Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Real Property and Civil Liberty Law.

Michael McDowell


12 Mr. M. McDowell asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform the proposals, if any, he has in relation to the law of real property; if he intends to make any changes to it; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Michael McDowell


39 Mr. M. McDowell asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform the proposals, if any, he has in relation to the law of civil liberty; if he intends to make any changes to it; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 and 39 together.

Apart from the promised legislation on the matrimonial home, I have no other immediate plans to bring forward specific proposals in relation to the law of real property or to the law of civil liberty. In so far as such proposals may be contemplated in the future, any details will be announced in the normal way in due course.

Would the Minister agree that our law of real property has remained largely unamended since the 1880s whereas the corresponding laws of the United Kingdom were the subject of huge reform in the intervening period? Would the Minister agree that the antiquated state of our law of real property imposes huge costs on people who buy and sell land, especially on ordinary domestic home owners? Would the Minister agree that the Land Registry and Registry of Deeds needs somebody with some political sense of determination to make those systems work especially in view of the fact that, for instance, the Registry of Deeds, which was established during the reign of Queen Anne, works more efficiently than the supposedly more modern Land Registry system? When does the Minister intend to improve the law dealing with real property?

As I am sure the Deputy knows, he has raised a major subject. In the short term at least the resources allocated to the civil law area will be used in drafting the family law provisions which are necessary and essential in the run-up to the divorce referendum. I do not know if the Deputy has in mind wide-ranging amendments to the law of real property similar to those made in the United Kingdom in 1925, or something more modest, but I will be happy to review the civil law, including the law of real property, when the family law legislation has been processed. If the Deputy has any precise or particular changes in mind I would be interested in hearing from him.

It is not sufficient to say that although this is a major issue it must take second place to other matters such as family law reform, which I accept is very important. Will the Minister, who has responsibility for law reform, establish committees, even volunteer committees of experts in all the fields in question, to make proposals and draft the relevant legislation? Will the Minister agree that there is no real prospect of progress in this area if, as appears to be the case, our attention during the lifetime of this Dáil is to be devoted to the family law and divorce issue? Does this mean that he is not really the Minister for Law Reform but the Minister for divorce and that all other issues in relation to law reform are to be cast aside and left to some other Minister to deal with at another time?

The Deputy is waxing lyrical, he knows that one can only operate within the available resources and that it is a matter for the Government to set its priorities in any Department or field of policy. The Government has set its short term immediate priorities and has given priority to family law. The resources allocated to my Department will be used in tackling those important issues and I hope we will receive the support of all sides of the House. Other law reform measures are under examination and consideration in my Department and will be progressed from time to time as resources become available. Deputy McDowell raised the interesting question of whether we should have committees of experts who would be prepared to serve and give their time. If people would be prepared to do this, and it would be an onerous task, I will be happy to consider the suggestion but experience shows that it is not necessarily easy to obtain their services. People have other commitments and calls on their time and expertise. Will the Deputy confirm that he is prepared to take the lead on one of these committees?

I would be willing to play my part but I suggest to the Minister that he has established a task force to deal with the traveller problem and that a similar initiative is needed in other areas in relation to aspects of the law. The Minister should contact the Irish Association of Law Teachers, the Bar Council and the Incorporated Law Society to inform them that he wishes to set up voluntary committees which would report to him to achieve progress in this area, given that his Department has limited resources.

Will the Deputy chair the committee if I set it up?

If the Minister requires the help of Deputy McDowell and myself in this matter he could obtain it by setting up a company similar to Nemesis but at less expense.

It would be called "hubris".

Has the Minister given any consideration to the three reports published by the Law Reform Commission on the law relating to conveyancing and does he intend to implement any of the recommendations contained in those reports?

A number of Law Reform Commission reports have accumulated during the years and I would like to see many of them implemented but the problem is that we need resources to do this. When the family law legislation has been processed it is my intention to select those which we regard as having the most broadly based application and implement them into law.

Is the Minister aware that his predecessor committed himself to reforming the law dealing with conveyancing? Will he agree that his decision to place that legislation lower down the list of priorities means that house buyers will continue to pay above the odds for various items in purchasing their houses in the absence of law reform?

As Deputy McDowell rightly pointed out, our system of conveyancing and the law of real property has been in place for a long time. Many Governments could have tackled this subject, including the one of which Deputy Bruton was a member, but they neglected to do so even though it was tackled in the United Kingdom as far back as 1925. It is my intention to select specific areas of the civil law for reform when the family law legislation has been processed. As I said, a large number of reports deal with certain aspects of the civil law, which I would dearly love to tackle, but there will be a process of selection to decide which are the most broadly based. When this has been done I will make my assessment and set about the task of introducing reforms as resources allow. When the time comes I will be happy to consult Opposition spokesmen on those measures and to discuss the issues with them.

Opposition spokes-people.

Deputy please, Question No. 13.

May I ask a final supplementary?

We have dwelt over long on this question which is very important but to the detriment of all the other questions before us. Let us try to make progress on the other questions.

Does the Minister know the contents of the Law Reform Commission's reports on conveyancing? Will he indicate which recomendations he intends to implement? Is he aware of the implications for the law on conveyancing and of the proposal that there should be joint ownership of the family home? How does he intend to address that aspect of the law on conveyancing in the Bill he has promised to publish?

I have to dissuade Deputies from the notion that they may debate this matter today.

As the Minister is eager to reply, we should not hold him back unfairly.

I have no objection to replying to a reasonable question but it is not necessary for Deputy Shatter to cross-examine me on this issue. Suffice it to say I have practised conveyancing as a solicitor for some 40 years and I am well aware of the shortcomings and advantages of the system.

Has the Minister read the reports of the Law Reform Commission?

I am not under cross-examination here.

The Minister is being questioned; this is Question Time.

I am aware of that but it is not cross-examination time. As Deputies all too frequently forget, this is not a court.

Luckily for the Minister it is not an examination hall as he would get two out of ten.

Will the Deputy be the examiner?

When the Deputy is the examiner we will consider that aspect. As I said, there is a large number of reports. I am not prepared to say which of them will be given priority. I will select those reports which have the broadest possible base.

The Minister will have to read them to make that judgment.

Some are quite narrow in their application and obviously would be lower down on the list of priorities.

I now call Question No. 13.

A final question, a Cheann Comhairle.

I hesitate to disallow the Deputy. I will allow her, but I think she will agree that we have dealt overlong on this question to the detriment of all other questions.

This is an important question. Will the Minister consider seriously the suggestion of having a civil law advisory committee — I am not sure that he takes this seriously — that would consist of Members like Deputies McDowell, Shatter and others who are interested in this area. This is a serious suggestion and I think it would be helpful to him. Is he aware that Deputies McDowell and Shatter have published more new Bills this session than the entire Government and that they are the ideal people to be involved on an advisory committee——

I believe we should swop places with him as we might be more effective.

——and they would be of valuable assistance to him. The Minister need not necessarily depend on civil servants to produce the law because the Deputies in this House should be making the law. Indeed, there are Deputies like Deputy McDowell and Deputy Penrose in the Minister's own party who have legal expertise. I think he should take this suggestion seriously.

I would be very happy to consider that suggestion.

As long as I get a salary for chairing the committee.

The Deputy has asked for it and he will get it now. He would want to send back some of the briefs now.

Deputy Lenihan is on a salary of £8,000 tax free for chairing a committee.