made to make a visit to a courtroom something of ease which should be facilitated as much as possible by our system. Too much has been put into the creation of an alien atmosphere in the courts in the false belief that a person who is nervous, fearful or tense will give a clearer and more true testimony.
This part of the Bill is not to come into immediate effect. This is provided for in an earlier section. Clearly, work will have to be done in adapting courtrooms and buildings and installing technical equipment. I hope there will not be an inordinate delay. I also hope the Minister will deal strongly with the almost inevitable kneejerk reaction of the Bar and the solicitor's profession to these proposals. I can almost write the script for the chairman of the Bar Council when he comments about what will happen to the rule of law, the quality of justice and the balance to be established between the accused and the prosecution. I am particularly mindful that the proposal of the Martin Commission with regard to the establishment of a higher court or tribunal of inquiry into miscarriages of justice is sitting on the shelf simply because senior members of the Judiciary and the Bar will not brook the concept of bringing our criminal justice system one step further, in the recognition that mistakes can be made and that, rarely, miscarriages of justice can occur. I recall the words of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy O'Malley, when he got the very firm diktat of the Bar's interpretation of their motto — we will not move, nor will we be moved.
This is important legislation which enjoys full support within the House and it must be put into place rapidly. The legal profession, who exhibit a huge disinclination to change, must be told that they cannot stand in the way or impede what is being proposed. It is incumbent on the Minister to reassure us as to what exactly he would consider a reasonable time frame for the introduction of these changes in the criminal law.
In regard to section 13, which deals with the role of the intermediary, I join with other Members in saying that the kind of persons envisaged here does not exist in terms of what is required of him or her to do. He or she must have the capacity to understand the psychological difficulties of a witness, must be able to translate language in an understandable way and have an appreciation of the rules of evidence. We need someone who is a psychologist, a linguist and an evidential lawyer. I hope some work is being done in the Department to develop a scheme of training in conjunction with the Association of Irish Social Workers or other organisations in this area. We must work in the broader sense to ensure that there are personnel and resources available to implement the legislation.
According to the explanatory memorandum, section 13 would empower the court "to appoint an intermediary to convey questions to a witness", the witness being under 17 years of age. The Bill is somewhat different in that the section states that the examination or any part thereof may be conducted through an intermediary. Will the intermediary be someone who is simply asked to convey a question to the witness, it then being a matter for the witness to articulate his or her reply to the court? The explanatory memorandum refers specifically to the conveying of a question, but the Bill refers to the conducting of an examination through an intermediary. The wording of the section leaves open the possibility that the intermediary may be obliged not simply to convey the question but also to convey the answer. The Minister of State is shaking his head to indicate that this would not be the position, but the matter needs to be clarified.
Section 17 deals with the identification issue. I am totally at a loss as to how this section would work. If I have any criticism of the Minister's contribution on Second Stage it is that it seemed to have been an abbreviation of the explanatory memorandum. There was very little additional information, comment or reasoning and very few examples of how the legislation would work in practice. I had come to expect that kind of information from a Minister when introducing Second Stage, but it was markedly absent in this context. Let us assume some sort of identification parade or process before a young person who claims to be able to identify a man who has carried out an attack. The section provides that once notice of that identification is served it is to be presumed that the person so identified is the accused. The section is seeking to avoid the trauma which would be experienced by that young person in coming into court and pointing directly at the attacker. I cannot see how in practice we can get over that necessity. I do not see how this presumption will work. I suppose there will be some instances and occasions where the issues of identify by way of visual identification will not arise. I would have thought that in a large percentage of these cases the issue of identification would arise. I cannot see any way round a direct indication being given in the trial. It may well be that a device can be obtained whereby the person in the room, removed from the courtroom where the accused is sitting, will be facilitated with a monitor of what is taking place in the courtroom and may have an opportunity of viewing the accused from a distance or through a camera. If these issues are to be dealt with it is difficult to understand how that can be done by the employment of a presumption.
Part IV of the Bill deals with the issues of competence and compellability of spouses. It is important to recognise the radical development that this change in the law represents. It is worth stopping to reflect on where these rules emerged from. By what reasoning did our legislators of another era come to the conclusion that a spouse could not be compellable or, indeed, competent to give testimony on behalf of or against the other spouse. I understand that in the history of the development of the criminal law the original idea was twofold. There was a time when even the defendant was not permitted to give evidence at a trial. Perhaps we do not appreciate how recently it was that accused people could for the first time go into the dock and give testimony on their own behalf. Coupled with that was a view that if the defendant could not give evidence, clearly the spouse of the defendant could not give evidence, that they were of the union.
Shortly after the accused was permitted to give evidence in criminal trials the issue of the non-competence of a spouse to give testimony was devised primarily as a reflection on the status of the woman. Invariably it was the male spouse who ended up in court. There was rarely the spectacle of women being tried in criminal courts in the last century or in the previous one. The view developed that a woman was a lesser person and, therefore, was not competent and, consequently, not compellable.
The issue of compellability was linked on the basis that marriage was an institution that had to be protected in some way or had to be respected. The concept of confidentiality from one spouse to the other, irrespective of what was being said and irrespective of what heinous crime was being hatched or devised or admitted to, had to be protected. We have grown up a little in respect of our attitudes in this regard and have come to realise that the institution of marriage was being more disgraced and denigrated by this particular rule of evidence than it was being protected.
In many serious cases involving hardship on one spouse or the other a spouse was neither competent nor compellable to come forward and give testimony. That matter is dealt with in this legislation. This is an important development but the legislation does not go far enough. Where the legislation indicates that a spouse can always be competent and compellable on behalf of the accused there are occasions where the spouse is competent but not compellable from the prosecution's point of view. Those are in cases not involving physical violence on the spouse in question or sexual assault on a member of the family. I see absolutely no reason a spouse is not both competent and compellable in the prosecution of all criminal cases irrespective of the nature of the crime being charged. I do not accept this spurious argument that a protection for marriage is to be found in the maintenance of the rule. If a spouse is competent and compellable to give testimony in cases of accused persons there is absolutely no reason the same should not apply from the prosecution point of view in all cases.
It is common sense.
I do not see the common sense of it.
I mean I am in agreement with the Deputy's point. What the Deputy is saying is common sense.
I am glad to hear that Deputy Enright who has much more experience in these matters than I have, that he, as a man of eminent legal standing, accepts the point. For that reason I will not labour the issue but the question should be addressed by the Minister as it is not likely we will come back to it for a long time. There can be many cases where, in the interests of the family unit, the marriage or whatever, a spouse who is competent would not be inclined to give testimony on behalf of his or her spouse and the accused could so compel him or her. Why can we not have the same on the other side? This is something about which I am not happy. We should face up to the problem and deal with it.
I welcome the important development in relation to the taking of oaths for the purpose of children and young persons under 14 years of age giving testimony. This has been an unwieldy spectacle in many criminal trials up to now. I had experience of young children being put through an incredible test centering on whether they understood the meaning of an oath. In all probability the first time a young child of 14 years or younger would have heard of an oath, as a concept, was when they came to the court. Their immediate reaction — I saw it many times — was that an oath was something a horse ate. When it was explained to them that it was something else entirely then the young person was subjected to a number of questions in an effort to establish whether they knew what was obliged of them if they were to take an oath. Many judges attempted to deal with this anachronism by coming to the kernel and asking whether they understood what the truth was and whether they understood that they had to tell the truth in the court.
This legislation is attempting to deal with a very practical test of proposition, that of the capacity of a witness to give an intelligible account. It is worth noting that this provision will apply in all criminal prosecutions and not merely to the specifics of a sexual assault or related crimes. From now on in all criminal prosecutions the test is whether a person under 14 years of age — and, indeed, everyone — can give an intelligible account of the events to which they are being called to give testimony. That is imminently sensible and welcome.
Equally I welcome the proposal in the legislation to abolish the other anachronism of the requirement of corroboration. If a young person or a person, irrespective of age, can give a good and fair account of the facts to which they are being called to give testimony that should be the end of it. It should then be a matter for the trial in the various specific instances and for the jury specifically to assess the witness in the competent way in which they can in these matters taking into account such factors as age, their own experience in regard to the suggestibility potential of young witnesses and the demeanour of the witness in court. The aid and guidance of counsel for the prosecution and for the defence and the rulings of the judge will assist and be of help to them. It is proper that we deal with this issue by standardising the rules of evidence, irrespective of the witnesses's age and the crimes in respect of which they have been called to give testimony.
I would now like to refer to the provisions contained in the Bill to deal with crimes against tourists. This is a difficult problem in the city of Dublin. As we try to develop our tourism industry, the scheming thief will bring his trade to bear on a wider field. For the present this problem is prevalent in Dublin city. When I practised as a criminal defence lawyer in Dublin it was evident to me for many years that there was a group of inner city thieves who came into their own in the tourism industry. They exploited, as I did as their lawyer, on many occasions, the difficulties of tourists in making themsleves available for the court hearing. Their tactics were, if they could not get a long remand in the District Court, to opt for trial on indictment and require the book of evidence to be produced. Ultimately, the trial did not take place until long after the tourist had gone home. They played on the possibility that it was unlikely the tourist would return. One stood on the steps of the Circuit Criminal Court in Dublin with one's client close to 10.30 a.m. on the day of the trial to see if a foreign looking person would appear.
To give them their credit, some gardaí at Store Street Garda Station went to inordinate lengths to deal with this problem and demanded that the Department of Justice paid the fares of witnesses from France, Germany and elsewhere to return. However, almost nine times out of ten the accused was able to evade prosecution, if not conviction, because of the non-availability of the witness on the trial date.
This legislation attempts to deal with the problem in two ways. First, it is proposed that a television link-up be provided. I am not a pessimist or a sceptic, but the day I see that provision being brought into play I will take my hat off to the Minister in question and say "There is a man, or woman, who can do their job". Legislation was introduced in 1984 to enable the Minister make provision for the viderecording of interviews of suspects in police stations in this country, but this has not yet happened. There is some talk about introducing pilot schemes this year, one in Dublin and one down the country, but I do not believe that they have been put in place. If we are having the greatest of difficulty in putting a videorecording machine in a police station in our own jurisdiction I greatly wonder how we are going to provide a television link-up to interview witnesses in other countries which will be available as evidence and testimony at a trial here. As I said, I do not want to be pessimistic and I am not one to be sceptical, but I look forward to the day when that works. Why should that not be so? Why should modern telecommunication networks and facilities not be available to the criminal prosecution process in this country as in any other concerned to provide an effective criminal justice system?
The second proposal is that sworn testimony be taken before a district justice in the preliminary stages so that when a tourist or visitor is at hand he or she can be brought before a district justice to give testimony. That is all very well if the accused has already been arrested, brought to justice and is available to attend. I doubt however if we would be allowed, constitutionally, to use that testimony at any subsequent trial if the accused was not present when it was taken. This will not deal with the problem because these skillful people, if they commit crime and know that this provision is in place, will know that the one thing they will have to do in the initial stages is to go into hiding, at least for a week or two until the tourist leaves the country.
The only effective way to deal with this problem is to employ special courts during the summer tourist season. This would not be a big problem because the Dublin police courts sit each day throughout the summer in the Bridewell. Therefore we would not add to the workload or increase costs. What I am saying is that if the accused can be arrested while the tourist is still within the jurisdiction the case should be heard immediately and that the onus should be put on the courts to ensure that a trial is heard speedily. This can be done. If the accused opts for trial on indictment this could be done by assembling a jury and a jury panel. The Dublin Circuit Court sits almost every week throughout the summer. While it would be difficult to set up a jury panel, that is the way to deal with the matter. If the prospect of a speedy trial on indictment was looming for any person arrested having interfered with property on assaulted a tourist or visitor to this country, I can say from experience that they would opt for trial in the District Court where the maximum penalty is two years on conviction.
The problem that would then arise is that if convicted in the District Court they could appeal to the Circuit Court to have their case reviewed or reheard. In practice it can take up to two or three months to get the case onto the list and dealt with. As I said, the Dublin Circuit Court sits virtually each week in Dublin during the summer and again there is no reason the appeal cannot be dealt with within a few days or a week.
Crimes of this kind are primarily dealt with in the Dublin area where people watch motor cars with strange registration numbers and tabs indicating the origin coming off the ferry to see where they park around the city, given that there are no secure parking facilities available for tourists. We should meet them full square and employ our courts during the summer. This should not involve a massive increase in resources or workload. That is one way in which we can deal with this problem effectively in the short-term. In time, when telecommunication facilities are put in place, we can revert to normal procedures. I believe it is foolhardy to open police offices on O'Connell Street and tell people publicly that we are serious about tackling this phenomenon of crime. We must have an effective court system which can speedily bring the accussed, once he has been arrested, to trial within a matter of days while the witness or tourist is still within the jurisdiction and available to give testimony and have the matter disposed of in that way.
With those few remarks I thank the Minister for introducing this legislation and the Minister of State for listening patiently to everything I have said. I hope, irrespective of whether the matter is dealt with by a special committee, to have an input on Committee Stage.
At the outset I forgot to congratulate the Minister for Justice on his appointment; I wish him well in his work. I also congratulate my contemporary and colleague of student days, Deputy O'Dea, on his appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Justice. Given the level and quality of his contributions to debates in the House on these matters I have no doubt the Minister for Justice will be well served by him over the next few years.
I take my cue from Deputy McCartan and congratulate the Minister for Justice on his appointment and express my appreciation of the speed with which this legislation has been introduced. That instills confidence in the Minister's priorities for his term of office. I congratulated the Minister of State on his appointment and expressed my confidence in him. I pointed out the enormous professional competence which he brings to his brief and the interest he has shown in this House, since he was elected, in matters of justice. Maybe we are entering a great reforming era where justice is concerned; all the signs are good, which will also benefit the country.
This is very important reforming legislation, radical in its provisions and relevant in every respect to many of the most pressing and serious problems of our time. It sets out specifically four key areas where the law will be significantly updated. It puts down precisely the way in which our criminal proceedings can be better designed to elicit the facts of a case, thereby promoting better natural justice. It proposes investigative procedures that are more gentle, caring and compatible with some of the areas which we are now addressing in the Bill. I refer specifically to child abuse and child sexual abuse.
The proposals in relation to child evidence in child abuse cases are especially timely. Recent information emerging on the prevalence of child sexual abuse and child abuse in society are deeply disturbing. Every effort in law must be made to root out this most heinous crime and, in addition, every effort must be made to enable teachers, parents and those who are in constant contact with young people to identify the symptoms of child abuse and report suspected cases to ensure that appropriate action is taken at the earliest possible date. This is fundamentally important.
In one of the most recent reports it was stated that only 6 per cent of all alleged criminal sexual abuse cases find their way to the courts, an alarming statistic. In 1989, for which we have figures, according to a report, 1,200 alleged cases were reported in the eight health board regions; about 40 of those were validated by health board specialists and persons in child sexual abuse units. These validated cases were then referred to the Garda and sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a decision, yet only 6 per cent came before the courts. Why did so few cases come before the courts? That question must be answered, I do not know who will answer it in this House but perhaps the time has come to consider setting up a special DPP type office to deal exclusively with crimes against children. Such an office should be staffed either wholly or exclusively by women because it is in the nature of a woman to be able to deal in a more immediate, direct and sympathetic way in matters dealing with child abuse of every kind.
Too much power is vested in one person; at the very minimum we should have a panel of persons made up, perhaps equally of men and women, to adjudicate on the cases referred to them. It is most disappointing that so few cases come before the courts. If the Government were to consider doing this — and it is an idea I intend to develop further — it would send out a powerful signal to all involved that we are serious about tackling effectively this terrible scourge of child abuse.
There is only a partial benefit in radically altering our laws, as we are now proposing in the Bill, in relation to child evidence if so few victims have recourse to the courts. In the report of the Law Reform Commission it is stated that failure to report or to prosecute the crime encourages further abuse, a point we cannot ignore. We must make stronger and sterner efforts to ensure that reported and validated cases come before the courts.
Nothing could be more subversive of the general view of our judicial system than to allow a situation to develop where so few perpetrators of crime are brought before the court and so many crimes are unredressed. That, inevitably, has an adverse impact on the way young people view the law and their own standing within the judicial system. Time after time it has been brought to our notice that when many teenagers caught committing crimes in this and other cities end up in detention centres and their problems are probed, it is very often found they date back to an incident of child sexual abuse. If we fail to root out this terrible scourge of child sexual abuse at source we are creating, not just problems for young people, but for ourselves in future.
The concept that young people develop of our system of justice, when they become the victims of crime very early in life, are the concepts which remain with them throughout their adult lives. It is fundamentally important that young people are fully aware that the system is there to help them and that there is fair play for them within it, even if they are small, helpless and often voiceless. That is something which must be worked out, not alone in our laws but in our education and in the whole balance of our thinking, attitudes, values and culture. There must be a recognition that young people's first encounter with crime gives them an awareness and appreciation that if they happen to be the victims of crime the law is there to protect them and that the perpetrators of those crimes will be brought to justice. That is fundamentally important.
I welcome the provisions in the Bill which will make it easier for young people to give evidence. It is timely that all the trappings of a courtroom, which can be very intimidating for adults, not to mention young children, are now to be done away with. In future young people who come in contact with legal people, many for the first time, will not be intimidated by wigs, gowns and other apparel which can be very frightening. If we want to ensure that young people can give evidence freely and without being frightened it is important that they are able to sit down with people whom they trust, and whom they regard as very much on the side of right, in an atmosphere which does not in any way overwhelm or frighten them. This very welcome provision should be extended to family law cases. The time has now come when the Judiciary in family law cases should get rid of their wigs and gowns and deal with these very human problems in a very different set of circumstances.
I am also pleased that provision is being made — this is one of the most radical proposals in the Bill — for the introduction of modeorn technology in the taking of evidence. In future television links may be used to feed evidence into courtrooms. It is important that young people are given the opportunity to tell their tale as factually and freely as they can and as soon as possible after the incident. It is important that we create an atmosphere to enable them to do this which is not seen to be hostile. This is perhaps the key to the promotion of a better system of justice in child abuse cases.
The proposals in this respect are progressive, radical and long overdue. They are very much in line with the proposals made by the Law Reform Commission in 1990. Therefore, they are based on the most up to date research available. They are an acknowledgment that many of the procedures in our adversarial system of justice are so intimidating that they defeat the purpose for which they were initially intended, that is, to get to the truth in all cases. It is further proposed to make sure of modern technology to facilitiate young people in the giving of evidence. These provisions represent a very determined effort to assist young people in every way.
As I said, I welcome the measures designed to make court procedures in the taking of evidence less intimidating. The proposed use of live television links will be a major advance. I hope no delay will be tolerated in the installation of the necessary technical facilities in courthouses throughout the country. I note that the Minister has promised to begin putting the necessary facilities in place almost immediately — I think he said this year — in the Four Courts. I urge that such facilities are put in place in other courthouses with the same speed and alacrity.
As Deputy McCartan rightly said, very young children should not have to travel long distances to courts which are far away from the environment in which they feel most at home and most secure. In this respect I do not see why alternative public buildings, such as public libraries and municipal buildings — for example, city halls — cannot be used in areas when they are found to be appropriate. When we are dealing with cases involving very small children I do not see why courts cannot be held in buildings of this kind. The principle of making the procedures less intimidating would be further enhanced if this were done. As I said, I do not see why hearings cannot take place in specially set aside rooms in public libraries, municipal buildings, such as city halls, etc., especially if it speeded up the introduction of modern technology. This would be a very welcome, sensible and practical way of extending this new law to people who are in need of it.
A key to the success of our justice system is the attitude of people who hear evidence. At the end of the day the most important factor is that we get to the truth in all cases; otherwise justice cannot be done. Recognition will have to be given to the fact that not all young people mature at the same age. Any primary school teacher will tell you that young creative children can reconstruct on a given morning experiences which never took place in the first instance, whereas other children of the same age can give a most accurate and correct description of something that happened. Very often creative and imaginative children can give different accounts of a story. While this is one of the delightful and appealing things about young children we must be very conscious of this in the area of justice. Therefore, people taking evidence will have to be very well versed in modern psychology and have a deep and keen understanding of the differences which can exist between children of the same age and from the same background. It is fundamental to the success of the Bill that those entrusted with the taking of evidence are well versed in how young people think and express themselves. This is the key to getting the truth and ensuring that justice is done to all parties.
I welcome these measures, which indicate the Minister's determination to tackle in a most determined way this horrible problem which has been seriously underestimated not alone in our society but apparently in other societies also. It is a sad indictment on a society that so much child abuse and child sexual abuse can be allowed to go unredressed. Hopefully, when this Bill is enacted, which I trust is sooner rather than later, it will begin to turn the tide on behalf of children. We need to change our thinking and attitudes to ensure that the best provisions of this Bill will work effectively in all cases. I welcome the provisions in Part III which proposes to put in place a system better geared to dealing with child sexual abuse within the law.
I wish to refer to Part II, which proposes the introduction of new technology and deals with fraud. Fraud has been a scourge and a blight in our society. Some people would say that perhaps the greatest growth industry in Ireland at present is fraud and white collar crime. People wonder why we find it so difficult to come to grips with this problem when at times we are efficient enough in dealing with other crimes. We must increase our efforts to come to terms with crime of fraud. I think specifically of the crime of tax evasion. There is no doubt that we have had a very lax attitude to such crimes for much too long. In some cases these acts are not viewed as crimes. That probably stems from the fact that such matters are almost exclusively dealt with in civil law. However, their intent and their effects are certainly criminal.
The real victims of tax evasion are the poor children I talked about at the outset of my speech, the children who need better family support services and better educational services, particularly in areas of high economic deprivation. The old, the sick and the handicapped have to tolerate a health service that could be so much better if more money was available to the Exchequer for that purpose. Tax evasion affects our basic public services. If the money due was collected we would be able to vastly improve services in key areas of family support and child support, as well as health and education services in areas of high economic disadvantage. There is a good reason for coming to terms in a comprehensive and determined way with the scourge of tax evasion. In doing so not alone would we be promoting better concepts and better practices of justice but we would be ensuring that there is more revenue available to enable us improve significantly areas of the public service.
There is a view in society that people are getting away with tax evasion and they are almost boasting about it. In the past five or six years in almost every city and provincial town in the country businessmen have closed shop and disappeared overnight leaving behind them a trail of destruction, with unpaid taxes, PRSI and VAT and, very often, unpaid wages. We often hear that these people are doing extremely well in another jurisdiction, while the victims of their crimes are left bewildered. That appalling injustice does nothing to command respect among the general public for the law and its application. The day I see convicted tax offenders serving sentences in Mountjoy or doing community service work such as building recreational facilities for deprived young people in urban areas of the city, is the day my confidence in the judicial system will grow. We have been much too soft on white collar crime for too long.
There is a proposal to set up the equivalent of a serious fraud office here and the thinking behind that proposal is well advanced. I urge the Minister to proceed with that proposal without further delay. There is little point in making laws or in improving the law as is proposed in his Bill unless it is fully implemented. The best expertise and the most modern technology must be put at the disposal of such an office to enable it to function effectively and tackle the problem speedily, because speed is of the essence when dealing with this kind of crime. People who commit these crimes are not lacking in intelligence or in physical or mental mobility. These people must be brought to justice. I welcome the provision in the Bill that permits for the first time in Irish law the kind of evidence that will make it less difficult to deal with people engaged in the activity I have described. That is a major step in the right direction.
I would like to refer to the judicial system as it operates at present. Considering the level of crime at present and the increase in the number involved in crime, most people believe that crime pays. The perpetrators of crime are getting away with it and are winning every trick on their way to the bank. In almost all cases the victims of crime are not compensated. That is the general view of the justice system, and there is plenty of evidence to support it. There must be radical change in the judicial system. We must adapt measures to redress the balance between the civil liberties of the criminal and the rights of the victim to be compensated for the loss suffered as a result of the crime.
One of the primary functions of a judge when imposing sentence on an offender, depending on the circumstances of the charge, must be to establish whether redress is available for the victim of the crime. I speak in particular about offences of burglary, house breaking and other offences where property is stolen or damaged. I also refer to cases of assault where parties suffer severe injuries whether physical or mental. It is in the interests of society that wherever possible some form of compensation or redress is available to the victims. I know that locally judges, in considering the penalties to be imposed, pay great attention to whether compensation will be available to the victims of the offences. It is entirely preferable that someone who has stolen property from another or who has caused another to suffer serious injury, for example, would be forced to compensate that person as opposed to simply going off to prison to serve a term and leaving the victim in a position of having no compensation available.
We should examine what society in general can do to relieve the burden on individual victims. It is important to note that victims are ordinary individuals like any of us here. They are selected randomly, they are in many instances voiceless and they have few organisations or groups to speak on their behalf. When offenders appear before the court their victims are witnesses and are not entitled to legal representation. I would argue that when it is the case that the offender cannot compensate the victim, consideration should be given to society offering compensation in some form or another to the victim of the crime. That would be the attitude of a caring society.
In 1986 the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal was the instrument by which some form of compensation was available to those who suffered physical injury. Perhaps that was not the best system in terms of speed of operation, but it was nevertheless a very public acknowledgement of a principle that I believe to be fundamental to all natural justice: that victims of crime ought not and should not go uncompensated. That system of compensation of injury was abolished and the Compensation Tribunal can now merely offer compensation for out of pocket expenses. I feel that that was a backward step and I ask the Minister to bring to his term of office a fresh consideration of the possibility of reconstituting the former tribunal and of re-establishing within our judicial system the principle of compensation for victims. If that did nothing else it would restore much confidence in our system. More than that, it may very well act as a deterrent to people who are offending in so many ways against ordinary, decent, self-respecting citizens and getting away with it. If it were clearly known by such persons that we had a system that would compel them in some way to make compensation then that might act as a deterrent. It would serve as a mechanism in our efforts to put in place a crime prevention strategy, and at the end of the day our approach to all of these issues will have to be crime prevention. In instances in which persons ought to pay compensation but are reluctant to do so, there will need to be further powers provided to judges so that they can compel an offender to pay.
I am looking forward to the implementation of the confiscation of the proceeds of criminal activities, which is contained in other legislation that is in the pipeline. If that measure were introduced promptly and implemented consistently it could go a very long way towards scaling down the nature and the number of such crimes.
I welcome the provisions made in the Bill to deal with attacks against tourists. The prevalence of those attacks reflects very badly on us as a society and the continuation of those attacks cannot be tolerated at any level. The provisions made in the Bill are practical and implementable. However, as Deputy McCartan has already said, speed is of the essence.
As I have said already, for child abuse hearings the courts will have to be made more mobile in terms of location, accessibility and availability. In cases of that nature, I recognise no reason that there should not be summer courts and even Sunday courts. If extra expense were incurred in making that happen then the money would be well spent.
The Bill is fine legislation and holds out much promise that some of the more serious crimes, many of which have brought a lot of shame on us as a people, will be addressed in a fundamental way. There is also the promise that principles of natural justice will be put in place when the Bill's provisions are implemented.
This is the first opportunity I have had in the House to congratulate Deputy William O'Dea on his appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Justice. He is a very intelligent, hard-working young man and brings much ability with him into the Department of Justice. I wish him every health, happiness and success in his most important ministry.
Thank you very much, Deputy.
I hope to have the opportunity to extend my congratulations to Minister Flynn also when the occasion arises.
The Criminal Evidence Bill is important legislation. The Bill has many very positive features, many of which I go along with to a large extent. Speakers in the debate have already spent much time in praise of the Bill and some have offered suggestions. I intend to offer limited favourable comment, because I go along with so much of the Bill, and I shall criticise the Bill and offer alternative suggestions. I shall not be seeking to score political points in any way because this is not an issue on which there is a lot of political pointscoring to be achieved. I hope to make constructive suggestions, to perhaps issue a few warnings about dangers in the legislation and to point out what I believe to be glaring omissions from the Bill.
The section dealing with admissibility of documentary evidence is very important. The issue of proofs of relationship is one that was raised by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, in his capacity as a Deputy, in the House recently in relation to a case before the courts. It is important to bring the issue to the attention of the House this morning, although I shall not go into the details of the case at this stage because it has been dealt with fully. The case was dismissed because of a simple matter of lack of proof in relation to a birth certificate. Even in this Bill at this stage there should be a presumption that in incest and family law cases the facts as outlined on birth certificates should be regarded as sufficient evidence unless there is evidence to the contrary. It would be a simple addition that, when a birth certificate is produced, the presumption would be that the person named thereon is Mr. X, unless evidence can be produced to the contrary. That should be sufficient and of benefit in identifying the relationship of the person to the child. In many instances of incest or rape — particularly in the case of incest when a child is involved — a mother may be very reluctant to become involved in the case when some problem might arise with regard to the identity of the child. In such circumstances the production of the birth certificate should be sufficient unless there is proof to the contrary. No problem should arise in that respect nowadays with DNA testing and so on. I have in mind here in particular incest or sexual offences.
I come now to Part II of the Bill as its provisions relate to computer print-outs, FAX or the production of certified copy documents in court which appear to be reasonably well catered for in that notice must be served on a defendant that such documents will be produced in court. I would be fairly happy to go along with that proposal. Nonetheless care must be taken in their implementation. As the House will be aware, every FAX carries a specific number. There is the possibility of a FAX being issued with an ulterior motive. Therefore, we must guard against their issuance with the specific intent of damaging another party. We must pay careful attention to that aspect.
I might deal now with the matter of video recordings produced in court. In the course of his introductory remarks the Minister had this to say:
At this point I should like to mention that arrangements are being made to have the necessary technical facilities installed in the Four Courts this year to enable evidence to be given there by live television link. The system will then be extended to a courthouse in the south and in the west of the country and will be further extended later in the light of experience. In the meantime provision is being made in section 16 to enable courts in areas without these facilities to transfer cases of this kind to areas which have them.
I predict that a number of technical points may arise in this respect the confinement of which may prove difficult when the provisions of the Bill become operative. This will mean that everybody in court will have to be assured of a proper viewing of the screen. Additionally, we would want to ensure that proper recordings are made. For example, problems about sound may arise. In the interests of the injured party and accused it will be important that such proper facilities be made available in court. For example, there would be no point in installing a small television screen. We must ensure proper viewing for everybody concerned.
I do not want this proposal to end up a mere pious aspiration. Rather it is essential that it be implemented effectively and expeditiously in that such recordings will be very relevant and important.
I attend court hearings throughout the country. I must say I am enormously disappointed with the existing facilities made available in family law cases. It is no harm to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that, in many instances, their hearings, are conducted in a totally unsatisfactory manner. Normally such family law cases are taken before the normal day's hearings while others await the hearing of their cases. For example, usually the husband is called first, then the wife and, whereas nobody within that community may have been aware of problems obtaining within that family, thereafter everybody in that parish or town will be so aware. More private, adequate facilities should be made available for the taking of such family law cases. I do not want to see circumstances develop in which such facilities become a mere aspiration not practicable on the ground.
Again I note that the Minister has said that certain cases will be transferred to areas where such facilities are available. The Minister's Department would do well to select a number of such areas nationwide, initially, to include northern and midland areas as well with the view to having those facilities properly available nationwide. I admit that such provision will entail quite an amount of expenditure. I can foresee difficulties in that respect.
Section 16 deals with the transfer of proceedings. In this respect I suggest that people be confined within certain areas rather than transferring them all over the country. I will not labour the point any further.
I note that it is proposed that wigs, gowns and all the paraphernalia associated with legal practitioners will be abolished when dealig with incest or sexual abuse cases involving people under 17 years of age. I am quite certain that the Judiciary, members of the Bar and solicitors would be quite happy to go along with that proposal; I do not foresee any great opposition on their part. I am not here going to attempt to defend the Judiciary, able-bodied men and women well able to defend themselves — in some instances more than able to do so. The vast majority of District Court, Circuit Court and High Court Judges with whom I have associated over many years are courteous. While there may have been some judges with health problems, such as an ulcer, who on ocassion may have been abrupt with witnesses, overall they are courteous. Indeed, whenever they are of opinion that a particular counsel or solicitor is overly-aggressive or rude to a particular witness, they will defend such a witness in those circumstances.
Whatever system we have there will be people with a happy knack of abusing it. Except on rare occasions the vast majority of the members of the Judiciary have been courteous and kind and have tried to help witnesses. We should not lose sight of that. We have a very independent newspaper and television service and they can highlight abuses. Deputies will recollect that in the past there was a long running saga between a number of journalists, including Nell McCafferty, and District Justice Ó hUadhaigh in the District Court. That in its way contributed to the improved running of the District Court in Dublin.
I will probably run into some difficulties with people for some of my views on Part IV of the Bill which sets out the circumstances in which a spouse or former spouse of an accused is competent or compellable to give evidence. A wife is obliged to give evidence for the prosecution if her husband is accused of violence against her or of physical or sexual violence against a child. I agree with that. But if a husband comes into a house drunk and beats up his mother in law, fractures her skull, perhaps damages her ribs and punctures her lung, is the wife compelled to give evidence? As I read the Bill she is not. If the wife knows that her husband has gone to attack and rob a wealthy elderly lady living nearby, the wife under this Bill is not compelled to give evidence. That defies logic. I am not a liberal nor am I overzealous about civil rights. I am middle of the road. But where a wife knows that a husband has committed murder she should be compelled to give evidence. The Bill should be amended to include such a provision, otherwise we are making a mockery of an excellent Bill. I have not discussed my view with the Leader of my party, but this is the way I see it and it is the way many of my constituents see it also. The Bill would be far better if such a provision was included.
We have now reached a stage where crime pays. It is one of the most lucrative businesses in the country. In 1989 over £33 million was stolen in Ireland. The rate of increase in 1990 was greater than the rate of inflation in that the sum for stolen goods in 1990 was £36,376,810. That illustrates a huge increase in the crime level and in the amount stolen. The criminal has too much protection, but this Bill tries to redress the balance in some instances relating to tourists and with regard to sexual crimes. The recorded indictable crime figures for Ireland in the last 12 months are alarming. Crime is rampant. It is getting worse, and it pays. The figure I quoted for the value of stolen goods for 1990 I have no doubt will be far greater in 1991. In 1987 there were 85,000 indictable crimes, a decrease of 1.4 per cent in the previous year.
In 1988 the figure went up to 89,000, a 4.9 per cent increase. In 1989 the figure went down to 86,000, a decrease of 3 per cent. In 1990 it went up to 87,600, an increase of 1 per cent. In 1991, according to the provisional figures, there were 94,459 indictable crimes committed in Ireland, an increase of 7.8 per cent, just 8 per cent. This is the first time there was such an increase in crime since the bad days of 1982 when the drugs problem was at its height in Dublin. The crime figure is now back up to 94,459 after the biggest increase in ten years. I am deeply concerned about this.
Because of events in the past few weeks, the increase in the level of crime has gone unnoticed. Deputy Quill spoke about the possibility of compensating the victims of crime and I agree with her views on this matter but money does not compensate when a person is badly injured as a result of crime. We have to tackle the problem of crime. I intend making a suggestion on the right to silence which I hope the Minister will consider seriously.
The right to silence has long been considered as a very important civil liberty here. It is a fundamental right which everybody cherishes. A complete removal of the right to silence would be a major inroad on a person's civil liberties. However, in view of the increase in the level of serious crime I suggest we seriously consider modifying the right to silence. I have no doubt there will be considerable opposition to this proposal because it will be seen as a serious infringement of the individual's rights. I will elaborate on what I had in mind.
The Government, and the Garda Síochána, are facing well drilled, highly organised and heavily armed subversive and criminal organisations and to tackle them we will have to introduce a modified right to silence. It should only apply to indictable offences, such as offences against the person, offences against property involving violence to the person, larceny, rape, arson and kidnapping. I suggest that the accused only have to forego his right to silence in the presence of a judge of the District Court. In looking for that safeguard I am indicating that I am not treating this other than in a most serious manner. Before an accused has to forego his right to silence, the presence of a judge of the District Court should be required.
The Garda Síochána have to deal with highly intelligent mobile criminals who have all types of equipment at their disposal. If apprehended and charged a person is entitled as of right to the best available legal defence teams free of charge — a right I agree with because a person is deemed innocent until proven guilty.
If the gardaí have reasonable suspicion that a person has been involved in a serious crime, where for example a shopkeeper is knocked unconscious and maimed for life in the course of a robbery, that person should have to account for his or her movements in the presence of a judge of the District Court. The victims of crime have some rights and should be afforded protection. We cannot allow ordinary citizens to be treated on occasions in a cavalier fashion or in a dismissive manner.
My reason for highlighting this problem is that certain areas in Dublin are considered as "no go" areas. They are considered by the Garda Síochána or well-off people who drive a good car as "no go" areas. However, nice decent respectable people live in those areas. They have to barricade their homes and use a peephole to see who is outside. They are afraid to go out to shop, to go to church or to bingo. People living in these areas are as entitled to live their lives in peace, harmony and safety as a person living in Ailesbury Road or on the best roads. We are entitled to that protection.
I have great sympathy for the people born into these areas because they have no sporting facilities or other amenities. The boys and girls become the victim of the "leader" syndrome, but that cannot be used as an excuse. We have to create a proper environment and provide amenities for these people. However when a person breaks the law and injures somebody, he has to be brought before the courts.
My suggestion would go some way to improving the lives of a great many people and would mean that people could get greater enjoyment out of life.
A referendum will be held in June on the Maastricht Treaty. Holding a referendum involves expense for the taxpayers and I suggest we take that opportunity to ask the people to make a decision on the right to bail. The number of crimes committed by people while on bail is increasing all the time. The courts grant bail in most cases because their hands are tied under the existing law in that regard. There should be a constitutional referendum giving the people the right to decide whether their should be some restrictions on the right to bail. I have seen persons accused of serious crimes against the person, violence and robbery let out on bail. While on bail they have committed further serious crimes against gardaí, people and property. Surely there should be some restriction on the granting of bail to people who are likely to commit further crimes. It is not a matter that can be fully decided in this House, but we can decide whether we have the will to hold a referendum on the issue. I call on the Government to hold such a referendum at the earliest opportunity, perhaps in conjunction with the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty.
I have already dealt with the right to silence. Some procedures were introduced in the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, dealing with a person found in possession of stolen property. Where the person intended to give an alibi that person had to give notice of the alibi within a specific period. That is not sufficient. I am referring to the overall position.
I am also concerned about section 13, regarding the giving of evidence through an intermediary. The section states that an intermediary shall be appointed by the court and shall be a person who, in its opinion, is competent to act as such. We have to balance the rights of the accused person. A person is innocent until proven guilty. During the course of a cross-examination there is an opportunity to suss out a witness. Questions can be framed in various ways with different nuances and interpretations and the judge and jury can read how a case is going. If there is an intermediary there is a genuine danger that the whole line of the cross-examination may be broken. This must be very carefully dealt with.
In Ireland sexual offences make headlines. Anybody convicted of such an offence is regarded as a leper in his own community. If a person is charged with a sexual offence it is a serious matter, but if subsequently convicted it affects his whole life and that of his family. There is horrendous sadness and trauma involved. The law has always had the maxim that it is better that nine persons should get off than one innocent person be convicted. We have seen miscarriages of justice in Britain and we have heard Lord Denning's remark about the appalling vista. In this country we have the case of the Tallaght two and the Nicky Kelly case. In the latter case there seems to be ample evidence that he may be innocent and the Minister has given his view that there should be a total acquittal. We have to be careful not to overload legislation. I have tried to bring in checks and balances and I am concerned about the use of the uncorroborated evidence of a young person. A young person can give excellent, clear, concise and comprehensive evidence. In cases involving sexual assault and incest some evidence from psychiatrists and psychologists should be required as a safeguard.
This is a very important Bill which has the unanimous support of the House. I look forward to Committee Stage and I hope the points I have raised about the right to silence and the referendum on bail will be given serious consideration by the Minister and the Government.
I can genuinely say that I welcome this legislation. In doing so I join with others who have congratulated the new Minister for Justice and the Minister of State at that Department. I am hopeful that both Deputies will bring to that Department the weight of the experience they have as men of realism. Here I suppose we make a special plea to the Minister of State who is a legal practitioner. I hope he will weight more in favour of the world of reality than the world of theory which heretofore has allowed for a situation where, contrary to the raison d'etre of our system where no innocent person might suffer, we have ample evidence that in the exercise of our legal system innocent people have been found guilty in so far as the guilty have succeeded, under the cloak of law, in escaping from whatever penalty they should have paid.
I see in this legislation the first glimmer of hope. It is for me the snowdrop of the year that heralds the greatness that will follow. I make that analogy because, at long last, there is a glimmer of hope that will, initially, recover the lost respect that is essential to good order. There is no doubt, if you talk to anybody outside this House or outside our courts or to anybody apart from the elite group of practitioners, you will discover that such respect has disappeared. There is an attitude of throwing hands in the air and saying: "Ah well, you know our legal system." That is a very unfortunate situation. I am happy, nevertheless, having listened to Deputy Enright and Deputy McCartan both of whom are practitioners — that they, too, realise the other day is gone and a new day is dawning.
One should appreciate the forthrightness and the honesty of Deputy McCartan who admitted here earlier that he was a party to a situation where people he knew and who were suspected or accused of having committed a crime indulged in a kind of strategy so that with his assistance as a legal practitioner, they would be able to escape from the courts that were charged to bring them to justice.
I want a new order designed on common sense, reason and truth, taking precedence over what I would describe as verbal gymnastics and an occasional classical quotation, whether in Greek or Latin, and which was designed, I think, to give a veneer or pretence of authenticity to what was being stated but in the ultimate was intimidating to people for whom the laws and the courts are designed to serve. For my part, and I am not given to creating new quotations, I can say from the evidence I have and from my observation of the situation over the years: "Oh law, oh legal system, what crimes have been committed in your name."
Reference has been made to an unfortunate and unwholesome case in County Waterford where because of the licence given a legal practitioner who, in opposition to the legal practitioner who was there to defend the position of those of us who make the laws, was able to have an accused person acquitted on the grounds that the wife of the man was not present to testify as to paternity. Was the man in that case asked the simple question: "Are you the father of this girl?". If not, is the system that prevented his being asked that question a good and fair system? I am told I must accept the system because it is there to provide that no innocent person should ever be wrongfooted, that no innocent person should ever suffer.
Let us look then at the situation in that case. Is there not today in some part of this country, though maybe the trauma has required her to leave the country, a young woman, 20 years of age who, presumably, was not indulging in any unwelcome fantasising when she accused her father of behaviour towards her which is a crime? On advice given to her by voluntary and legal people the State, operating on her behalf, took a case to defend her. She is now in the lowly position where, following the exercise of that which we deem so essential to proving that no innocent person should suffer, she has to accept — if she accepts the terms of what we discuss and what we are so anxious to defend — that she is the guilty one. Is there any person here who will say she is the guilty one? Is there any person here who would say that it would not have been a reasonable situation, against the grounds on which she suffers, that the simple question would have been put to the accused as to whether he was the father. If he so denied — here again one can be critical of those who on our behalf were defending the girl — would it not have been reasonable that an aunt, an uncle or a priest could, having been given notice, have brought to court the birth certificate which would have established that X and Y had married on a certain date and that at some time subsequently a daughter was born to them and her name was so and so? Would it not have been reasonable to assume that that would have been a sufficiency of evidence to prove that the man in question was the father?
I am not going to stray into other elements of this legislation. I am concentrating on the case to which I refer, and here one's considerations must go to that unfortunate family in its totality, but if we are applying ourselves to a situation where that which is unacceptable has to be rejected, and those who are accused must be examined in every possible way to ascertain whether they are guilty, do we accept that it is in order for people acting on our behalf to do as has happened in that case? Do we accept that there should be no redress for that unfortunate girl? I invite the House to ponder that question.
We are not engaged here in theory, verbal gymnastics, what is acceptable in law or a point of law; what is the point in having points of law unless they are going to safeguard the interests of innocent people? One does not want to become emotional about this but the fact is that, in our name, that girl exists. What compensations are there for her? Who is bothering about her? She is carrying the burden of the decision made on our behalf and on behalf of the people of this country that she rather than the person who committed the crime is the guilty one. I would like to see provision made in our legislation so that matters of that kind can be reopened and that in accordance with what is basic and fundamental to the practitioners of this exercise, to the beneficiaries under this sub-culture, who gain so much from it, they will be taken at their word and that justice will not only be done but be seen to be done.
Personally, I am no longer prepared to carry the burden of responsibility. Here, I will refer briefly to a comment made yesterday by a learned member of the Supreme Court when he accused the legislators in respect of the more recent problem that existed. Heretofore we were given the impression that we were not permitted to make any comment or offer any criticism of them, but they reserve the right to criticise our shortcomings, whether real or imaginary.
I did not hear any member of the Supreme Court state in the last eight or nine years that there was a need for the introduction of legislation. Did they make any overtures to us reminding us of the need to introduce legislation? If they have, I apologise, but they did not make it to me. Maybe they made it elsewhere and if they did, let them identify the people who, in their opinion, have been negligent.
Deputy Enright referred correctly to the right to silence. That is a luxury we can no longer afford. Again, I know it is one that is attractive to the legal profession. If I was brought to a Garda station and two, three or four people who had seen me commit a crime were happy to testify that I had so acted, if I was unemployed, the obligation would be on the Garda to ask whether or not I would like what is called free legal aid. We all know that in this world today there is nothing free; not even the grace of God is free, one has to earn it. It has been paid for and it is the means by which legal people are guaranteed payment for what they do. It is money which has been put up by the rest of the community.
In a case involving rape the person seen in the act and brought to the Garda Station cannot be asked a question before it is ascertained whether or not he wants legal aid. The legal aid, which is paid for by the rest of the community, including the unfortunate victim, having been granted, his solicitor can employ psychiatrists, psychologists and every other professional person to try to establish the man's innocence or, if he fails on this and knows in his heart that the man is guilty, he will establish that there were some special reasons he should be excused. What about the unfortunate victim? She will not get free legal aid and will be called as a witness by the State to answer questions put to her as she stands in her fear and embarrassment in the witness box. Is that sensible? Is that real? Is that fair? Is that just? I am told by a Deputy to accept that it is the law. If it is, let me repeat what I have said elsewhere, not alone is the law an ass but it is a thundering jennet and it is not one on which I am going to ride any longer. I am happy that there is an awareness abroad that we can no longer afford it, not just in financial terms but because it is not serving the purpose for which it was intended.
I do not wish to pursue at any greater length the point I am making. If I may encapsulate it, it is that to me it is unacceptable and it is a paradox that, while one is innocent until proven guilty and no innocent man or woman can suffer, in the exercise of this we have daily examples of the innocent suffering in our courts.
I welcome the legislation before us unreservedly but I would prefer if the section dealing with compellability so far as the spouse is concerned were not there. Apart from other considerations, there is the fact that if the wife is mandated to appear, there may be many reasons why — perhaps in the interests of domestic tranquillity — she may be reluctant to do so. I do not think we should put that obligation on her. To those who say to me that it may be essential in certain cases that the wife be there, I return to the point I made last week in respect of the Waterford case — what happens in the case of a daughter whose mother is dead? How can her mother, the husband's wife, be compelled to be there? What happens in a case where the wife for one reason or another is genuinely not available? If you accept that it is essential in one case, then obviously you accept that there will be a weakness in the case of others who cannot so prove. As I indicated earlier, it should not be necessary to go to such lengths to prove the relationship of the person in question.
I am resisting the temptation to refer to matters other than those I have mentioned, mindful of the fact that other Deputies wish to speak and that the Minister will be called at 1.40 p.m. Deputies will have views as a result of their own experiences and perhaps they will be superior to mine. I have articulated my views as well as I could and I am convinced that unless the matter is redressed respect for law and order will continue to diminish. We would all like to see justice done — and be seen to be done — but that is not the case under our present legal system.
The Waterford case has been referred to in this debate. The people of Waterford, particularly west Waterford, are horrified that this case collapsed on a technicality. The Garda are in total disbelief that such a serious charge could have been thrown out of court on a technicality. It is incomprehensible that the law is so rigid that a charge cannot be amended or a court adjourned to ensure that justice is done. The rigidity of our criminal law and courts system is difficult to understand. We seem to have legislated ourselves into a cul-de-sac. There is not an openness — which there should be — in regard to our court and legal system.
I do not wish to criticise the courts, judges or the individuals involved; I criticise the system. We are repeatedly told that we are the people who legislate and create our laws. If you are stopped by a garda because of exceeding the speed limit or a minor offence he will be very quick to point out that you are one of the people who make the laws and yet you are breaking them. We do not get the opportunity very often to have a debate like this so we should assert ourselves and let it be known that we are in favour of a legal and court system which does not allow guilty people to go unpunished because of technicalities. That should be our first and foremost duty.
The basis of law should be justice and common sense, but in the Waterford case the contrary was the case. There was a breakdown in procedures. I cannot understand why a judge could not adjourn a court to allow evidence to be produced, which could easily have been produced, and why a witness was not subpoenaed. It is incomprehensible and raises serious doubts about our courts and legal system that we cannot have adaptability. It is an appalling situation.
Not long ago there was a dispute involving workers in courts and people accused of very serious charges went scot free as a result. These things should not happen in a civilised society. I am continually getting complaints and comments from members of the Garda Síochána in relation to their frustration at not getting convictions in court even when the evidence is cast iron. They feel that the Judiciary are letting them down and allowing blackguards, villains and thugs to walk free. People accused of much more minor charges do not get away so lightly. Although some people say that the penalties in relation to drunk driving are not severe enough, they are pretty severe and there is now talk of being over the limit if you have more than one drink. However, the real villainy passes unpunished, and we should not be slow to say that. The Garda should be backed by the Judiciary and we should ensure that we have the type of Judiciary and laws which will support the guardians of the peace. That is our job, but we have not been doing it as it should be done.
I cannot understand why the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Minister for Justice and the senior members of the Judiciary cannot get together to see that commonsense prevails. It is their duty. We are told that we are the bosses, but it does not seem like that to me. The Minister of State should tell the Minister for Justice and the Government that Members of this House are totally dissatisfied with the way the present system is working. What is the point in enacting laws if our desires and those of the general public are thwarted? Our views should be converted into law and it should not be a laughing stock. The Garda should not be frustrated at every turn because of technicalities.
I do not advocate extraordinarily tough measures, the reintroduction of hanging judges or other severe measures; I am looking for a reasonable system of justice, nothing more and nothing less. I want to see the thugs, villains and criminals prosecuted and, if possible, convicted. Everybody is entitled to a fair trial, but people who are convicted should be locked up. They should not be in civilised society. The Minister for Justice in this House a week ago led us to believe that the new Criminal Evidence Bill to be introduced shortly would deal with the type of problem which arose in the Waterford case. I want to state categorically that my advice and the very best legal opinion is that that is not so and that there will have to be a major amendment to the Criminal Evidence Bill if that eventuality is to be limited. If the Minister is not prepared during the course of the passage of the Bill through the House to introduce such an amendment, we will be proposing a very explicit amendment.
Deputy Tunney referred to the statement by certain justices that this House is not doing its job. As late as yesterday Mr. Justice McCarthy put the onus back on Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann in regard to the abortion case. Mr. Justice McCarthy is quite entitled to his view. This issue has been a sham not just for the past three weeks but for the past nine years. Generally speaking, the majority of the public were cowed into pressurising polititions to introduce a badly phrased amendment to the Constitution. Politicians were virtually terrorised by pressure groups into doing this. It was a disgraceful episode during 1983. The Government of the day, of which I was a Member, wanted the amendment to contain wording which would have dealt with the eventualities which have occurred in recent times and which would have allowed rape victims and women whose lives were in danger at childbirth to have abortions. We were castigated from all sides, from the pulpits and by every type fo pressure group, so that it became impossible to introduce a fair amendment. It was a disgraceful episode and we are now seeing the results of that hypocrisy, weakness and villainy.
I welcome Mr. Justice McCarthy's remarks. He is entitled to make his remarks. It is a two way process we have a right to have our say here and the Judiciary are equally free to have their say also. However, we should be honest about it, ensure that justice is done and stop sweeping problems under the carpet. We are brilliant at doing this, but it is an Irish characteristic of which I am not very proud. I hope this Bill will enable us to carry out our duties in a better manner in the future so far as the courts and the Judicary are concerned.
Deputies Garland and O'Shea rose.
I have just taken over the Chair and I understand Deputy O'Shea had offered first.
Is there any way the time can be split between the two of us?
That is up to Deputy O'Shea.
There are six minutes left and I will try to facilitate the Deputy.
That would be appreciated.
I should like first to refer to the Waterford case to which reference was made by both Deputy Tunney and Deputy Deasy. This case, which was heard in Waterford on 17 February last, resulted in the acquittal of the accused on what seemed to be a technicality. As Deputy Deasy said, this case has caused great disquiet and even horror in our constituency. Deputy Tunney in his contribution reflected the horror felt throughout the country at the outcome of this case.
It seems that the issue of the strictest evidence of paternity is the crucial issue in the case and not the evidence in relation to the alleged crime of incest. When this is how justice is perceived to be administered I believe it has the effect of making the victims of such crimes much more reluctant to come forward. As a consequence, obviously, fewer convictions will be obtained.
It appears that section 21 of the Bill will strengthen the position in relation to the particular technicality which gave rise to the Waterford acquittal. However, it does not go far enough in terms of the regime of commonsense regarding the establishment of basic facts fundamental to the charge but not part of the evidence relating to the alleged criminal acts as presented by the victim. When a charge of incest is brought against a parent surely the people's case should contain incontrovertible evidence of a parenthood before going to court. I ask the Minister to urgently address this issue before Committee Stage. I look forward to hearing his sympathetic response at the conclusion of the Second Stage debate. I have received representations from concerned citizens in relation to the Waterford case, seeking that provisions be included in the Bill which can be retrospectively applied to this case.
In general terms our corpus of legislation would seem to require urgent consolidation. I believe our legislation would benefit from an updating of much of its terminology. As a basic premise when one's access to one's rights under the law relates to one's ability to pay, then the principle of universal justice under the law — a principle which is fundamental of any democratic society — cannot apply. Yesterday we learned in this House of the outrageous fees being paid to the inspectors in the Greencore inquiry. This further illustrates how the pursuit of legal remedies is out of all proportion to the resources of all but a small number of citizens in this Republic. Like equality of access to education, there should also be equality of access for each and every citizen to our legal system. Sadly, this is far from the case.
I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Minister of State on his appointment. I wish him every success. This Bill was brought before the Dáil with very commendable speed. This speed is very important and I hope it will be continued. I also hope that not alone will our legislation be streamlined, slimmed down and put into a modern and comprehensible idiom but that the physical structures where justice is administered will be equally upgraded.
The Bill makes provision for the introduction of modern audio visual technology into the court system and the presentation of evidence. However, when one considers the standard of courthouse buildings, there is a distinctly incongruous ring to these provisions. Is this another step towards the centralisation of services? The question must be asked: do wigs and gowns contribute anything to the more efficient or caring administration of justice? Do they inspire a purpose of amendment in those convicted of crime? What purpose do they serve and what is wrong with the wearing of contemporary dress in all our courtrooms? Is all the mystique which the legal establishment generate in relation to our laws anything more that consumer expensive legal gains in rarified chambers far removed from the real world? Have our laws become abstract and remote and in a growing number of cases unimplementable? Do the laws which emanate from this Legislature add to the confusion and expense?
I want to make a strong suggestion to the Minister in relation to cases which occur fairly frequently where, like the recent Waterford case, the law is apparently demonstrated to be an ass. These matters should be immediately referred to the Law Reform Commission with a view to obtaining an immediate commonsense, simple and easily implementable resolution. One fears that at times legal sledgehammers are produced to deal with fleas. Obviously the wielding of legal sledgehammers in some instances add to the gravy train for lawyers. It is well worth comparing the percentage of our GNP which goes on public and private legal expenses as against that spent in other EC member states.
It is almost 1.40 p.m.
I will give the remaining time to Deputy Garland.
The Deputy has half a minute.
In the short time available to me I should like to say that I welcome this Bill, particularly the aspects dealing with changes in the law that refer to tourists. That section is an extremely important one. It grieves me very much to see visitors to this hospitable country being assaulted and, in some cases, murdered by citizens. It is something about which I feel very strongly, and it appears that this Bill will help in this regard.
I thank Deputies on all sides of the House for their very kind comments about myself and the Minister, Deputy Flynn, and in so far as those comments relate to Deputy Flynn I undertake to pass them on. I thank Deputies for their welcome, enlightened, constructive suggestions and contributions to this debate. It is evident that we will have much work to do between now and Committee Stage and, indeed, on Committee Stage to improve the legislation. I stated publicly that my approach to legislation will not be dogmatic, and I am sure that is also the view of the Minister. We are prepared to listen to helpful suggestions and contributions from all sides of the House with a view to improving the legislation. Neither the Department of Justice, the Law Reform Commission, the Attorney General's Office nor the Minister for Justice has a monopoly of wisdom. In the past ten years legislation has been substantially improved as a result of suggestions made from all sides of the House. In the short time available to me I will be unable to deal with all the points raised. In deference to the contributions that have just been made by Deputies O'Shea and Tunney, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I will deal first with the Waterford case.
The outcome of the Waterford case is a matter of deep regret to me and the Government. I am advised that as drafted at present the Bill will deal with similar cases that arise in future in that section 5 provides for the admissibility of birth certificates. Deputy Enright in a very useful contribution suggested that provision should be made whereby a birth certificate should lead to a presumption in incest cases that the person named as the father on the birth certificate is the father unless the contrary is proved. The fact that a birth certificate is being made admissible will raise a presumption that will have to be rebutted by the accused. Nevertheless, to use the Shakespearian phrase, to make assurance doubly sure, we will have to consider the possibility of writing into the section a provision whereby the production of a birth certificate will automatically lead to such a presumption in incest cases.
As I said, we will not be dogmatic about this legislation and we will take on board all reasonable suggestions. I will study this Bill very carefully and I will not let the matter lie until I am fully satisfied it will result in accused persons such as the accused in the Waterford case being convicted. I have a long statement about how the videorecording and the television link system will work but, because of the short time available to me, I do not propose to read it now. I will deal with that matter on Committee Stage when I will give details of how the system will work. That will allay the fears expressed on all sides of the House in this regard. As regards the facilities to be provided in due course in provincial areas, the witness room will be located in the courthouse building. Deputy Shatter referred to the possibility of the witnesses meeting the accused, but I can assure him that arrangements will be made to ensure that this does not happen.
Questions were raised about the role of the intermediary. I have a long statement on that matter but I do not have the time to deal with it now. Having had the workings of the system explained to me I am satisfied that the concerns expressed by the Deputies will be allayed. As I said, there is no monopoly of wisdom on this matter and if further suggestions are made on Committee Stage I will consider taking them on board. I thank my party colleague, Deputy Tunney, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, who was the first person to have a debate on the Waterford case initiated on the Floor of the House. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for that. His initiative will lead to accused persons in such cases being convicted in future.
Deputy Barnes raised some points about the intermediary. Such an intermediary will act merely as a conduit. He or she — most likely she — will hear the questions put by counsel on an audio link and will ask the witness the same question. However, the intermediary may adapt the question, where appropriate, to take account of the stage of development of the witness. The questions put by the intermediary and the answers by the witness will be heard in the courtroom. The witness, in such a case, will not have to see or hear the questioner.
Some misgivings were expressed by Deputies about the role of the intermediary. The Law Reform Commission envisaged this as establishing and maintaining rapport and ease of communication with the child witness while remaining detached from the issues in the case. In making their recommendation the Law Reform Commission said they were influenced by two factors. First, under our adversarial legal system, it is the duty of a defending lawyer to use every legitimate means to secure the acquittal of his client. Hence, the lawyer is perfectly entitled to conduct a cross-examination which is designed to unsettle a child witness who is alleged to have been the victim of an offence by his client and thus reduce his or her credibility as a witness to the lowest possible level. Second, in an imperfect world, there would always be defending advocates who would seek to harass or bully a child witness in a way which would be not only psychologically harmful to the child but might also be damaging to their own client's case.
The Law Reform Commission went on to say that this had led them inexorably to the conclusion that too high a price was being paid for the right to conduct a wholly uninhibited and direct cross-examination of a child witness. While the commission naturally had regard to the constitutional dimensions of such a proposal, they were satisfied that the guarantees of a trial in due course of law did not necessarily preclude a restriction of some nature on an accused person's general right to cross-examine his accuser without an intermediary. They pointed out that in practice this right was inevitably restricted. Persons who could not speak English, who are dumb or have a speech defect are allowed at present to give evidence through interpreters. At the same time the commission thought that cross-examination by one's own lawyer should continue to be the norm for the time being but that the court should have power to appoint an intermediary for a special reason on the application of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The commission expressed the view that intermediaries should be experienced in interviewing children and specially trained in child language, psychology and the relevant law with particular emphasis on the law of evidence. That would be an ideal situation but the Bill is not the place to specify particular qualifications, training or experience. What section 13 does is to leave it to the court to appoint a person who, in its opinion, is competent to act as an intermediary. My Department, in conjunction with the prosecution agencies, will give every assistance to the court in this respect. I have made my own inquiries about this matter, and careful consideration will be given to the possibility of establishing a panel of people who would be qualified to act as intermediaries.
Reservations were also expressed about section 15 (1) (b). Under that provision a videorecording of any statement made by a person under 14 years during an interview with persons who are in the opinion of the court appropriately qualified for the purpose will be admissible at the trial of the offence.
Deputy Shatter urged that the Bill should contain a code of practice for the conduct of such interviews, in particular with a view to excluding leading questions by the interviewers. I understand, accept and recognise his concern in that regard, particularly in view of the attitude of the Court of Criminal Appeal to the position pertaining when an examination has not been conducted properly or when leading questions have been asked. However, for my part I would not be anxious to include a code of practice in the Bill or even to make provision for enabling a code of practice to be published by way of statutory instrument. I say this because the principles to be followed are now sufficiently well known and such a code can be prepared as an administrative matter and circulated to the agencies concerned. As a practical matter, it will be for the prosecution, initially, to exclude from the interview video any portions that are inadmissible in evidence either because they are irrelevant or for any other reason, just as it regularly does at the moment in relation to witness' statements. Of course, the original videorecording must be available to the defence and in the court. I envisage that it will be necessary for the court to examine the video before the trial with a view to determining, as it is required to do under section 15 (2), whether in the interests of justice some or all of the video recording ought not to be shown at the trial.
Deputy Shatter also asked what "appropriately qualified" meant in relation to persons conducting an interview with child victims. The Law Reform Commission gave the following examples of an appropriate person to conduct such an interview: an appropriately qualified child examiner, a doctor, a psychologist, a woman garda or a social worker. Again, I do not think it desirable to try to spell out in detail in a statute what the precise qualifications should be. The commission envisage that the quality of the preliminary interview will improve with experience and in the light of what courts will and will not admit in evidence.
Deputies Shatter and Bell and other Deputies expressed misgivings about section 17, which deals with a case where a person under 17 is giving evidence, normally by video link, and has already identified the accused in the course of the investigation — for example, at an identification parade. Section 17 provides that it should be presumed, until the contrary is proved, that the person identified at the identification parade is the accused. The section goes on to state that its terms must be communicated in writing to the accused at least 21 days before the trial and that the accused may give or adduce evidence in rebuttal of the presumption if he has told the prosecution of his intention to do so at least seven days before the date of the trial. Otherwise, he may give rebuttal evidence only with the consent of the court.
I would not view section 17 as turning identification parades into admissions of guilt, as has been suggested. Certainly, all sides of the House would wish to avoid imposing on a child witness the trauma of having to identify her alleged abuser in court. This is a mere formality where the accused is well known to the witness and is, say, a father, uncle, neighbour or regular babysitter. The position is different, however, when the accused is a total stranger. Deputy McCartan raised a very interesting and relevant point in that regard when he spoke about the need for identification when the accused is a stranger. Section 17 will have to be reexamined in the light of Deputy McCartan's contribution and I shall ask the draftsman to reconsider that section so as to eliminate in advance any difficulties that might possibly arise.
Deputy Shatter suggested that the provision for giving evidence by video link should be extended to a witness over 17 years of age in cases where the witness might be intimidated or traumatised by a formal court hearing. As the Bill stands, this facility is available to persons with mental handicap, irrespective of age. I am sympathetic to the suggestion; but I do not consider that it should necessarily be the norm in such cases, as it will be for those under 17 when the Bill becomes law. Perhaps it should be left to the court to decide whether to give leave for the evidence of a witness over 17 to be given by video. At any rate, those are my initial thoughts on the matter and it can be discussed in further detail on Committee Stage.
Deputy McCartan also referred to the application of section 5 to evidence in road traffic cases and asked for an example of the way in which the section providing for the admission of documentary evidence would work in practice. Say the evidence required was that a person was a registered medical practitioner. The party wishing to produce the evidence — usually the prosecution — would obtain a copy of the relevant entry in the register of medical practitioners: an authenticated copy of a document is equally admissible in evidence by virtue of section 29. The registrar would certify under section 6 that the conditions for admissibility set out in section 5 — the "foundation requirements"— are complied with in relation to the information in the document. For example, he would certify that the information was complied in the ordinary course of business, in the technical sense in which the word "business" is used in the Bill, and that it was supplied by someone who had personal knowledge of the matters dealt with. If the document were a computer printout, then the registrar would additionally have to certify that the information in it was produced in the course of the normal operation of the computer of the Medical Council. The statements in the certificate would then be admissible in evidence. Alternatively, the registrar could attend the hearing and give that foundation evidence orally; but, for the purposes of this example, I am assuming that the evidence would be given by way of certificate. The accused would receive a copy of the document and the certificate, either as part of the book of evidence, or in any case at least 21 days before the trial. The accused may object to the admissibility in evidence of the information by serving a notice on the prosecution not later than seven days before the trial. If objection were made it would be necessary for the registrar to attend and give oral evidence of any matter stated or specified in the certificate. That is the effect of section 6 (3). The question of whether the evidence were admissible by virtue of section 5 would then be determined by the trial judge in a trial within a trial. If the judge decided that the documentary evidence were admissible, he would then, if necessary, proceed to consider whether or not it should be excluded in the interests of justice.
Deputy Shatter also suggested that making spouses competent to give evidence in all criminal proceedings would have an impact on people who have married bigamously. I am not convinced that the impact would be as great as Deputy Shatter suggests. Even at present the fact that a bigamous marriage has taken place can be proved by evidence other than that of the spouse concerned.
Deputy Mary Wallace and other Deputies mentioned the desirability of giving effect to the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission that a new offence of child sexual abuse or sexual exploitation should be created to replace the present offence of indecent assault. That is, of course, a matter for a Criminal Justice Bill and it is being examined on that basis. I am sympathetic towards it. The recommendation is being examined in conjunction with other recommendations in the report of the commission for the amendment of the law on sexual offences against children.
Deputy Cotter, Deputy McCartan and other Deputies referred to white-collar crime and asked about the setting up of a special fraud squad to combat it. As the House knows, the Garda authorities have completed an extensive review of the fraud squad and arrangements have already been made to implement the recommendations in the review that involve improvements in manpower, organisation and training. The examination of other recommendations, such as those relating to the structure of the squad, is ongoing in my Department. In relation to white-collar crime, I look forward — as I am sure we all do — to the report on dishonesty of the Law Reform Commission, which is likely to contain legislative proposals in this area and which is expected to be presented very shortly.
Reference was made to the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act, 1990. I am glad to announce to the House that arrangements to bring that Act into operation are at a very advanced stage and the Minister will be making the necessary commencement order very shortly.
I have made a note of several other matters that were raised.
Deputy McCartan referred to the Martin Committee. The House knows my views on that subject. The Minister was sympathetic to bringing in provisions to deal with at least some of the recommendations of the Martin Committee.
A scheme of training for intermediaries will be dealt with in more detail on Committee Stage.
I have already mentioned that in deference to Deputy McCartan's suggestion, we will re-examine the section dealing with identification.
All that I can say in relation to the question of spouses' compellability for the prosecution in all cases rather than in the restricted cases outlined in the legislation is that there are two very different points of view in that regard. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Tunney, does not want spouses to be compellable in any situation.
The Criminal Law Revision Committee in the United Kingdom and the Irish Law Reform Commission want them compellable but not in all cases. A very good case was made by Deputy Enright for their being compellable in all cases which I will examine between now and Committee Stage.
What about the definition of a "spouse", those who do not fit into that category?
I have been examining that myself. It warrants some clarification. I will ask my Department to consider the matter between now and Committee Stage.
I look forward to a constructive, enlightened debate on Committee Stage when, all of us, we hope, through our common contributions, will render this the best possible Bill.
As it is now 2 o'clock, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 5 March: "That the Bill is hereby read a Second Time."
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
Tuesday next, subject to agreement between the Whips.