I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Courts and Court Officers Bill, 1994 was introduced with the objective of improving the courts system. That Bill which has just been withdrawn from the Dáil contained a number of measures which I have retained in the present Bill with some significant changes and improvements. The Courts and Court Officers Bill before the House today prescribes alternative and, I think, more effective remedies for the main problem facing the courts system — the arrears of cases and appeals awaiting hearing before the courts. It also contains many more provisions which will implement much-needed administrative and procedural reforms to improve the efficiency of the courts system.
The system is overdue a full reappraisal and a new approach. The courts need to be fully equipped to handle modern-day demands and pressures. The courts system has been trying to provide a reasonable level of service in recent times in the face of many challenges. There has been a marked increase, for example, in the amount of business coming before the courts over the past number of years, in particular more civil actions and personal injuries litigation, more family law business and more criminal cases. The background to this increased volume is complex, but there are legal, financial, cultural and social factors involved. Not only is there more business, but the trend is that cases and appeals are more complex now and, therefore, more time-consuming than in the past. Changes to the limits of the jurisdiction of the courts and developments in the family law area have had a tremendous impact on the amount and complexity of business coming before the courts. The courts system has not been able to keep up with this growth in the amount of cases and appeals. That state of affairs needs to be turned around urgently and that is what I am aiming to achieve with this Bill and with further proposals for reforms which I will also outline.
I was faced with two options on taking office when considering my priorities for legislative reform in the courts and judicial area. I could keep the substance of the reforms contained in the 1994 Bill on track or I could pause to reflect on the direction those reforms should take. I took the latter course and decided to take stock. The programme, A Government of Renewal, contained two key proposals that would have a major impact on the planned reforms. The first was to review the 1994 Bill to ensure in particular that it contained the measures that would best address the problem of delays in all the courts and the second related to a court commission.
Initiatives in these areas had been proposed in the 1994 Bill. A new court of appeal was to have tackled the accumulation of appeals awaiting hearing by the Supreme Court. An advisory commission on the courts was to have been set up. It is a fair indication of the extent of reassessment of the 1994 Bill that the present Bill, together with my proposals for the longer-term development of the courts system, differs markedly from what was proposed in these key areas in the 1994 Bill.
I have adopted a three-pointed approach to reforming the courts service; first, to tackle immediately the problem of delays in the courts by providing in this Bill for 17 more judges; secondly, to implement in this Bill several other changes in courts administration and procedure that will also reduce delays and enhance the efficiency of the courts service; and third, to develop a longer-term approach to improving our courts system.
On this last point, I will be taking the opportunity to refer in a few moments to the Working Group on the Courts Commission which I recently set up. It is clear that the pressing matter of delays in the system must be addressed with immediate effect. This Bill will do that, but it is vital that we address the issue now of what kind of court service we will have in five, ten or 15 years from now. We cannot lose sight of that.
The Courts and Court Officers Bill, 1995 will tackle the serious problem of delays in the hearing of actions and appeals at all levels of the court system. Long delays in having cases resolved mean that the system of justice is letting down many litigants, victims of crime and to some extent the community as a whole. Delays in the courts can also adversely affect the smooth running of the business and commercial sector. This I believe could undermine public confidence in the system of justice. It is the recognition that justice delayed is justice denied that informs my overall approach to tackling the problems in the courts system. I see access to the law and recourse to the courts as an important individual right. The current arrears before the courts means that this right is impeded. I am satisfied that this Bill will facilitate the exercise of that right.
Let me emphasise that it is not simply a once-off clearing of arrears of cases and appeals that is at issue here. It is also a question of equipping the courts with the organisational systems and resources to dispose of their workload on an ongoing basis once the arrears of cases and appeals before the courts are under control. I am confident that this Bill will achieve that.
The 1994 Bill proposed the setting up of a court of appeal comprising of three additional High Court judges to deal mainly with appeals against decisions of the High Court in personal injuries cases and to relieve the problem of delays in hearing appeals in the Supreme Court. Having reviewed that proposal. I have concluded that the proposed court of appeal would fall considerably short of the target of clearing the arrears of appeals before the Supreme Court. I was not satisfied that what would have been an appeal court hearing appeals predominantly from decisions in personal injuries cases could be justified, even though it was also to have incorporated the jurisdiction of the Court of Criminal Appeal. I reached this conclusion following consultation with the senior Judiciary and others. I was not convinced that the proportion of personal injury appeals that come to a hearing and the nature of those appeals would have generated sufficient business to keep the proposed court of appeal fully occupied. There was also the risk, I believed, that the proposed court of appeal would generate a further tier of appeals from that court to the Supreme Court. Such a development would defeat the purpose of the proposed court and would be highly inefficient as it would lead to further delays in the system and greater costs. I am not going down that road.
The real pressure on the Supreme Court comes from the very considerable increase in the length and complexity of appeals other than personal injuries appeals. That same factor equally applies in relation to civil cases in the High Court. In the Supreme Court, a further factor is that the statutory maximum number of judges of the Supreme Court has remained static at five, including the Chief Justice, for several decades while the number of judges of the High Court increased at various times over that period from six to the current maximum of 17. There has therefore been a great increase in the volume of decisions that can be appealed to the Supreme Court without a corresponding adjustment in the Supreme Court to cope with that increase. Appeals relating to the Constitution or complex appeals against decisions in major commercial law cases often require immediate attention. We have seen many of these in recent years. The necessary prioritising of business results in other appeals, especially personal injury appeals, being put back. It is unfair to the individual litigant to have to wait so long for an outcome to his or her appeal. We must enable the Supreme Court to make inroads on those arrears.
I have decided in section 6 to provide for an increase of three in the number of Supreme Court judges, bringing the number to seven judges, in addition to the Chief Justice. Section 7 provides for a major development in the structure of the Supreme Court by enabling it to sit in two divisions at the same time, thus allowing two appeals to be heard simultaneously. This will enable the Supreme Court to sit in divisions of three judges for most appeals or in two divisions of three and five judges where a court of at least five judges is required. Section 7 stipulates that a court of not less than five judges should deal with matters arising under Article 12 and 26 of the Constitution which refer respectively to the President and to the reference of Bills to the Supreme Court, or a question of the validity of any law having regard to the provisions of the Constitution. Under section 7 of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act, 1961 such matters must be heard by five Supreme Court judges. By virtue of section 7 of the Bill, therefore, the Chief Justice may determine that the full court may sit in such cases. It is envisaged that the full court will sit only on rare occasions. I am convinced that enabling the Supreme Court to hear more than one case at the same time is the most effective way of tackling the arrears of appeals at Supreme Court level and enabling the court to deal with the increasing number and complexity of appeals which must be heard.
I am advised that the development of a divisional Supreme Court sitting at the same time is consistent with constitutional requirements. It represents a very significant change in the structure and composition of the Supreme Court, but our Constitution, in Article 36, envisages such developments as it permits the regulation in accordance with law of the constitution and organisation of the courts. Section 8, which allows the Chief Justice to allocate the business of the court, will help to promote consistent decisions in the vitally important areas of the law bearing on the Constitution. I am assured in any event that a decision of a court — be it a court of three judges or more — would be the decision of the Supreme Court, final and conclusive in all cases as is required under Article 34.6 of the Constitution, and, therefore, not open to challenge.
A further development affecting the Supreme Court is contained in section 2 (1) of the Bill. This section enables the Government by order, following consultation with the Chief Justice and the President of the High Court, to abolish the Court of Criminal Appeal and to transfer its jurisdiction to the Supreme Court. It is my intention that such an order will be made when the arrears of civil appeals in the Supreme Court are brought under control. At that point, I would expect the Supreme Court to have sufficient capacity to allow it to take over the work of the Court of Criminal Appeal.
Sections 9, 10 and 11 increase the statutory maximum number of judges from 16 to 18 in the High Court, from 17 to 24 in the Circuit Court and from 45 to 50 in the District Court, not including the Presidents of those courts. This is an overall increase of 14 judges in these courts. That represents a considerable commitment on the part of this Government to tackling the backlog of cases and appeals before these courts.
The accumulation of civil business including family law business in the Circuit Court is causing problems for many people. I am acutely aware of this. The provision for an additional seven judges in the Circuit Court is a considerable investment but I am confident this will produce a very worthwhile return to the public. There are two important factors that have brought about the current accumulation of cases in the Circuit Court.
First, the Courts Act, 1991, increased the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court from £15,000 to £30,000 which resulted in a major increase in the volume of civil business for hearing in the court. It appears that this increase in court business is permanent and will probably grow. Civil cases before the Circuit Court are now more numerous, more complex and more time consuming than before. The second factor at Circuit Court level is the huge increase in family law business. The Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act, 1989, transferred the majority of family law business in the courts to the Circuit Court. This, and the fact that more and more people are having recourse to the court in these proceedings has led to a dramatic increase in the volume of family law business in the Circuit Court.
Delays in the hearing of family law business in a number of Circuit Court venues lead to a significant human cost not only to the parties involved but also to their families. These developments were not matched in terms of the judicial resources available to the Circuit Court in recent years. Additional judges in the Circuit Court are badly needed to eliminate the present delays there and to deal with the volume of civil and family business in that court.
The Courts Act, 1991, also increased the civil jurisdiction of the District Court to £5,000 which has resulted in an overall increase in civil business in the District Court. The type of family law cases for hearing in the District Court, for example, barring orders and protection orders are such as merit immediate attention or relief. The District Court by its nature is intended to provide local courts where legal matters can be heard quickly and without formal pleadings. The provision for five additional judges in the District Court is necessary accordingly to assist in the hearing of civil, family law and criminal cases.
The appointment of additional judges to the courts is in my view an essential step to turn around the business of the courts and to improve matters in the courts system with immediate effect. I have also got Government approval for the provision of comprehensive administrative back-up for the new judges. I should make it clear however that in no way do I see increasing the statutory number of judges as the only solution to deal with the current problems. This approach will work in conjunction with other reforms contained in this Bill to improve efficiency in the courts.
The Bill provides for an increase of 17 in the number of judges. I expect that the Government will decide to have all of these additional appointments made as soon as possible after the Bill is passed. It may be that when the arrears in the various courts are brought under control over time and if the volume of business before the courts settles down it will not be necessary to fill every future vacancy that may arise after that. However, that is something which will only become clear with the passage of time.
Looking towards the longer-term development of the courts service, I have decided to institute a full re-appraisal of the entire existing courts system. With that in mind, I got Government approval last summer for the setting up of a Working Group on a Courts Commission. I set up that group, to be chaired by Mrs. Justice Susan Denham of the Supreme Court, a number of weeks ago. I made the point at that time that this initiative provides an opportunity for a thorough examination of the courts system to ensure that it is meeting the needs of today's society. This development, I have no doubt, will make a vital contribution to the modernising of our courts system. The group is very broadly representative and I consider that to be essential — we must have the views and be in a position to draw on the experience of the Judiciary, the legal professions and the relevant Government Departments as well as other types of experience such as that of Women's Aid.
I have asked the working group to review the operation and financing of the courts system with particular regard to the quality of service provided to the public. In my view that should be the bottom line for the development of the service. In the light of that, I have asked the group to consider the matter of the establishment of a commission on the management of the courts as an independent and permanent body with financial and management autonomy in line with the commitment to that effect in the Government of Renewal Programme.
I have decided that this is a better approach than adopting the advisory model for a courts commission which was a feature of the 1994 Bill. This Government has taken the view that working towards an independent body responsible to the Government for the management of the courts service would be a more effective and efficient approach. That strategy, however, needs to be carefully developed in the forum of the working group. The working group will be well placed to address all of the many and varied issues that I have no doubt will arise.
This major re-appraisal of the organisation and structure of the courts is long overdue. It is a development which I am confident, will ensure for the future that our courts system will be able to keep pace with ever-increasing and changing demands on it. We need a courts service that maximises the use of resources while providing us with a modern and efficient system for the administration of justice.
Part IV of the Bill deals with judicial appointments and provides for the setting up of a Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. This will introduce an important new dimension to the procedure for judicial appointment. Deputies will be aware that the 1994 Bill also provided for the setting up of a Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, and I will be dealing in a moment with a number of important differences between the board as proposed and the one that will be set up under the terms of the present Bill.
First let me put these new arrangements in some perspective. The procedure for appointing judges is governed by the Constitution. Article 35 provides that the judges of the Supreme Court, the High Court and all other courts shall be appointed by the President. That power is exercisable and performable on the advice of the Government. That fundamental arrangement is of course unaffected by this Bill. I need hardly say that our Judiciary is widely respected for its integrity, fairness and independence. The focus of these measures is, however, on the Government's role in the process. Because of the Government's central role in the appointment of judges, there should be guarantees to ensure that procedures to appoint judges are not only appropriate but are seen to be appropriate.
The Bill introduces a new initial stage in the procedures whereby the advisory board will short-list and recommend barristers and solicitors to the Government for appointment to judicial office by the President. The scope of this provision as defined in section 12 is similar to that proposed in the 1994 Bill in that new arrangements will not cover appointments to Chief Justice or as President of the other courts. I think this is a very prudent exclusion because I know that the Government, in considering appointments to these leading judicial posts will want to promote continuity in the courts system. That is why section 23 provides that the Government when considering those appointments, shall have to first have regard to the suitability of serving judges of those courts. Section 17 further defines the scope of the new procedures. That section provides, in effect, that where the Government proposes to advise the President to appoint a serving judge to a higher court, the procedures of the board shall not apply. In other words, the new appointments procedures will apply to the first appointment of a barrister or a solicitor as a judge.
I felt that the composition of the board provided for in the 1994 Bill was not sufficiently representative — in fact there was no provision for any representative other than the Judiciry or of the legal professions. The main change I am introducing in section 13 is that I will have the right to nominate three persons to the board. This will allow me to introduce a wide range of experience into the process. I am thinking of nominees with commercial, administrative and consumer backgrounds — in other words those who can represent people who rely on the courts on a daily basis. Representatives of victims of crime, women's groups and perhaps other bodies could bring an invaluable new perspective to the consideration of the suitability of candidates for judicial appointment. Of course all of those interests could not be accommodated in my first round of nominees but the provision for three year renewable terms of appointment allows the option of introducing a broad range of influence over a longer period of time.
A further change in the composition of the board is that the Attorney General of the day will be a member. In my view, the Attorney General of the day is uniquely suitable, with his or her knowledge of the legal profession, to be a member of the board. Under section 18, the board will be able to recommend the Attorney General for a judicial appointment. However, when the board is considering the Attorney for appointment, he or she will be required to withdraw from the deliberations of the board.
Section 16 provides for the submission by the board of the names of all persons who have been considered by the board for appointment, with the board recommending at least ten persons. Requiring the board to recommend only three to five names as was proposed in the 1994 Bill would restrict unduly the Government's discretion in the matter of judicial appointments which it has by virtue of the constitutional arrangements relating to this matter. For this reason the board should be required to recommend a reasonable number of names. I have considered this carefully and I am satisfied that at least ten names is the right formula.
The Bill provides that where fewer than ten persons wish to be considered for appointment or where the board is unable to recommend ten persons, the board may recommend a lesser number of names for appointment. Where more than one vacancy arises the board will be required to submit at least ten names for each vacancy unless the Minister specifies otherwise. The intention here is to avoid imposing an obligation on the board to produce a very large number of recommendations which could prove to be difficult, in the event of a number of vacancies arising in the same court.
The recommendations of the Advisory Board will not be binding on the Government. That is appropriate, mindful of the constitutional position relating to judicial appointments. It is nevertheless expressly provided in section 16, that the Government shall first have regard to the names recommended by the board in advising the President on the appointment of a judge. That is a significant direction to Government and one that highlights the pivotal role I expect the new board to have. To ensure that the input of the board is on the public record, section 16 also requires that the notice of appointment published in the Iris Oifigiúil shall indicate when a judge has been appointed on the recommendation of the board.
The 1994 Bill set out a committee system for the nomination of suitable persons for judicial appointment. I prefer to leave it to the board members as is provided in section 14 to decide for themselves if they want to delegate tasks to sub-committees. That may well be a practical and workable arrangement to decide recommendations at the different levels of the court structure.
Section 48 will enable me to provide funds for judicial training courses arranged by the Judiciary. The provision of suitable courses is necessary to enable judges to keep up-to-date with developments in a range of legal and other areas. I know that the senior Judiciary have already taken initiatives in this area and funding has already been provided for seminars. I am particularly pleased by an initiative taken by the Chief Justice who is setting up a Judicial Studies Institute which will have responsibility both for induction courses for newly-appointed judges and continuing courses of education and training for members of the Judiciary.
Also on the subject of judicial training, under section 19, persons wishing to be considered for judicial appointment by the Advisory Board must agree to take training courses if appointed and if so required by the Chief Justice or President of the Court to which they are appointed. This is a better approach than that proposed in the 1994 Bill whereby the Minister would make regulations requiring training for candidates aspiring to judicial appointment. I am sure that would be unworkable, not least because it would discourage well-qualified persons from seeking judicial appointment as they would be required to undertake courses without any guarantee of being appointed.
Aside from increasing the number of judges, this Bill contained several measures to improve efficiency in the interests of users of the courts. I will explain the most significant of these. Section 25 will increase the jurisdiction of the Master of the High Court to enable the Master to deal with a range of applications that at present must be dealt with by judges in the High Court. This will ensure that the fullest possible use is made of the Office of the Master of the High Court in the judicial area. This new business will be allocated to the Master of the High Court for hearing by the President of the High Court. There are of necessity a number of matters that the Master will not be empowered to hear, including criminal proceedings, and these are set out in section 25. This section also provides that under Rules of Court, additional powers to deal with pre-trial procedures may be conferred on the Master. That would mean that the Master of the High Court would, under such rules, have jurisdiction to simplify and narrow in so far as possible all the issues which may arise in an action. When the Master has disposed of pre-trial issues, the action would then be submitted to court. This will help to keep hearings as short as possible. The purpose of the provision is to release High Court judges from the time spent on various applications and other matters preliminary to hearing the central arguments in a case and to reduce legal costs. Section 23 provides for the swearing in of the Master of the High Court in like manner as a judge. This is appropriate as the Master will be empowered to exercise similar powers to a judge of the High Court in certain circumstances.
Section 33 confers additional powers on county registrars. A county registrar is assigned to each Circuit Court and his or her function is the control and management of the business of that Circuit Court office. The Bill confers new powers on county registrars which are set out in the Second Schedule to the Bill. As with the provisions relating to the Master of the High Court, this measure will maximise the potential of the offices of county registrars. These additional powers correspond to those which are currently exercised by the Master of the High Court in respect of the High Court. The effect of this proposal is that county registrars will be empowered to deal with many motions that judges of the Circuit Court are at present required to hear. County registrars will, for example, be able to deal with motions to remit actions to the High Court, notices for discovery and motions to join a third party. I am satisfied that this will effect considerable savings of court time, will help to reduce delays at Circuit Court level and should reduce legal costs. Section 33 also provides that appeals from decisions of the county registrars shall be to the Circuit Court.
Section 45 gives the Superior Courts and Circuit Court Rules Committees the power to make rules requiring parties in High and Circuit Court personal injuries actions to disclose, without having to apply to court, the reports of experts, such as doctors, whom it is intended to call to give evidence. This is aimed at speeding up the hearing of actions and should help to reduce legal costs for litigants.
Currently, appeals in civil cases from decisions of the Circuit Court outside Dublin cannot be heard by the High Court sitting in Dublin. Section 42 will allow such appeals to be heard in Dublin where the parties consent to that or by the direction of the High Court where the interests of justice require it. This will allow appeals to the High Court to be dealt with more efficiently.
Section 41 will improve efficiency in the hearing of appeals by the High Court against decisions of the Circuit Court sitting outside Dublin. The present requirements are very inflexible. For example, the half-yearly sittings of the High Court on circuit must be held simultaneously and the High Court cannot sit in more than one appeal town in any one of the High Court circuits save in exceptional circumstances. These arrangements impede efficiency and the Bill removes those requirements.
I have been concerned for some time about the ease with which criminal trials, often of very serious offences, can be switched for hearing from the Circuit Court sitting outside Dublin to the Dublin Circuit Court. This exacerbates the problem of delay in the Dublin Circuit Court and can be a costly exercise from the point of view of bringing gardaí and witnesses to the Dublin Circuit Court. Under the Courts Act, 1981, once the required notice is given, an application to transfer a trial to the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court is automatically granted. I do not accept that transfers in all these cases can be justified. There may well be legitimate grounds in certain circumstances to grant an accused a trial before a jury from a region other than, say, where the accused lives. Section 31 provides that an application to transfer the trial to Dublin will only be granted to the Court if the judge is satisfied that it would be manifestly unjust not to do so.
The Bill also rationalises the territorial jurisdiction of judges of the District Court. At present, an accused before the District Court may only be tried in the District Court district where he or she lives or was arrested or where the offence was committed. This can give rise to inefficiencies and unnecessary costs. Section 40 will allow for much greater flexibility in the hearing of criminal cases by District Court judges. It will allow for the trial of an offence and the processing of other matters by any District Court judge in any District Court district in certain circumstances.
A number of the measures in the Bill will have the effect of reducing legal costs by increasing efficiency and speeding up business in the courts. However, I am acutely conscious of the need for an effective control mechanism in relation to legal costs when costs are in dispute. The settling of disputed legal cost bills is the function of the Taxing Masters of the High Court. Significant deficiencies in the powers of the Taxing Masters have been identified following a number of court decisions. Section 27 will give much-needed additional powers to the Taxing Masters of the High Court, and to county registrars in the Circuit Court, to evaluate solicitors' and counsels' fees and fees charged by expert witnesses in actions and to allow or disallow such fees. These powers will also be available to the Taxing Masters in relation to solicitor and client bills of costs. I am confident that this move will help to restore effective control over legal costs where these costs have not been agreed.
Section 50 will confer on the Master of the High Court and other court officers the discretion that only judges currently have to order the payment of interest on awards. The Bill will ensure that a plaintiff who seeks an award of interest will not have to apply separately to a judge at additional cost.
Under section 46 of the Bill, I will have a new residual power to make party and party costs rules. These costs are paid by an unsuccessful litigant to a successful litigant. This power could be used where a court's rules-making body fails to make costs rules or where costs rules are submitted to me which I consider to be excessive.
Section 36 gives the President of the District Court the power, currently vested in the Minister for Justice, to temporarily assign judges of the District Court. This is consistent with the position in the Circuit Court whereby the President of that court exercises the power to temporarily assign Circuit Court judges. At present all of the practical arrangements relating to the temporary assignment of District Court judges are made by the President and I am satisfied that it would be more efficient to devolve my assigning authority in respect of these assignments to the President.
Under the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act, 1961, the Minister for Justice, after consultation with the President of the District Court, determines the number of judges to be permanently assigned by the Government to the Dublin Metropolitan District. At present, the Government cannot permanently assign more than one judge to any other district. The effect of section 39 is to enable me to determine that two or more judges may be assigned to any District Court district. The intention here is to provide for the permanent assignment of a second or subsequent judge to any District Court district where the workload of the court warrants this.
I would like to mention briefly some important changes relating to the legal profession and the Judiciary. Under the Bill solicitors will, for the first time, be made eligible for appointment as Circuit Court judges. At present only barristers are eligible for appointment to the Circuit Court. This measure widens appreciably the pool of talent from which the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board can draw when making recommendations for appointment to the Circuit Court. The former Fair Trade Commission in its 1990 Report on the Legal Profession found that experience of court practice and procedure as well as of the law is probably more important than advocacy skills. I feel that experience of advocacy is one important factor in determining whether a person is suitable for appointment as a judge but I am not convinced that it should be the primary factor. I am well satisfied that the solicitor's profession as a body possesses the kinds of attributes appropriate to these appointments. Sections 28 to 30 of the Bill makes provision for this matter.
Section 47 provides for a retirement age of 70 years for newly-appointed judges to the Supreme and High Courts. The current retirement age for judges appointed to these courts is 72 years. Circuit Court judges retire at 70. In the District Court, a judge can seek a retirement age extension from 65 to 70. This new provision for Supreme and High Court judges will, over time, effectively bring about uniformity of retirement ages for judges of all courts. The 70 years retirement age will not apply to judges who hold office at the time the provisions come into effect, including judges who are subsequently appointed from a lower court to the Supreme or High Court.
Section 49 provides that the wearing of wigs in court by barristers and solicitors will be prohibited under provisions of the Bill. The wearing of wigs by barristers and solicitors in family law proceedings and in the examination of a witness by way of television link in certain proceedings including a sexual offence is already prohibited by statute. The purpose of that reform was to ensure that these proceedings were more informal and I am more than satisfied with the effect of those changes.
Section 43 of the Bill provides for an amendment to the law in relation to qualification for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court and the High Court. The Bill addresses an anomaly under the existing law. At present, 12 years practice as a barrister is required to qualify for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court and High Court. Service as a judge of the Circuit Court counts as practice as a barrister. However, service as a judge of the European Court of Justice, the Court of First Instance attached to that court or as an Advocate-General of the Court of Justice does not make up practice as a barrister. Section 43 deems such service to be practice at the Bar for the purpose of qualifying a person for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court and High Courts. A similar provision was included in the 1994 Bill.
I have already dealt with the measures contained in the Bill to speed up the handling of criminal trials in the courts. I want to take the opportunity to expand briefly on my further legislative proposals for tackling crime.
The Government recently approved the general scheme of a Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill and this measure is now with the parliamentary draftsman for drafting as a matter of priority. The Bill will provide for increased powers of detention in drug trafficking cases; the issue of search warrants by Garda superintendents in certain circumstances in drugs cases; and the involvement of customs officers in questioning of suspects detained by the Garda. I have also requested my Department to review the law in relation to renewal of licences of premises where the sale and-or misuse of drugs is suspected including an examination of systems of control for unlicensed premises where drug sale and-or abuse is suspected. This review is well under way.
A Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will further improve efficiency in the courts particularly by taking steps to reduce the amount of time which gardaí have to spend in court through, for example, allowing certain evidence to be given by way of certificate.
A new Criminal Law Bill will place the power of arrest on a modern statutory basis. A Non-Fatal Offences Against the Persons Bill will involve the repeal of much of the Offences Against the Persons Act, 1861 and will consolidate and update our law in this area. The Juvenile Justice (Children) Bill will be a major reforming measure in dealing with the area of juvenile crime. A Fraud Offences Bill will amend and update the law on fraud offences with reference to recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission and the Government Advisory Committee on Fraud.
These are all measures on which a considerable amount of work has been completed in my Department and I mention them briefly in the context of assuring the House that the measure before it today should not be seen in isolation and that I have a major programme of criminal law reform well under way. We have been working hard with our European collegues in developing anti-crime measures and initiatives and this work will be intensified, with particular emphasis on the drugs front during our EU Presidency next year.
The operation of the entire legal system can have a very profound and lasting effect on the lives of individuals in the community. Central to the success of that system is the delivery of justice. That is why an efficient courts system is so crucial. What I am most concerned with is how that system performs as a service — that is the issue of real importance to the individual member of the public. I am confident that this Bill will set the courts service on course to provide a greatly enhanced service for the future. I am also satisfied that this progress can be further underpinned by my proposals for the further development of the courts system I have outlined today.
I look forward to hearing the views of the Deputies today. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, who did a great deal of work in preparing a similar Bill in 1994. It did not reach the debating stage, but if it had I am confident she would have considered a number of the changes I made in this Bill. I am sure some of her party colleagues who are members of the legal profession would have indicated that some of these changes were necessary. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the House for allowing me extra time.