I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, before section 1, to insert the following new section:
"1.—In any case where a sentence has been imposed by the Court consisting of imprisonment or a fine or Community Service Order any decision made by the Minister pursuant to the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 1951, to commute or remit such sentence or any decision to release any person from custody pursuant to the law for the time being relating to temporary release orders made under the Criminal Justice Act, 1960, shall be notified to the public by a notice published in Iris Oifigiúil stating the following matters:
(a) the name of the person in respect of whom the decision is made;
(b) the sentence imposed on such person;
(c) the offence or offences in respect of which such sentence was imposed; and
(d) the extent by which the sentence was commuted or remitted, or in relation to a temporary release order the duration of any term of imprisonment actually served by the person prior to the commencement of such order.".
I am disappointed the Minister is not here for this debate. I normally would not raise a matter of this kind because it is important that Ministers represent Ireland abroad on St. Patrick's Day, but I have to raise it on this occasion because of the manner in which the Government sought to take this Bill. On Tuesday afternoon Deputy Mary Coughlan told us in the House that the Bill was very urgent and the Government wanted to take it that afternoon. The Minister for Justice seemed keen to take the Bill on Tuesday. We were told the reason was that the Minister had just met the incest victim from Kilkenny and her mother and was therefore anxious to have the Bill passed.
The Opposition kindly agreed in very unusual circumstances to take the Bill yesterday, which required spokespeople such as myself having to do considerable work in a very short period. The Minister opened the debate here yesterday, Deputy Shatter spoke next and in the middle of my speech the Minister left for Australia — she is now in Singapore. I am disgusted the Minister did not see fit to stay for at least the Second Stage debate and for this morning's Committee Stage. I say this because she told us she was going to listen carefully to the debate — unless she had special earplugs on the plane I do not know how she could have listened to the debate yesterday — and that she was going to take on board suggestions. She asked for recommendations in relation to the maximum penalty for incest.
As I have said, I normally would not raise a matter of this kind and I am not doing so in any sense for cheap publicity but because I genuinely believe it was wrong of the Minister, in the circumstances in which she sought to bring forward this Bill, to stick to her original arrangements. Although the Minister changed her arrangements from an Aer Lingus flight to use the Government jet, otherwise she stuck to her timescale and I am very disappointed she has chosen to do so when we are discussing this very important legislation.
The purpose of the amendment in my name — this applies principally to fines — is that when a fine is considered by the person on whom it is imposed to be unreasonable the person is normally told by members of the Garda Síochána and others that one way of seeking to have the penalty reduced is to go to their local politician who can lobby the Minister for Justice who has the power to reduce or totally abolish fines, community service orders or whatever. All of us have made representations, which we are obliged to do, on behalf of constituents, although I have never done so except where I believed there was a legitimate case for making such representation.
This is a power the Minister should not have. The Minister has been critical of lenient sentences, as have all politicians. It seems ironic that in the context of passing judgment on particular sentences this power should be reserved in political hands. It is not appropriate that the Minister should have that power, but rather than abolish it altogether, which would not be in order in the context of this Bill, I propose to take some pressure from the Minister and at the same time allow the public to be able to assess the impact of this power, the way it is being used and what exactly particular Ministers do in relation to the power they have. The courts can impose a fine or an appeal can be made and a new sentence imposed but if the Minister keeps the power to reduce or abolish a sentence, a fine, or community service order, that is a little strange. I suggest that where the power is used, the name and address of the person in respect of whom the decision is made should be published in Iris Oifigiúil along with the sentence imposed, the offence or offences for which the penalty is imposed and the extent to which the sentence was commuted or remitted or, in relation to a temporary release order, the duration of the term of imprisonment served prior to the commencement of such an order.
This is a reasonable amendment which will allow the public to have the kind of information that would make us better informed about the impact of sentencing policy and what happens in reality. In the context of framing legislation and updating the law, it will allow politicians to be fully informed. If the Programme for Government is to be implemented, the criminal law will be subject to major reform which is long overdue. A Deputy yesterday raised a question as to how much information we have about sentences and he wondered if anybody ever did adequate research on the nature of sentences over any period. My amendment would make a contribution towards research in that area and that would be extremely useful. For all those reasons I hope the Minister of State will be in a position to accept this reasonable amendment.
Deputy Gilmore on 2 March asked a question in the Dáil in relation to those who had received a temporary release during the Christmas period and he was informed that an extensive list of people received temporary release. I am not opposed to the principle because, as far as possible, people should be free to be with their families and loved ones on Christmas Day. However, it seems that people serving long sentences of from four to seven years for robbery whose release date would be 1995 after a normal remission which is about one-third of the sentence, obtained a temporary release. I do not know on what basis that occurred. Obviously families lobbied and the governor of the institution has a huge say in it, but very often there is also a political decision. There is much disquiet in the community about it. Yesterday in a parliamentary reply we were told that last year the number of people out on bail who committed further crimes was almost 3,000. The public are entitled to as much information as possible.
To be fair to the courts, it is wrong to criticise lenient decisions if Ministers are constantly reducing the penalties imposed by the courts. Many judges, the Garda Síochána and other practitioners of the law feel very aggrieved that politicians can get away with using this power, because it is used quietly behind closed doors so that nobody ever really knows about it or on what basis decisions are made. I will not delay the House because we have a short Committee Stage and we want to get through as many of these amendments as possible. I would ask the Minister to accept the amendment which is reasonable in the circumstances.