Nobody was in possession, I call Deputy Frances Fitzgerald.
Criminal Justice Bill, 1993: Second Stage (Resumed).
On a point of order, I do not want to interrupt the Deputy but I should like to ask a question. As the Technical Group has been granted one slot since the debate started this morning, can you indicate at what stage it is due a second slot?
I am unable to do so now but every consideration will be given to that matter. A time factor is involved and it is not possible to give guarantees.
I suggest that a time slot allocation is now overdue.
I have called Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, the Chair seeks to be fair in these matters, as the Deputy knows.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this Bill. I am very pleased that the emergency Bill is before the House because it is extremely important to have its provisions enshrined in legislation. However, I am sure that the public would be far more impressed if we did not have to introduce emergency legislation; they would have preferred us to support the Private Members' Bill which was introduced to the House in 1990 by Deputy Jim O'Keeffe. The Bill outlined the ways in which a review of sentence was possible and it should have been accepted then instead of reacting now to the outrage which people feel in relation to the Kilkenny case. At any rate, I am pleased that the legislation is before the House.
This is a very serious issue and, unfortunately, hardly a day goes by without yet another revelation of a horrific sexual crime against a woman or child. Irish society is outraged and angry about this. There is nothing new in violence against women but I want to put it in context. I believe this Bill is simply part of the move to redress this problem and is not the whole story by any means.
I want to look at our approach to acts of violence. There is nothing new in violence but what is new is the interest being taken in the problem and the attention it is receiving, finally, from politicians, the madia, organisations and the Legislature. I very much welcome the breaking of silence that surrounds this problem. Our awareness has increased, thanks to the courage of the women who have spoken out. The greater awareness of equality issues is a move in the right direction but much remains to be done to change attitudes, our mentality and approach to this problem. Let us make no mistake; attitudes are extremely important and it is the attitudes embedded in the various systems that has stopped us dealing with this problem before now.
Rape and sexual assault are the forms of violence most often reported; but we must remember that the blight of violence against women is spread very widely and encompasses areas such as sexual harassment, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, prostitution and pornographic exploitation. We are beginning only now to wake up to the reality in Ireland. The scale of the problem is not yet reflected in our national statistics or concerns. We must still strive to understand the taboos and social prejudices surrounding the problem which force most victims of violence to remain silent. Attitudes are changing, but yet only a few women feel able to break the silence. We must not forget also that many young men are victims of sexual abuse. This issue must be highlighted and we must ensure that young boys are protected from child sexual abuse.
The mechanisms being put in place in the Bill will help the situation but other mechanisms need to be put in place. I praise the Minister for the reforming intent behind this Bill. I suggest that a monitoring mechanism should be set up in the Central Criminal Court to gather statistics on sentencing for rape. If those statistics disclose an unacceptable discrepancy the Government should consider introducing a mandatory minimum sentence in rape cases. The Bill suggests that, before sentencing, the victim should be entitled to bring forward evidence as to the effects on her of the crime. I will comment further about the effects of this sort of crime on the individual. Seminars should be organised on a regular basis for judges to keep them informed on the up-to-date knowledge of rape, sexual abuse and violence. This would be extremely helpful. Our knowledge in this area is growing at a very fast pace and we continuously get new developments and new understandings on the psychopathology, on the personality disorders and problems that lead to these offences. Our Judiciary must be informed of the developments in this area. We can see very clearly the benefits of such training from the Kilkenny case; indeed the garda involved, Garda Agnes Reddy has been mentioned on many occasions. The point to take from that is the critical importance of training not only for gardaí, but for teachers and professionals. In this context may I welcome the development of the Stay Safe Programme and the move to provide it throughout the country. That is the back-drop to the Bill and these are the issues which we must address.
It is simply not enough to address the problem through the mechanisms put in place by this Bill. We must tackle the issues in a comprehensive way in the criminal justice system and outside it. I also support Deputy Shatter's suggestion on the importance of women in such situations being able to get barring orders. The women concerned feel very often that when the offender is released from prison he will come back to harass them further. I hope therefore that the amendment to the Bill will be supported tomorrow.
The question of appointing more women to the Judiciary has still to be tackled. We certainly need more women in the Judiciary.
We have to accept that it is the public perception that there is a wide discrepancy in the sentencing for rape which is not readily explicable by the circumstances of the cases as reported. It is important that society at large, and judges in particular as it is they who pass sentence, should be conscious of the fact that rape is a crime of violence and hatred against women and is not the result of an overwhelming sexual urge and therefore excusable in some way. Date rape and rape by a stranger are equally traumatic for the woman and date rape should not be treated as a lesser offence.
The whole question of multi-annual funding — this was discussed with the Minister for Health at Question Time today — is essential for rape crisis centres and women's refuges. The health boards must be instructed to encourage the development of rape crisis centres and women's refuges throughout the country. Because of the situation that has prompted the Bill before us we need to put in place counselling services. Counselling services must be available for victims and offenders in domestic violence. In the District Court I believe the court clerk should inform offenders and victims about the availability of counselling. Of course, this means that organisations like the AIM Group for family law reform, which provides excellent information for people in these situations, need to be properly funded so that information about the legal system is available. The point was well made this morning that even if the provisions are in place but access to information about the legal system is not available to people, it becomes meaningless. It is critical that we tackle the whole area of information about the legal services and the law. If the provisions that we will possibly enact tomorrow are to be relevant, this issue must be tackled. We know there are many offences, particularly in the area of violence and sexual violence, which do not come to light and remain hidden. Again this problem was aired on the public airways and people were asking what they could do. Information about the law is critical if people are to get justice from the system.
I believe the Director of Public Prosecutions should separately brief a legally qualified person to attend a consultation with the complainant prior to the trial to inform and advise her on the court procedures involved and her participation in the trial with a view to rendering the experience less traumatic. We now have a great deal of information about the trauma that victims experience when going through the legal system. We must become more victim centred and this procedure would help greatly in this regard. Unfortunately, we have many victims who end up feeling further traumatised by their experience of the justice system and we must make every effort to ensure this does not happen and that it is a positive experience so that the victim feels it is worthwhile to go to court and use the justice system.
I suggest also that, immediately prior to trial and as a matter of course, the complainant should be given a copy of her statement to the Garda. I think the Department of Justice should commission and publish a standard booklet explaining the circumstances attending the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences with particular emphasis on the role of the complainant as witness. This booklet should be provided routinely to the complainant. Again we are dealing with the question of information, accessibility, transparency and faith in the justice system. These procedures will make victims more confident and restore their faith in the justice system.
The Bill is important; it is essential that unduly lenient sentences can be reviewed. As I have said already, victim impact statements are important because the full horror of the effects of rape, sexual and physical violence have not been fully comprehended in the justice system. We have been ambivalent in our approach and that is why we are dealing with this horrific case this week. It has taken a crime of quite horrific proportions to bring this emergency legislation before the House. It is horrific that we have allowed this to happen. I would remind the House that a woman is blind in one eye, she has been physically maimed and people are rightly outraged. A victim impact statement brings the seriousness of these crimes to light in the courts where sometimes the procedures can dull the sensitivities and the full horror and impact of what has happened. As the Minister stated yesterday, it brings the law into serious disrepute if the average law abiding citizen begins to lose faith in the due processes of the law. It is worrying for democracy when our laws lose the respect of law abiding citizens, but respect for the law must be earned and it must be earned in relation to the types of cases which this Criminal Justice Bill seeks to redress.
Appropriate treatment programmes must be put in place for all offenders. Despite the comments of the previous Minister for Justice we are sadly lacking in this area. There is one programme for adolescent offenders at present and we badly need to develop more comprehensive programmes in this regard.
Sexual assaults are often of a very compulsive, obsessive and repetitive nature and it is extremely important that we intervene with young sexual offenders and change their patterns of behaviour before they become more deeply ingrained. One such programme is currently operating in Dublin. This work involves a great deal of time and resources and must be done in a multi-disciplinary way. However, I urge the Minister to support the development of such programmes throughout the country. Research has clearly established that adolescents form a large proportion of offenders in this area and we are failing to give them the attention and treatment they require.
We must intervene at an early stage with these teenage offenders and put correct treatment programmes in place, so that the justice system can intervene effectively, and so that they know they are under supervision in group work. They should also be confronted with their offence. As we know from research carried out in this area, a huge number of offenders deny committing such offences. They are not an easy group with whom to work. Anyone who has worked with sexual offenders will tell you that they are an extremely complicated and difficult group to treat, but we must not despair about this. The Minister raised the question of maximum sentences for incest cases. Obviously, imprisonment is a mechanism which must be used but we must also set up treatment programmes within our prison system and I suggest prioritising the younger group, as I have already said.
It is regrettable that this matter was not dealt with in 1990 when Fine Gael introduced a Private Member's Bill. Reliable statistical information on the extent of sexual violence against women is needed to form Government policy and legislative proposals. We need information and awareness campaigns at national level to deal with this topic and we must support the work of Women's Aid. Sex and relationship education in schools would help to inform young people's attitudes to prevent future occurrences of such violence. The public should be encouraged also to assist victims rather than sheltering behind attitudes of non-intervention or even indifference. We know that victims of sexual assault undergo a serious psychological crisis which may affect their lives for a long time. A state of more or less constant fear is the most frequent emotional consequence of trauma caused by sexual violence. We owe it to future generations to face up to this problem and the provisions of this Bill, particularly in relation to the impact statement, the right of appeal and compensation, are important measures which this House must put in place. We will give the public confidence in the criminal justice system by implementing these measures in our laws.
I welcome the Bill and the opportunity to speak on an issue that has, for a number of years, been the cause of widespread public concern, real concern that justice has not been seen to be done because sentences handed down by individual judges cannot be challenged, regardless of the circumstances of the individual case, by anyone other than the convicted person. While I accept what the Minister stated this morning that cases involving exceptionally lenient sentences do not happen every day of the week, nonetheless, we have seen highly publicised individual cases, where sentences are so lenient that they in no way fit the enormity of the crime. Not only is justice not done, but the sentence does not act as a deterrent and is in many ways counterproductive because the message it sends out is that the State and society do not regard the crime as particularly serious. This in no small way encourages others to continue with the commission of similar crimes and leaves their victims traumatised with a feeling of utter helplessness.
This was dramatically portrayed in the sentencing of drug pushers, particularly those involved in hard drugs, in the early eighties. At that time there was a public outcry, culminating in protest marches to the doors of the courtrooms because the Judiciary seemed to have no conception of the horrendous effects involved from the large scale introduction of heroin to poverty stricken areas of Dublin's inner city. However, the protest marches, and the public pressure they helped to generate, resulted in heavier sentencing varying between ten and 14 years in certain cases over a period of one or two years. The Oireachtas followed suit with the introduction of life sentences for hard drug pushers. As a direct result of public pressure and media attention the Misuse of Drugs Bill, 1984, was introduced, section 6 of which made provision for increasing the maximum sentence for a convicted drug pusher from 14 years to life imprisonment.
I refer to that because since the Bill became law, to the best of my knowledge, no court has imposed a life sentence on any convicted drug pusher. In recent years the sentences imposed have been more lenient and most of them were for periods which were less than half those imposed after the Bill was passed. It appears that when the hue and cry has died down the sentences reverted to the earlier derisory penalties of little more than two years imprisonment for heroin pushing, even for those who were on their third or fourth conviction for the same type of offence. As a result heroin pushing, and consequent heroin addiction, is again on the increase in Dublin. Those working in our drug treatment centres recently warned of a marked increase in the number of new addicts contacting them for help.
I am firmly of the view that this happens because members of the Judiciary are at best out of touch with the major social problems afflicting not just families but whole communities as a result of the peddling of heroin. Those involved will stop at nothing and callously inflict immense suffering on vulnerable young people destroying their lives out of greed for easy money. At worst the Judiciary, who fail to see the seriousness of this crime, simply could not care less because this problem mainly affects poor communities. Yet, if the same heroin pushers peddled their evil trade in those affluent neighbourhoods where judges reside, exposing their children to the horrors of hard drug addiction, I have no doubt that the maximum life sentence would be regularly imposed. This seems to be yet another example of one law for the rich and another for the poor.
If members of the Judiciary were obliged to attend in-service courses, involving visits to hospital wards and drug treatment centres or attend the funerals of victims of AIDS or drug overdoses, their sentencing policy for heroin pushers might be dramatically different. The Minister should convey this message to the Judiciary and urge it to take a stronger line more in keeping with the offence and impose heavy sentences, for example, the life sentence, which the Legislature provided. Such sentences must be imposed not just for drug offences but for sex offences which we have heard debated today and other types of serious crimes.
There should be some formal procedure for updating policy on sentencing on an ongoing basis involving the Minister, the Judiciary and the Garda. This would be more satisfactory than simply responding to media pressure.
I wish to refer to the more serious crime of murder and draw attention to a murder case which is very relevant to the issues before the House. I refer to the case of Tina Caffrey, a young woman who lived in my constituency of north inner city Dublin. She was savagely murdered in her home on the evening of 4 November 1991.
On the same day her aged father had been removed to hospital. Significantly, this murder case received very little media attention. The bulk of the coverage it eventually received directly resulted from the persistent efforts of the victim's family not to let her murder be forgotten. The man who murdered her still walks the streets of the inner city perhaps capable of committing the same crime again. I have no doubt that the reason Tina Caffrey's murder received so little media attention was because she was not a well to do middle class person living in an affluent area. If she had been I am certain her murderer would not be free today. She was a young woman from the inner city living in relatively poor circumstances. Her murder was reported in the national papers and then largely forgotten. As far as the middle class madia was concerned she was a nobody and they treated her as such. I emphasise this point not simply because I believe this to be the case, as I do, but because Tina's family feel strongly that nobody cared about her murder. They hold the views I have expressed.
I wish to refer to an article published inThe Irish Press on 5 February 1993 as a result of the persistent efforts of the victim's family to draw attention to the case. The article states:
The family believe the media were not interested in the death of an inner-city woman.
They say that no photographs of Tina were sought for the newspapers, no approaches were made to find out about her background and her last hours, no members of the family were asked about their feelings.
The family are quoted as saying:
We want the public to know about it and care about it... We don't want people to think that she was just a nobody. She belonged to a family.
The family's sense of hurt and frustration was increased all the more because Tina's murder happened more or less in tandem with the murder of another young woman which received massive media attention. Both murders occurred within a relatively short time of one another, both were equally savage and brutal and one received sustained media coverage, the other virtually none. The question must be asked why? Tina was poor and from the inner-city, the other person was affluent and the media were concerned. The family of Tina Caffrey had no means of obtaining justice on her behalf. The gardaí have no doubts about Tina's murderer. It is possible that irregularities in the Garda handling of the case has prevented justice being done. I will not misuse my privilege in the House by being more specific but the case is profoundly disturbing. While the murderer is known to the Garda it has not been possible for justice to be done.
This is not a case of too lenient a sentence but one of no sentence being imposed. I have asked the Minister for Justice to meet with members of Tina's family. I wrote to her on 5 February 1993 and pointed out that the family wished to inform her of some serious and disquieting aspects of the murder inquiry. I received an acknowledgement to that letter, but that is all. There was no massive media coverage of this case despite the fact that it involved what presumably is the most serious crime of all, that of murder. The questions have to be asked: is the public outraged? Is the law in disrepute? Is the Minister interested?
Tina's family hopes to undertake civil proceedings but the costs involved are beyond their means. Perhaps if they could do so they might feel they have achieved some justice. They do not need the introduction of a new law; they need the financial support to pursue certain legal channels. My question to the Minister, if she were here, or to the Minister of State, if he were here, is: should the State help this family with the costs involved? I think it most certainly should. However, it is not possible to ask the question because the Minister has not the time to meet the family. I hope the Minister will urgently have this murder case reopened and re-examined and that if there is a way of ensuring that justice is done the Minister's legal advisers will find that way. I have to emphasise that every time there is an official response to a highly publicised matter, as is the case today — quite rightly there should be such a response to such a horrific case — the trauma of Tina Caffrey's family is made more terrible because they feel Tina has been forgotten, that they are forgotten or do not count and that her murderer is safe in the knowledge that justice will not be done.
I would like to refer to a matter to which I drew the attention of the House in a debate last week on juvenile crime and which is very relevant to the horrific Kilkenny incest case. A report on child care, child abuse and child sexual abuse states that in the eighties there was a dramatic increase in social problems on a number of fronts. There was an eleven fold growth in the annual confirmed cases of child abuse — 156 confirmed cases in 1983 to 1,658 in 1989. There was an increase in cases involving sexual abuse from 37 in 1983 to 568 in 1989. These adverse trends, the report suggests, produce an unmistakable picture of unremitting social stress against which is pitted a band of community care social workers whose numbers have not increased in that time.
In the early eighties there were 298 social workers and that number has increased to 309, a very small increase indeed. Social workers and community care workers, who are charged with the responsibility of detecting child abuse and child sexual abuse, are now at a crisis point. The report states that the perverse result is that problems are neglected until they have become a crisis which is costly and difficult to resolve. It states that the sad reality is that currently health board child care services have no energy to devote to preventative work, given that all their resources are soaked up by crisis and fire brigade intervention.
Those statistics and that statement are very relevant to the fact that the case which resulted in the introduction of this legislation was undetected for 16 years. The difficulty is that undoubtedly similar cases will go undetected, not because people are not doing their job but because this House and this Government are not making available the necessary resources to implement the provisions of the Child Care Act. The total estimated resource required to implement the provisions of that Act in full is £58 million over a seven year period, commencing when theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress was agreed in January 1991. In terms of resources allocated to date, £1 million was allocated in 1991 and £2 million in 1992; I am not sure if any money was allocated in 1993.
I will quote from a campaign group involved in community care and care of children at risk, a group that has come together to highlight the total neglect of child care. They say there is no great value in devolving new functions to health boards under the Child Care Act, 1991, if the boards are not in a position because of lack of resources and staffing to carry them out. If this Government fails to provide these resources to the health boards there can be no doubt but that there will be more cases such as the one that has resulted in this legislation.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bille seo cé go bhfuil sé mall. Bá chóir go mbéadh sí againn blianta ó shin ach is dócha go mbíonn gach tosach mall. Sa Dáil seo bíonn gach tosach an-mhall go minic. Ach tá sé againn anois agus tá súil agam go ndéanfaidh sé maitheas don tír uilig.
It is unfortunate that a case as horrific as the Kilkenny case had to occur before people were brought to their senses to bring in this Bill. As has been mentioned, the Bill could have been introduced three years ago, but because of the system whereby only the wise people sit on the Government benches and the unwise sit in Opposition, nothing good can come from the Opposition. A Bill, no matter how good or well intentioned, proposed by the Opposition is never accepted by Government because it is seen to be a sign of weakness. It is time we moved from that position to the stage where good ideas from the Opposition are accepted. It is because of this system that the Dáil on so many occasions appears to be irrelevant to the public who are looking at what we are doing.
It would be strange if in the event of the Government falling and those people coming to the Opposition benches, they lost all their wisdom. People gain knowledge and experience from being in Government and just because they may change sides that knowledge and wisdom should not disappear. We are a couple of years late in dealing with this problem, but it is better late than never. If this Bill helps to prevent injustice in the future we welcome it. There must be a deterrent for crime.
We live in a country that is reputedly more Christian than any other in the world and we convince ourselves that we have over 90 per cent practising Christians but one would begin to wonder if the quotation about lies, damn lies and statistics and everything going together is not true. We should know Christians by their actions. The outward show of church going means little if people do not practise their religion, and if people were practising their religion we would not have the crime we have today.
Without deterrents we will not discourage criminals who seem to feel free to do what they like. Setting standards for people who do not believe in standards does not work. Very often thugs cannot take what comes to them afterwards. Bullies are often the ones who squeal most when they come under pressure. There is much discussion on the radio at the moment about bullying in schools. This is a very serious problem. In my 30 years experience in teaching I found that bullies in the playground, if they thought they would get away with it, would have great fun at the expense of the children whose lives they were making a misery of. If they were to get punished they would soon stop. In the days when corporal punishment was allowed in schools it was far easier to stop a bully running amok in the playground. Nowadays teachers think they can talk to these people. Invariably if one can talk to a person he will not act the bully in the classroom or in the playground. One must be able to deal with the people to whom one cannot talk. I very much regret the passing of corporal punishment in cases whereby one could deal quickly and effectively with bullying. Very often the primary school bully is the person who grows up to be a bully. When one reads about some of the crimes committed today one wonders what the perpetrators were like when they were young.
At this stage, I would like to offer some of my time to Deputy Durkan.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
Even though I enjoyed Deputy Browne's contribution I am happy to allow him share his time. That is no reflection on Deputy Durkan.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): We must introduce deterrents because if we do not, the situation will be even worse.
When I was young and innocent I thought all judges were modern day Solomons who never made mistakes. It was a long time before I realised that judges are very human and very arrogant at times. Having limited experience of judges, I was amazed at the arrogance of one judge when he completely misjudged a case. Of course, one would be up for contempt of court if one dared to say anything. It is no harm that the Director of Public Prosecutions can call into question the judgments given by some judges. I am sure that most judges are reasonable and wise but they should never presume that they can form dogmatic views and be correct all the time. Some judges can be extreme. We had a very public case in Carlow some years ago where a poor girl was killed by a hit and run driver who got a very lenient sentence while for a much more minor crime there was a more severe sentence. This Bill is tackling that sort of disparity in sentencing. I hope the DPP will allow justice to be done and be seen to be done.
The second part of the Bill which takes into account the effect of crime on a victim is welcome. A rape can destroy the life of the victim and that must be borne in mind when passing sentence. While some rapist may laugh his way out of court, the laugh should be put on the other side of his face when the judge considers the effect on the victim of the rape sentence. We consider rape as being a more horrific crime but there is a traumatic effect too, on a bank employee who has a gun put to his head or on an old person whose house is ransacked. Thugs who commit these crimes should have to account for the long term effect of their activities on the victims and they should be severely rapped on the knuckles.
I welcome the compensation provision. Some people would not think much about serving a month in jail but they would not like the idea of having to pay compensation. The Minister said the Bill provides for a compensation order to be made for any injury or loss unless the court sees reason to the contrary. I would not be worried about the case of a fellow who might not have enough money to go off drinking at the weekends. I would be very severe on him. I would keep him very sober for a long time and make sure he paid from his pocket, no matter how little he had. He should be the one to suffer and I would not go overboard in looking after him.
People who use knives in rows are low types. There is much to be said for settling a row by boxing. There is something awfully wrong when knives are used, and in those circumstances sentencing should be severe. We must try to protect the quality of life. Many people have little except the freedom to go for a walk, leave the door open, go to bed in comfort or whatever. We should do everytyhing possible to maintain the quality of life.
I thank my colleague for giving me an opportunity to contribute. One reason all Members have taken an interest in this legislation is because it is topical. It is a coincidence that it is topical now as it has been topical many times over the past number of years. Unfortunately, opportunities to take action to deal with the situation were missed.
I know of the problems we have in this House in relation to thesub judice rule and that this precluded us from becoming involved. Perhaps it is a good thing that we do not comment regularly on decisions from the courts, but, whether we like it or not, we have reached a stage — I am not so sure that this legislation will deal with it entirely — where the victim pays, as opposed to the perpetrator of the crime. That is the clear message that has gone out, whether in schools, the social or commercial areas. There seems to be a general acceptance that the victim should pay. There seems to be a perception that by fair means or foul, the perpetrator of crime will evoke sufficient sympathy or support at the right time to have his sentence or penalty mitigated. That is unfortunate.
This legislation is years late. We could have adopted something similar a couple of years ago, when a Private Members' Bill was prepared by this side of the House. That would have helped us deal with the problem we now face.
I should like to deal with one or two of the more noticeable crimes which impact on us at the time and then recede into the distance. I have in mind the crime of permanent disfigurement, whether of man, woman or child. When the particular case goes to court the court procedures have to be properly followed and pursued in such a way as to secure a conviction. For some reason there appears to be a tendency — I am not making any criticism of the legal profession — to ensure that the perpetrator, the assailant, is given his or her rights; every constitutional means is found whereby the assailant gets his rights and there is little regard for the victim. We have referred to this problem frequently in the House. Various victim support groups have been set up throughout the country and we now have recognition of the need for compensation. I often wonder what compensates for some of the crimes perpetrated against some unfortunate people. I do not wish to go through the same litany which we followed a few weeks ago in naming the various potential victims of crime nowadays, but they are many and varied and go right through the social and economic strata.
Despite the fact that we are supposed to be a caring and progressive society we have shown no sign of progress whatsoever in that area. I wonder whether this legislation will achieve the kind of progress we need. It is fine to say we are liberal, and I hope we are a liberal society. There is nothing liberal about allowing an assailant who has wrought havoc on a victim to get off easily. In fact, that is regressive, it is dangerous and it leads potential criminals to believe they havecarte blanche and can continue in the role they have set for themselves. This legislation may deal with that problem.
If there is need for legislation — and this has been clearly shown for some considerable time — then it is obvious that some time should be taken before the legislation is drafted and introduced and processed through the House. Bad cases make bad law. It was obvious to all of us for some time that there was a need for this legislation. If that was established why did we not have the legislation before now? Why do we have to bring it forward at short notice and dispatch it in the shortest possible time, because that is simply responding to a fire brigade situation. That is not a good thing. It would be better to have put more care and thought into the legislation. That is not in any way to denigrate the Minister or the drafts people who have prepared the legislation. In my time in this House — and there are people who are here much longer than I — I have noticed that legislation enacted quickly in response to emergency situations does not always cater for all eventualities which it is supposed to do, in the final analysis.
I note that Deputy Quill and Deputy Keogh are sharing time.
Yes, I would like to share my time with Deputy Helen Keogh if that is acceptable to the House.
At the outset I welcome the legislation before the House today. I compliment the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy O'Dea, and also the Minister, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, for the speed with which she has responded to the issues being addressed in this legislation. As this is the first time I have contributed on new legislation since she became Minister, I should say that I take great confidence from the fact that, for the first time ever in the history of the State, we have a woman at the helm in the Department of Justice. That is encouraging. The particular lady in question is strong and straight and will tackle the great backlog of law reform that needs to be tackled with a sense of urgency. That is not to take from my confidence in the Minister of State present, Deputy O'Dea, in regard to his capacity and his professional ability to be of enormous assistance in that Department, where so much remains to be done. Much of our criminal law is out of date, many of our institutions are out of date, many of the personnel are over burdened and there is a great need for a range of urgent reforms throughout the whole judicial system. I am confident that there will be a major speeding up of reforms under the present Government under the two people to whom I have paid tribute.
The immediate events that prompted the legislation here today are harrowing and horrendous. I will not go into any further detail, because much has been said about this matter already today, except to say that like every other citizen, male as well as female, I am deeply wounded and very hurt at what has happened in Kilkenny in two cases during the past year. Much suffering and pain has been inflicted on this young girl in the Kilkenny incest case and on a great many people throughout the country whose cases do not receive the same degree of publicity. That situation must cause us all to examine our collective conscience. It is an established fact that the perpetrators of incest and child abuse are in a great many cases the victims of child abuse in their own youth. That being so, if we are ever to confront the horrible problem of child abuse we will have to put in place a better system of child abuse prevention that will help to protect as fully as possible the children of this generation and prevent this terrible cycle of sex abuse spilling off on to the next generation. In this respect I pay tribute to the members of the INTO who, in conjunction with the health boards, have developed the "Stay Safe" programme in schools. I hope that programme will be extended to all our schools and, if it proves satisfactory, will be extended to second level. I put a lot of faith in the implementation of that programme. Prevention has to be the key. It is very difficult to reverse——
If the Deputy wishes to take 20 minutes, I think we could extend some generosity in the matter and perhaps we could extend the same facility to Deputy Keogh.
That is very kind of you and I appreciate it. At the end of the day prevention is the key. The damage done to victims is so horrendous that we have to harness all the resources of the community, whether within education, the home, the Church or the media, in a proper programme that will prevent and eradicate the terrible scandal of child abuse from our society. Once the damage is done it is very difficult to reverse it. The damage done as a result of incest and child abuse spreads into many subsequent generations. It is horrendous, it is part of the dark and ugly side of our society and it is one we must confront with all the professional advice we have at our fingertips. Goodwill on all our parts would help to put in place a proper framework to stem it at source and prevent it happening in the first place. When it does happen we should ensure there is early intervention to reverse the damage and cure the symptoms.
Essentially we are dealing with legislation, which is our primary function as TDs in this House. I fully support the principle of putting in place an appeals mechanism as advocated in this legislation and I compliment the Minister on responding so quickly.
The young, innocent victims of incest and child abuse must receive all the necessary support, professional and otherwise, which we can harness within the community to enable them to confront as successfully as possible the consequences of the crime which has been visited upon them. However, sympathy, support and understanding are not enough. We must also put in place good, strong and fair law which in its application will act not alone to protect all our citizens and fully vindicate their rights but which will provide appropriate compensation for the victims of crime. Above all, good law should act as a deterrent to would-be criminals and sentences deriving from the law should be sufficiently severe to cause a would-be abuser to stop in his tracks. To put it simply, if they think they can get away with it abusers will continue to abuse but if they know and it is clearly communicated to them from this House that there is in place good strong law which will be fully implemented and that sentences will be rigorously and fully enforced they will be deterred from committing abuse.
In this respect I hope that all sex abuse cases which have been validated by social workers in health boards, reported to the Garda and subsequently reported to the Director of Public Prosecutions will be fully responded to by the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in every respect. If young people who go to the trouble, in conjunction with their parents, of reporting cases to the appropriate health board and it subsequently transpires that they never hear another word about that case they will get the feeling that the law is not working on their behalf, that the law is not offering them the protection they believe they need. This, in turn, will send them into the adult world with a very jaundiced impression of the law. That is not a proper environment in which to raise young people. What I am saying is that all cases which are validated and reported have to be appropriately responded to. That is a very important point.
This legislation envisages giving power to the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide when an appeal is justified. That is the correct decision, this is the correct way to proceed. Because of its independent nature, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is the appropriate office to deal with this matter. However, both the Director of Public Prosecutions and his office should be given extra assistance to enable the Director of Public Prosecutions to adjudicate fully in cases which become the subject of an appeal. I do not have any cast iron idea as to how this might be done, but I wish to outline what I have in mind. The Minister might take my suggestion on board.
It is important to put in place some kind of advisory body to whom the Director of Public Prosecutions could refer in the case of an appeal. If such an advisory body was set up it would be important that there would be a strong input from women somewhere in its mechanism. I believe all of us now realise that there is a remarkable absence of women in key areas of the law and that when an opportunity presents itself to put a new mechanism in place we should use that opportunity to involve properly qualified and suitable women. It is most regrettable that there is not a stronger input by women into this vital area of law and its application.
If the Minister considers accepting my suggestion to put in place an advisory body to assist the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions — I appeal to the Minister to do this — it would give us an opportunity to involve more women in that area of law, particularly as it relates to cases of child abuse and incest. It is very important that there is balanced representation on any panel and that we do not exclude women who have the necessary experience, instinct and intuition from deliberating on how our law is worked out. If an opportunity presents itself, we should make provision for the involvement of women on such an advisory body.
I call on the Minister to consider putting in place a code of practice which would permit the Director of Public Prosecutions to make submissions to a sentencing judge in the first instance in relation to what he perceives to be the appropriate sentence in a given case. If, as a result of the enactment of this law, we require the Director of Public Prosecutions to make a judgment on these matters in the case of an appeal, it would seem to be entirely consistent that we would require him to make an additional recommendation in relation to the hearing as it happens in the first instance.
It very often happens that the case for the prosecution in court is very weak in comparison with the case for the defence. This happens because those who can afford to pay for an expensive and extensive defence counsel have a disproportionate advantage over the other party in court. Any measure which can be taken to redress that imbalance ought to be taken now in the context of this legislation. I will be framing amendments along these lines which I hope the Minister will look at sympathetically.
When there is an imbalance in court very often the general public perceive that our courts are more courts of law than courts of justice. This is a bad impression to give as it will lead to a jaundiced view of the judicial process and will breed disrespect for the law among our citizens. This cannot be healthy or good and any measure which seeks to remedy this situation should be built into this legislation. Nothing erodes public confidence in the judicial system more than the spectacle of well-known criminals getting away with it, so to speak, because the law in many respects is too weak to deal with their crimes.
Moreover, it is very disheartening for members of the Garda Síochána who in many cases go to enormous pains and, in some cases put their lives at risk, to bring a case before the court only to find that the sentence is totally out of proportion to the gravity of the crime or, as sometimes happens, the case is thrown out on a mere technicality. This is very disheartening for the gardaí involved and anything which can be done to remedy this situation will be a step in the right direction. I have watched this trend developing in recent years, and I would very much like to see it confronted and remedied.
The sentence imposed should at all times and in all cases reflect fully the gravity of the offence and take fully into account the impact, psychological and otherwise, which the crime has had on the victim. It has been said by many speakers here that we must build into our laws a better balance between the rights of the victim and the rights of the perpetrator. This balance has gone out of kilter and we must build it back into our laws. Accordingly, not alone should we put in place an appeals mechanism, as is now recommended, but we should also seek to put in place a better system of mandatory compensation for the victims of crime. There was a semblance of such a system in place up until 1984-85 when it was dismantled. We need to put in place a proper system which will compensate the victims of crime in a correct fashion. If this means that we have to impose more fines as sentences — I wish we would do this for more reasons than one, one of the reasons being the scarcity of places in prisons — it would be proper and in line with justice if those moneys were put towards a fund which would provide proper compensation for the victims of crime. As long as crime continues to pay handsomely, people will take the risk.
Sentencing has been very much an issue in relation to the Kilkenny incest case. We all regret the short duration of the sentence imposed, which is not consistent with the gravity of the crime and the damage inflicted on that young woman, her child, her mother and other members of her family. We must put in place legislation on the lines of the Punishment of Offenders Act in the United Kingdom, under which legislators lay down clear and up-to-date sentencing guidelines for the Judiciary. We need to do this, in fairness to ourselves and to the Judiciary. There would then be less need for the kind of appeal mechanism we are discussing. While I welcome the mechanism, justice ought to be done at the first hearing. Justice delayed is justice denied. If a victim has to go to a court of appeal, that inflicts additional pain and suffering on that person. We must ensure that we get it right in the first instance. That means laying down a more clear and coherent sentencing policy to guide and assist our judges. Such policy should be regularly reviewed, perhaps annually.
We must make better provision for in-service courses for the Judiciary. In common with parents and teachers, judges are being called on to confront situations which were not prevalent when they were growing up. All of us must update our skills. We must put in place a mechanism that would enable judges to confer one with the other and to have occasional conferences. There must be ongoing monitoring of sentences. The ultimate aim must be to make the punishment fit the crime, to citeThe Mikado.
Judges have their difficulties. They hand down sentences which they believe to be just, but those sentences are seldom fully served. There is need for a proper penal code and penal system. The focus on the courts is correct but it must be followed through into the prison system. Any upgrading of sentencing policy and procedure must be accompanied by a parallel upgrading of our penal policy. There must be an adequate number of prison places, as well as a range of alternatives to custody at the disposal of every judge. As soon as one prisoner is sentenced, another prisoner is releasedipso facto to make way. Down the years the Department of Justice has carefully concealed the rate of rotation of the revolving door. The whole process, because it is so secret, has become very suspect.
To rectify this, I recommend that the Minister for Justice be required to publish annually inIris Oifigiúil the number of sentences commuted or remitted under the 1951 Act. If that were done, those in public life would be in a position to ask questions and to submit the whole process to public scrutiny.
I appeal to the Minister to put in place this year a proper parole system in accordance with the excellent recommendations of the Whitaker report. We also need an independent parole board so that any reforms and improvements in sentencing or in the way the courts dispense justice will lead to corresponding improvements in the prison system and in the development of alternatives to custody, thereby enabling the judges to dispense justice in the confident knowledge that the rest of the judicial system supports them in their judgments.
I, too, welcome the Bill which was brought before us so speedily. The fact that the Minister for Justice is a woman might be one of the reasons the Bill was brought forward in such a dramatic and speedy way. I have no doubt that the junior Minister shares her concerns and I know his commitment in this area.
This is a comparatively short Bill. My first thought is that it is unfortunate that the Bill is needed, particularly its first provision. It is a fire brigade action, but if there is a fire we must put it out. In this case we have had a number of fires — nearly a conflagration. I do not like this piecemeal approach but at least something is being done. In that context we must welcome the legislation.
If a sentence is inadequate and unduly lenient there should be a mechanism by which it can be appealed and a more appropriate sentence substituted. It is unthinkable that such a circumstance should arise. There should be clearcut guidelines on sentencing, ensuring the consistency that we require so that justice is not only done but is seen to be done. That is very important for the victims of crime. Often people do not report the awful crimes of rape and child abuse because in many cases justice is not seen to be done.
I agree with the comments about the training of judges and the drawing up of consistent guidelines on sentencing policy. This has been completely neglected. There is no use in appealing against unduly lenient sentences unless the judges have guidelines on which to operate. I am not in favour of mandatory sentencing. Calls for it are born out of a general sense of frustration, mainly by women's groups, because of the unsatisfactory nature of many of the sentences, especially in rape cases. It is understandable that those calls be made, but the logic behind them is flawed. We must examine each case on its merits. What we need are guidelines, not mandatory sentencing.
It is very unfortunate that it takes so-called hard cases to mobilise action in the whole area of sexual abuse and violence, towards women and girls in particular. However, we should not forget that it is young people in general that we should be concerned about, both boys and girls, who are the victims of sexual abuse — unfortunately, primarily within the home. This legislation only tinkers with that broader problem. It is really closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. That is unfortunate, but at least something is being done. It is not nearly enough and much more needs to be done.
Although I welcome the remedial action provided for in the Bill, I could not allow the opportunity to pass without speaking on the whole context in which we have to make these laws. This morning Minister Joan Burton mentioned the Safety of Women Conference which she attended in Dublin last October. I too attended that conference. It was a facinating opportunity for any legislator to be present at such a conference because it provided a forum for women to be very open about the many aspects of concern, from child abuse to violence against women, and it challenged all of us to reflect on the type of society which allows abuses such as incest to fester within it. On this we are all blameworthy; we cannot pass the buck on this one. We all must examine our own motivation and realise that these things are problematic and difficult to deal with. However, we have to take on board what is the reality of our society and deal with it effectively.
One of the interesting contributions in that seminar came from the chief probation officer for Hertfordshire in England, and she is one person who really should know about this. She said that there is a continuum, from discrimination against women to sexual harassment in the work place to violence against women, and that what connects them is that women are insufficiently valued for their contribution, the way they work and the qualities in which they specialise. That underpins the whole attitude in society towards women, towards sexual abuse and the other areas of incest and rape. If society is to be a safer place for women, who are in the main the victims of whom we speak, women must be seen as people to be valued and appreciated for the contribution they make to society as a whole. That is cradle to grave stuff. It reflects in our laws; it reflects in our education.
My colleague referred to the work done by the INTO. I served on the Women's Rights Committee during the terms of the last Dáil and Seanad and it was amazing to see how little is being done in the whole area of sexism, leading to attitudinal values and the whole area of abuse, towards children in particular. The only work being done is being spearheaded by the INTO. It is tremendous to see them taking on that responsibility, but they should not have to do that; that is our responsibility as legislators. It is the responsibility of the Department of Education. At least somebody is doing it, but why is the lead not coming from where it should come?
All of this begs the question about representation of women at all levels of public and political life. It makes one realise that our society is worse off for the non-representation of women at all levels. That is a very important point. I heard the reference this morning to Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club. I was very disappointed at the reaction of a colleague on this side of the House because there was a lack of understanding of what the reluctance of a social club to have women as full members really means. It indicates an attitude toward women and it is something that one does not understand fully unless one is a woman. I thought it was very interesting to hear a man get extremely defensive about that. I was very disappointed. It is something I would like to have the opportunity to discuss further at a different forum.
My colleague, Deputy Quill, stole my line when she quoted Gilbert and Sullivan. That phrase "to make the punishment fit the crime" is very apt. It comes from a 19th century musical with 19th century sentiments. We are in the latter part of the 20th century and we should focus on the type of society we have, where women in particular can deal with the trauma of violence. It is very apt that the punishment should fit the crime, but we should not get too focused on punishment. We need to talk about things like the empowerment of women so that they are not victims in society but full members and not "lady associate members" of this society of ours.
It is incredible, in this day and age, that we have to warn women and children that women are most likely to be threatened, battered and sometimes killed within their own homes by husbands, boyfriends, casual acquaintances or friends, and that children are more at risk of abuse at the hands of their father or close family members, trusted adults or those in authority, and that even women's leisure is curtailed by concern for their personal safety. We live in a society where, despite the extra few bob thrown to them, the women's aid and rape crisis centres are poorly funded. They are operated on a shoestring. In the past the women who operated those essential services were regarded as well meaning amateurs who did not know what they were about. Happily that view has changed. However, the lack of sufficient funding still remains a scandal.
We should ask why women should take on the responsibility of avoiding crime. Why should the solution for battered women be to go to refuges which are full and underfunded? We should confront the type of society that allows this to happen.
This can be addressed by legislation and that is why I welcome this type of legislation. Even if it is tinkering, at least it is dealing with the subject. The subject must also be addressed on a different level. Of course, we have to assure those who are the victims that they will be helped and treated in a caring fashion when they have to go through the trauma of going to court.
The type of society that we require has to operate on two levels in regard to this type of problem. On the one hand it has to deal with the problem in a fair and equitable fashion and justice should be seen to be done, sentences seen to be fair and the procedures put into operation that will make that happen. On the other hand we should have the alleviating circumstances within society which tries to avoid these things happening in the first place. That is very simple to say but very difficult to put into action. If we have the type of approach from our legislators — and to be fair we are seeing it from the Minister and the Minister of State — that will allow attitudes in society to change, then we are on the right road.
It is gratifying to see that we may very well have a Women's Rights Committee set up again. Much of the work that was done in relation to changing attitudes and helping our legislators was done by that committee.
In regard to the other two elements of the Bill, I recognise the validity of placing an obligation on sentencing courts to take into account the effect sexual or violent crime has on the victim, but I am one of those to whom the Minister refers who asks how the effect on the victim is to be brought to the attention of the courts. From that point of view I applaud the work being done by the Irish Society for Victim Support who championed the rights of the victim all this time while maintaining a balanced view on dealing with and rehabilitating offenders. It is very difficult when one is the victim of a crime. I have been mugged twice. Fortunately, I was not hurt much, maybe my pride——
And your purse.
——and my purse, most certainly. I remember the immediate feelings of anger and the urge to run after them and hit them with something. Unfortunately, I had no handbag to hit them with so there was no point in running after them. I remember that feeling of anger and frustration and thinking what I would do with them if I got them. Of course, that subsides after five minutes and one starts thinking again about the circumstances that lead people into that kind of crime. In the realm of more serious crime, it is good that those who wish to support victims take a balanced view in relation to offenders as well.
One aspect that I do not think is good enough — the Minister referred to this — is that in each case it will be a matter for the court to decide how to discharge the obligation of informing itself as to the effect of the crime on the victim. That aspect should be teased out a little more and I hope it will be possible to do so on Committee Stage. This takes us back to the issue of consistency; who is to make a decision and whether judges will have different attitudes. The training of the Judiciary is a matter for consideration. There will be difficulties if the decisions are to be left to individual discretion. This legislation is before the House because of difficulties resulting from the exercise of individual discretion.
It is right that there be an onus on offenders to pay to their victims compensation for the injury or loss. The quarrel of the Irish Association for Victim Support with that provision is that we should learn from the experience in the United Kingdom, where problems arise when offenders do not have the means to pay compensation. That should be teased out further on Committee Stage.
I welcome the fact that the Bill has been brought before the House in a speedy manner. I regret that it is necessary. I make the appeal that on occasions such as this we examine our consciences and ask ourselves what kind of a society we want. Are we to continue to pretend that cases of child abuse, incest and rape do not happen to the extent that they obviously do? Several speakers today quoted a very disturbing statistic from the ICA — an association not known for exaggeration — that up to one-third of Irish women have been sexually abused at some stage. That frightening statistic should be examined. It means that in many ways our society is sick and we have to do what is necessary to make it well.
I compliment both the Minister and the Minister of State for the speedy way in which the legislation has been brought forward. To say that the Bill will be widely welcomed would be to understate the position. As a person involved in the legal profession I can say that the degree of public concern about the non-availability of a mechanism to review what are perceived to be lenient sentences has given rise to what could be described best as a highly charged atmosphere, especially in the past 12 to 18 months.
Of course, even though the general public may not be aware of this, under Article 34 of the Constitution the DPP has the power to appeal certain sentences to the Supreme Court. He can appeal any sentence imposed by the Central Criminal Court and the division of the High Court exercising criminal jurisdiction. To my knowledge, that power has been rarely, if ever, used.
This Bill gives statutory recognition to the right of the DPP to appeal. I suggest to the Minister of State that he examine Article 34 of the Constitution in Relation to section 2 of the Bill. Under Article 34 everybody has a right to appeal a decision of the High Court to the Supreme Court except where it is prescribed by law. Section 2 of the Bill gives that right. In order to streamline the position, it might be worth using section 2 as the method by which the DPP can appeal decisions to the Court of Criminal Appeal and not using the right under Article 34. The Minister should consider that issue before Committee Stage.
Several factors should be taken into account in relation to sentencing policy. The Minister correctly represented the position when she said that sentencing policy is not an exact science.
An important advance is the provision in the Bill enabling courts to inquire into the effects of the crime on the victim and to give an explanation of the circumstances that gave rise to the imposition of sentence. For the most part the sentences imposed do not attract attention or reflect society's abhorrence of the crime committed.
The bringing forward of the appeals mechanism is welcome. The Bill gives power to review unduly lenient sentences, an eminently sensible move and one I welcome. The sentence imposed must be substantially out of line with what a judge could reasonably have imposed. It is vital to reach the correct balance between the rights of the victim and the rights of the perpetrator. It is clear that the public perception is that of late the pendulum has swung too much in favour of the perpetrator. Section 2 gives the DPP 28 days in which to ask the Court of Criminal Appeal to review the sentence imposed.
Section 3 (1) states:
An appeal shall lie to the Supreme Court by the convicted person or the Director of Public Prosecutions from the determination of the Court of Criminal Appeal of an application under section 2 if that Court, the Attorney General or the Director of Public Prosecutions certifies that the determination involves a point of law of exceptional public importance and that it is desirable in the public interest that an appeal should be taken to the Supreme Court.
That provision appears to give the DPP a second opportunity. The DPP would have already appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeal. In the interests of fairness, it might be best to confine the certification process to the court itself and/or the Attorney General in this instance.
The process of an appeal against an unduly lenient sentence imposed by the Circuit Criminal Court or the Central Criminal Court has to be initiated by the DPP. The issue would go to the Court of Criminal Appeal. It is my understanding that the DPP would be one of those empowered to give certification for a further appeal to the Supreme Court. Consideration should be given to confining the certification process to the Attorney General or the court.
Section 5, which is very important, gives a clear direction that the court in imposing sentences must take into account the effects, including the long term effects, on the victim of the offence. This includes offences involving violence or the threat of violence. It is high time that the rights of the unfortunate victims are recognised and that the serious impact of horrendous crimes perpetrated on the victim are also fully recognised.
I also welcome the thrust and spirit of section 6 of the Bill which extends significantly the powers of the criminal courts to award compensation in all cases where the victim has been caused personal injury or loss. This measure, combined with the power to review unduly lenient sentences, will ensure that the deterrent effect of punishment will be conveyed unambiguously to would-be criminals. This section will now enable the court to award compensation to the victim. It is no harm to hit the criminal where it hurts — in his pocket.
I welcome section 7 which states that all payments of compensation are to be made through the local District Court clerk. This is a very important advance because the District court clerk will, on request, take proceedings to enforce payment under an order in his or her own name. This will ensure that awards which may not have been pursued — where the victim had to personally pursue them — will not be dealt with by the mechanism to which I referred. The local District Court clerk will now be charged with the responsibility, on request, of enforcing the payment order.
Section 11 of the Bill makes an important amendment to the Criminal Evidence Act, 1992, which was itself an important advance in relation to facilitating the victims of physical or sexual abuse when giving evidence. There was a lacuna in the law in that regard, particularly in regard to written depositions but the Minister — or Minister of State — also perceived that there was a lacuna and has rectified it, which is welcome.
A video recording of the evidence taken at a preliminary examination is now admissible at a trial. The amendment was necessitated by the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, and makes it quite clear that it is unnecessary to have a written deposition when a video record is available. It is now quite simple to have a transcript made of such a recording. It is an important step forward to facilitate the unfortunate victim and to give statutory force to the admissibility of such evidence.
I welcome the Bill. However, I should like the Minister of State to examine the points I made in relation to sections 2 and 3 on Committee Stage.
I sincerely thank all the Deputies who contributed to this wide-ranging debate. Their contributions have been most useful and I assure Deputy Penrose that I will consider his valid points in relation to sections 2 and 3. Deputy Harney mentioned that there is a problem in the way we are putting through this legislation in that Committee and Report Stages will be taken tomorrow, immediately after Second Stage. Her point is valid but the reason is that we are most anxious to put this legislation on the Statute Book as quickly as possible because it has been brought to our attention that a number of cases will shortly be coming before the courts in which this Bill, when enacted, will be of great significance.
Another point which Deputy Harney did not mention — but which is causing problems for me — is that Report Stage follows so quickly on Committee Stage. I think there is only about an hour and a half between Committee and Report Stages. A number of technical issues may be raised on Committee Stage which we must consider. I anticipate, from the debate on Second Stage today, that matters will be raised regarding which we will need the advice of the Attorney General's office. We will not be able to do that in an hour and a half and, therefore, when I undertake to consider points raised by Deputies I will consider them tomorrow evening and perhaps make amendments in the Seanad.
There will be a number of technical problems in regard to this legislation — parliamentary draftsmen are not perfect — and no doubt there may be some things which they have missed. There may also be ambiguities in the legislation, I see one or two provisions about which I wish to speak to them later tonight. However, my attitude to this legislation will not be dogmatic or partisan. We can fight our political battles as much as we like elsewhere but, in a matter like this, it is the duty of all Members to get the best legislation possible. That is what people sent us here to do and it will be my approach to it. I have never taken the view that because an amendment comes from the Opposition it must necessarily be rejected. Neither do I take the view that the Government and the parliamentary draftsman are omnipotent. In saying that I am not casting aspersions on the excellence of our parliamentary draftsman. I think it was the 19th century poet and politician, Tom Kettle, who said that Irish parliamentary draftsmen tended to be of such quality that he would consider entrusting to them the drafting of the Ten Commandments. That situation has not changed.
While I welcome all contributions to the debate, the tone and content of some of Deputy Shatter's remarks were regrettable. In using that neutral terminology I am, to some extent, restraining myself. My approach to this legislation is that we are enacting new criminal law, that we must get the best possible result and the interaction of all sides is very important, particularly in relation to criminal law. I could say the same in regard to Deputy Flanagan's contributions. However, this is not a party political matter and I wish the Opposition would not make it one, it is a question of parties on all sides of the House getting the best possible result.
As I said, the contributions were thoughtful and constructive — most of them anyway. Deputy Shatter said that Fine Gael had made a constructive contribution to the Criminal Damage Act to provide compensation for all victims of crime but that the Government had turned it down. That is not so. Such a provision would obviously have been out of order in a Bill dealing only with criminal damage to property. Anybody who has practised in the area of criminal law will be aware of the fact that one of the difficulties in looking up criminal law is that it is so scattered. Sections of the criminal law are in places in which you would not expect them to be. Like should be with like, particularly in relation to legislation. That was the reason the Criminal Damage Act was not extended to personal injuries. We committed ourselves at the time to extending it and we are doing that today.
Deputy Shatter and other speakers referred to the fear felt by the victim in the recent Kilkenny case as to what might happen when the father is released after serving his sentence. He suggested that the sentencing court should be given the power of injuncting convicted persons from approaching their victims on release. In fairness, there will be a great degree of sympathy with that suggestion and I undertake to have its implications considered. I hope that something can be done about it within the four corners of the Constitution. The tradition in our society has always been that once a convicted person has purged his offence by serving a sentence of imprisonment he is as free from restraint as if he or she had never been convicted in the first place. If any molestation or intimidation took place the victim would have the remedies provided by the criminal or civil law. I take Deputy Shatter's point that civil law remedies injunctions and so on, are not appropriate for the vast majority of victims we are talking about. Without prejudicing the outcome of the examination which I may have to conduct into this area, it occurs to me that it might be feasible to make it a specific offence for a person who has been convicted of an offence to annoy or intimidate the victim, and this would be a separate offence, so that the Garda could act straightaway if any conduct of that kind took place. In saying that, I am conscious of the fact that considerable injury could have been done to the victim by the time the Garda could move in to apprehend the perpetrator. The Deputy's point is reasonable and I will consider it.
Several Deputies, including Deputy Shatter and Deputy Harney, asked that our criminal justice system should be more victim orientated so that victims are spared as much stress as possible when attending court. In recent legislation we have provided for that situation by allowing evidence to be given by TV link to spare the victim the trauma of having to go into open court and face the person he-she is accusing. Deputy Shatter and other Deputies referred to the treatments available for sex offenders in prison. At present these offenders, in common with other prisoners, have access to a range of medical, psychiatric, psychological and welfare services in the prison and I am satisfied that much good work is being done in this way for sex offenders.
Up to two years ago a pilot project was in operation in Arbour Hill which involved the probation and welfare services working with a number of prisoners on a group therapy programme on an experimental basis. This pilot project ceased when all of the prisoners concerned had completed the programme. Last year a group comprising of senior officials in the Department of Justice, together with members of the psychiatric, psychological and probation and welfare services, was established to examine various treatment options which might appropriately be introduced. The Minister is conscious of the urgency with which the issue must be addressed and has asked that the report of the group be available to her within weeks so that a decision on providing services can be taken by her as a matter or urgency. However, it should be noted that international experience has shown that there are no readymade, easily applied solutions which guarantee results in these areas.
Deputy Gilmore said the Bill did not send any signal to the Judiciary as to how crimes such as incest rated as compared with others, such as assaults etc. That is, of course, true; but to do so would be outside the scope of this particular Bill. I think the Deputy is right, however, in suggesting that it might be brought up before the Committee on Crime as it would mean a wider examination than we can give to it here in the context of this debate.
Deputy McGahon urged that the operation of the compensation provision should be closely monitored. I fully agree. Arrangements will be made in particular to have the enforcement provisions watched to see that the District Court office follow up any defaulters.
Deputy Gilmore and other Deputies mentioned the reluctance to report sex abuse cases. Of course, there is a reluctance, especially among young victims — and the younger the victim the more reluctant he is — but the increased public discussion of child abuse is helping and so is the INTO initiative in primary schools which has already been referred to.
Deputy Harney suggested that it might be years before the Director of Public Prosecutions could exercise the right of appeal being given to him by the Bill, because he has not appealed any sentence imposed to date by the Central Criminal Court, despite the fact that he has jurisdiction to do so. I think I can put her fears to rest in that regard. From what I know of the Director of Public Prosecutions, he can be trusted to carry out his statutory responsibilities to the full. I believe there may have been some element of doubt about his existing right to appeal but, whatever the reason, it can be taken that he will not now be slow to act in a proper case. Deputy Harney asked also if the transcript of the proceedings will be available to the Director of Public Prosecution in the 28 day limit? I very much doubt if it could. I assume that what the Director of Public Prosecutions will have available to him will be a report from prosecuting counsel, a note of what the sentencing judge said and any documents submitted to the judge on the basis of which he made his decision on the sentence to be imposed.
The Deputy also asked for clarification of what is meant by communications to the Director of Public Prosecutions with a view to influencing his decision. I assume it would have its ordinary meaning of a communication specifically addressed to him or to one of his officers, either written or oral. That would not include speeches in this House or editorials or other public comments. May I point out that the provision we are introducing to prevent communication with a Director of Public Prosecutions is to apply the Prosecution of Offenders Act, 1974, which prohibits communications to the Director of Public Prosecutions in respect of the decision to prosecute in the first place. Discussion in this House on particular cases and newspaper or editorial comment on it have not attracted any sanctions. A recent Dublin case attracted much editorial comment before the Director of Public Prosecutions took his decision to prosecute and there will be sanction on newspapers as a result of that. I think her fears in this regard are groundless.
A number of Deputies raised the question of funding for the rape crisis centres. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Social Welfare, Deputy Joan Burton, referred to the Minister for Health's statement on this afternoon and I understand this announcement was very positive.
Deputy Harney advocated that the prosecution should be able to appeal where an acquittal was obtained on a technicality. The Committee on Court Practice and Procedures has completed a study of all aspects of the question of giving the prosecution rights of appeal and I understand that its report will be available very shortly.
Deputy Gregory raised the issue of the Tina Caffrey murder case. I was not present when he was speaking but from the report I understand he said the family want to pursue a civil action and want financial help with their legal costs as well as having the case reopened. He said also that they want to meet the Minister for Justice in this regard. May I assure the Deputy that I will pass on his request to the Minister and I will ask her to deal sympathetically with it.
Deputy Frances Fitzgerald raised a number of recommendations in relation to rape that have been made by the Commission for the Status of Women in their second report. The Deputy can rest assured that all the recommendations of the commission are being looked at, several of them have already been implemented, others are in the process of being implemented and the remainder are under active consideration. Deputy Gregory raised the question of sentences for drug offences and asked that the attention of the Judiciary be drawn to the need for heavier sentences in drug cases. The Law Reform Commission were asked to look at the whole area of sentencing policy and the commission plan to publish a consultation paper on this topic in the next few weeks and I will give urgent consideration to any proposals they may put forward in this regard. We all agree there is some room for improvement.
Deputy John Browne was concerned that compensation orders might not be made in some cases, even if it would be appropriate to do so. The courts have the discretion to decide when compensation orders should be made. They will be familiar with the facts of each individual case and be in the best position to decide what order should be made. Deputy Durkan was concerned that legislation which is rushed through can turn out to be bad legislation. I have explained already the reason for the urgency of this legislation. Deputy Quill suggested that an advisory body be established that could be consulted by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Let me point out that the Director of Public Prosecutions is completely independent in the exercise of his functions. However, there is nothing to prevent him from consulting with any person or body if he so wishes. If the Director of Public Prosecutions so wishes and if he feels it useful, he could establish an advisory body of the type envisaged and I will certainly offer any assistance I can in that regard. The Deputy also wanted a provision whereby the prosecuting team would make submissions to the trial judge suggesting what might be an appropriate sentence. It is my understanding that counsel for the prosecution does that already. She also wanted the Stay Safe programme to be extended, as at present it applies only in the Eastern Health Board area. Let me assure Deputy Quill that the programme is being extended to the rest of the country during the current school year.
I will consider the points raised by Deputy Penrose before we take Committee Stage tomorrow. I will also consider many of the other points which are more appropriate to Committee Stage. In relation to legislation such as this, my function is not to make party political broadcasts or to refer to what people did or did not do in the past. My concern is to introduce the best possible legislation and I invite contributions from all sides of the House tomorrow on Committee Stage so that, we can enact legislation that will stand the test of time and prove useful in the years ahead. I hope the necessity for this legislation will not arise frequently, but I hope we can introduce the best possible legislation.