Courts and Court Officers Bill, 1995: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

I welcome this Bill and congratulate the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, on its introduction. It will do for the courts system what the Ethics in Public Office Act will do for the Legislature. It will remove from the Judiciary, whose perceived independence and credibility has been undermined, the whiff of a cosy cartel, a term in popular usage in recent months, sometimes undeservedly. It will ensure that litigants, defendants, witnesses and the community at large are not forced to wait for months or years before cases come before the courts. It will further ensure that the distance between citizens and the Judiciary which in the past has been maintained by pomp, circumstance and the old boys' club is minimised.

The Bill has two central planks — a radical overhaul of the way judges are appointed and a series of procedural changes designed to reduce delays in the system. The establishment of a judicial appointments advisory board is long overdue. The necessity for such a board was highlighted last year during the bizarre events surrounding the appointment and subsequent resignation of the former Attorney General, Mr. Harry Whelehan, as President of the High Court. Everyone realises that that episode could have been handled much better. If there had been a proper system in place to advise the Government and Opposition on how to handle such matters events could have turned out differently.

The majority of judges perform what are often arduous duties fairly and honestly and with due regard to the wider implications of their judgments. On the question of facilities, many judges carry out their duties under atrocious conditions. I hope that this matter is being addressed.

There is growing public disquiet regarding the operation of the legal system. This is based more on the perception than the reality, but it must be allayed nevertheless. Overwhelmingly male, elderly judges have been perceived as handing down widely differing sentences. I have never been in the business of criticising judges or sentences handed down by them as it is grossly unfair to do so. In the main they are dealing with problems of which they have no life experience. How can we, therefore, criticise them for dealing with social behaviour that has only come to light in the past five to ten years in a manner which we find unacceptable? We should be very careful of what we say.

The logjam in the courts system has given meaning to the old adage "justice delayed is justice denied". The Whelehan fiasco was the icing on an already crumbling cake. As a proper system had not been put in place to allow us deal with such matters in a more reasonable and cohesive fashion, this was an event waiting to happen. It was a matter of timing, it could have happened to any Government.

The judicial appointments advisory board will ensure that in future judges will be appointed on the basis of their qualifications and track record. I have no doubt that that was the position in the past, but the fact that they had political affiliations was also a factor. In addition, as solicitors and barristers will be eligible for appointment the judicial base will be broadened. This should ensure that those with experience of the day-to-day operation of the legal system are eligible for appointment to the Bench. It will be refreshing to see a family law solicitor or a solicitor who has distinguished himself or herself in the legal aid field sitting on the Bench as increasingly that is the area of law we will be dealing with.

Last week's referendum should tell us this more than anything else. While I welcome the establishment of the judiciial appointments advisory board, I am concerned about two omissions. I would like clarification on the qualifications needed by the three members of the board to be appointed by the Minister and I would like a provision constraining the Government to accept the board's advice on appointments except in clearly exceptional cases. It is difficult to set up an advisory board and not be obliged to accept its advice. The advisory board is a major step forward. I urge the Minister to go an extra step and close any loopholes.

The proposed retirement ages for judges are 70 and 72 years. I do not subscribe to the view that anyone over 60 years of age is automatically past it. I will be 60 years old in the near future and I would like to think that I would be treated in a considerate way. I am concerned that there appears to be no limit regarding the type of individual which can serve on the Bench and this disturbs me far more. Rather than imposing a mandatory retirement age, thereby excluding people who may bring a wealth of life's experience to the Bench, we should consider imposing a five or ten year service limit. I would not be rigid on this time span but this would be a better way of dealing with the issue, depending on when a person is appointed. This would ensure a regular infusion of new blood to the Judiciary and would also increase the chance of achieving a gender balance. The turnover would ensure this because there are far more women becoming solicitors and about to come up through the ranks.

The Judiciary has often in the past appeared remote to ordinary citizens and this was largely due to some of the archaic traditions regarding costume, wigs, form of address and the like. I welcome section 49 which eliminated some of the paraphernalia which has in the past placed a distance between the person in the dock, and indeed ordinary witnesses, and members of the Judiciary.

One of the central planks of the Bill is an increase in the numbers appointed to the lower courts. The increase in the volume of cases coming before the courts has led to an unacceptable backlog whereby an individual may wait for months or years before their case comes to trial. This is unacceptable and has caused hardship to those involved in those cases as well as to the community at large. There will be widespread public welcome for measures designed to reduce delays.

The right of appeal is central to our concept of justice and I must admit to some disquiet at the decision not to establish a court of appeal which has been mooted for some years. The powers of the court of criminal appeal will, under this Bill, be vested in the Supreme Court.

I appreciate the Minister's reservations as to the efficiency of the court of appeal and her efforts to ensure that the Supreme Court can cope with the increased workload. However, I urge that the changed arrangements for sittings of the Supreme Court and the numbers of judges hearing particular cases should be closely monitored so that the impact of the changes can be fully assessed. If this does not work we should not be afraid to say something extra is needed or to change what is not working. In the past there has been a reluctance to say publicly that mistakes were made or that something did not work. This created a system which we all knew was inefficient and ineffective but we continued on, despite the fact that intelligent men and women could see it was not working. New legislation and processes should be monitored and if they do not work they should be changed. This is a simple concept which works in other areas.

When the provisions of this Bill are implemented they will have a profound and far reaching impact on the way justice is administered. The Minister has succeeded in what was nearly an impossible task. She has designed legislation which will bring the Judiciary, possibly kicking and screaming, into the tail end of the 20th century without forfeiting any of the safeguards which protect defendants and society in general.

This Bill's predecessor made its appearance about this time last year. We are now past the first anniversary of the date we first debated the Courts and Courts Officers Bill, 1994. I have examined the 1995 Bill and while it contains a number of changes from its predecessor, the extent of the changes does not justify a year's delay in reintroducing the legislation. The House will recall that this time last year the introduction of legislation of this type was deemed to be of urgent necessity by the Labour Party and the future of the then Government depended on it. However, with the formation of the new Government the urgency seems to have evaporated.

The 12-month delay has not been wasted. It has been used by the Government to appoint their supporters to every conceivable vacancy on the Bench. Nobody can gainsay this. I ask the Minister for an assurance that the proposed judicial appointments board — I have serious doubts as to its value — will be appointed immediately on the passing of the Bill and that no further judicial appointments will take place until the board is in place.

Our legal system is a central part of our democracy and impacts profoundly on the lives of citizens. It has not kept pace with social and economic changes. This has led to unconscionable delays, blatant inefficiencies and spiralling costs which have caused widespread disillusionment throughout society. As I said in another context recently, it is not just people who come directly in contact with the legal system who are disillusioned but all those who make contact with them. This disillusionment with the courts and legal system has spread throughout society like the Black Death in the 14th century.

While this Bill has a number of improvements on its predecessor, it also contains a number of disimprovements. Like its predecessor it has two central purposes. These is a substantial reduction in political patronage in judicial appointments and the introduction of a speedier, cheaper and more efficient system of administration of justice. This Bill, in my view, fails lamentably. While I welcome the improvements it contains, they are for the most part tokenist and involve the merest tinkering at the edges. Nobody can argue that the Bill is revolutionary. It contains no radical reforms and will not shake the State to its foundations. When the Bill is implemented, the system will trundle on as before with perhaps a slight reduction in costs, although we should not underestimate the ingenuity of the legal profession in this regard. There may be more efficiency due to some of the changes but the system will not change to any dramatic extent.

One of the central stated objectives of the Bill is substantially to reduce political patronage in judicial appointments. The original Bill also had this as its central objective but it went about it in a different manner. Under the original proposals the appointments board would submit a short list to the Minister for consideration. The list was not to exceed five names but the board could submit as few as three names. Under the proposal before us, the board has to submit not fewer than ten names. There is no maximum number; the board can submit as many names as it likes.

The proposals with regard to the membership of the judicial appointments board have changed dramatically. Everybody knows its membership under the 1994 Bill. Under the new provisions the President of the Law Reform Commission is judged no longer to be worthy of membership of the board. He is being replaced by four new appointees, one of whom is the Attorney General. The other three are to be nominated by the Minister and there are no guidelines as to the qualifications they are to have. What possible reason can be advanced for these changes? It is inappropriate that the Attorney General should be a member. In future the Attorney General will advise the Government on judicial appointments in his two capacities, as a member of the board and as chief law officer of the State and legal adviser to the Government. That is inappropriate and it would be better if the Attorney General was not appointed to the board.

There is a second consideration in this regard. Very often an Attorney General of an outgoing Government will tell the Taoiseach he is available for appointment as a superior court judge, and he is subsequently appointed. If the Attorney General is a member of the Judicial Appointments Board which considers every other appointment made, it would be very difficult to turn him down. The Bill provides that the Attorney General must step aside when the board is considering his appointment, but he is still a member of the board. If the board turns down an application by the Attorney General for a vacancy in the High Court or Supreme Court will he return to the board to consider future appointments or will he permanently exclude himself from the board in view of the fact that his name is down for all future appointments? In reality that will not happen. The Attorney General will have the inside track on the basis that he is a member of the board. The legislative requirement that he step aside from the meeting of the board which will consider his application is only a fig leaf and would mean nothing in practice.

The Bill gives power to the Minister to appoint three people to the board, but there is no mention of their qualifications. Anybody could be appointed. A Minister could appoint three party hacks simply because of their service to the party in power. To allow a Minister to appoint such people to a board that is supposed to filter appointments to judicial office is an abuse.

During debate on the earlier legislation concern was expressed that the previous board was over-laden with members of the Judiciary, the Judiciary would effectively recommend people for appointment as future judges and the whole system would become a self-perpetuating élite. It was suggested that membership of the board should be extended but what people had in mind — I have discussed this matter with them — was that national organisations such as IBEC, the trade unions and people working with victims of violence should be entitled to membership of the board and that those organisations would nominate their appointees. It was not intended that the Attorney General and three Government appointees be included on a board of ten people. That provision ensures that 40 per cent of the board consists of a bloc directly representing and controlled by the Government. As Deputies are aware, 40 per cent is sufficient representation to control any major public company. I could mention one or two public companies floated on the stock market, the major players of which have less than 40 per cent of the shareholding in the company. In this case the Government will have 40 per cent control over the Judicial Appointments Board.

There are a number of other radical changes from the original proposal. In the original Bill under the filtering system not fewer than three and not more than five people whom the board considered suitable for appointment would go forward to the Government. Under this legislation every time a judicial vacancy arises all the names of people who indicate their intention to apply will go forward to the Minister and not fewer than ten will be recommended as suitable for appointment — there is no maximum figure. The Minister said last night that she has pages of names and addresses of potential applicants for judicial positions, who no doubt came to her attention through political representation, or perhaps they wrote to her directly. Under this legislation the Judicial Appointments Board will have even more pages of potential applicants, and that number will increase when word gets around that there is a vacancy because all those names must go to the Minister.

The second list, that of people considered suitable for the vacancy, will consist of not fewer than ten people, but there is no maximum number. The Government bloc may insist on including as many names as it wishes — the legislation is designed to encourage as many names as possible to be put forward. It will be like a karaoke session, everybody will have a chance to become involved. When the board has considered a number of names which it deems suitable, one member may suggest another person whom he believes is suitable and his name will go on the list. In many cases the second list will be as long as the first, so why bother making out a second list? As the second list increases, the incentive to have a second list will decrease.

The Judicial Appointments Board will be like a post box. The position will be similar to that of local authorities in filtering applications for national lottery grants. They simply acted as a post box in that if a form was filled in properly it was referred to the Department of the Environment. That is precisely what will happen with the new Judicial Appointments Board. If the Government wishes to appoint a particular person — I am sure membership of the Government bloc will be well aware of whom the Minister wishes to be appointed — the Government bloc may virtually insist the name is put forward.

If that procedure does not effectively bypass the so-called filtering system, there is one remaining loophole which will ensure the Government has total control. If the Government wishes to appoint a person who has not indicated to the Judicial Appointments Board that they wish to be considered, section 14 (2) (d) provides that the person may be invited to apply for the vacancy. The system is, therefore, foolproof from the Government's point of view. As if that was not sufficient to bypass any filtering system available to the Judicial Appointments Board, the Minister is not bound to accept any one of the ten plus names recommended.

There is an argument that it is not constitutional to insist that the Government confines itself to recommending one of the names put forward by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. I have studied the matter and taken advice on it. I do not agree it is unconstitutional and the Minister will probably say it is not unconstitutional I would like to hear the Attorney General's advice on this matter and to know the basis for that advice. I will accept his advice despite the fact that he has got it wrong so many times in the past.

At present, a committee is considering changes in the Constitution. The Taoiseach said in this House and I agree with him, that the brief of that committee is to design a Constitution fit for a modern Ireland of the 1990s. If the Attorney General's advice is that there is a constitutional prohibition on removing the patronage leading to judicial appointments from politicians, that is one of the first things to which the constitutional review committee should turn its attention.

There are other oddities in the section relating to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. For example, in section 14 (2) (c) the board can "consult persons concerning the suitability of applicants to the Board". When one tries to cover up what one is doing by pretending to introduce some transparency into judicial appointments, one is bound to make mistakes. This is part of the illusion that the board will have widespread consultation powers and that leads to mistakes. Section 14 (2) (c) is open to abuse. It will allow the Government to block the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board from investigating people who, perhaps, the Minister does not want.

Section 14 (2) allows the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board to initiate an application. There is an injunction in newspaper advertisements for air hostesses that canvassing will disqualify. Yet not only will canvassing not disqualify in this case, but the board is empowered to canvass potential applicants. That is bizarre.

I welcome the provision to abolish the wearing of wigs, but it should be extended to other court apparel. Last year when we produced legislation to abolish wigs, the Bar Council took a vote on the matter. It is appalling that a senior branch of the legal profession should vote to see if it will obey legislation proposed by the Government and passed by this House. It is not within its right to disobey legislation passed in this House. The proposal in the Bill should be more radical and we should look at other court apparel. As Deputy O'Donoghue said, a black gown similar to that worn in the European Court of Justice would be sufficient. If we get rid of wigs, the other paraphernalia will probably remain.

This provision should also extend to judges. If barristers have to work naked from the neck up, I do not understand why judges should not do likewise. What is the position if a barrister, who must now leave aside the horsehair, is subsequently appointed to the Bench? Must he dust it off and put it on again? As Deputy O'Donoghue asked, what sanction will be imposed if someone comes into court wearing a wig? I presume he is in contempt of court. He will rely on someone wearing a wig to hold him in contempt. We will have fun with that section on Committee Stage.

The section which deals with extra powers to superior courts committees does not go far enough, although I welcome its extension to the Circuit Court. It pales into insignificance beside the radical reforms proposed in the United Kingdom. Court procedures must be reformed; this Bill only represents a tinkering at the edges. I also deplore the fact that the right to make the rules is confined to the legal establishment, which will not be too hard on itself.

Although this Bill is progressive it will not resolve all the problems in our court system. I want to discuss delays in the administration of justice and the judicial system, the lack of court facilities and the excessive costs and waste in the court system.

I hope this Bill will go a long way towards resolving the problem of delays in our system. I am sure the old saying, justice delayed is justice denied, will be quoted during this debate. There is no doubt that has been the case for a number of years and perehaps recent Governments have a case to answer in that regard. Some 17 extra judges are being appointed and this will bring the total number of judges to over 100.

There is a developing trend among the people to be more litigious but I hope delays will be eliminated once judges are available to deal with cases.

I accept that in recent years there has been more personal injury litigation. In 1960 there were 250,000 cars on the road; there are now over one million cars. This is a contributory factor to an increased number of accidents. The family law business has also mushroomed as a result of increased marriage breakdown about which we have heard much in recent weeks. Unfortunately, the increase in crime has meant there are more criminal cases. This has led to more pressure on the court system and, therefore, more delays. I hope the appointment of extra judges will improve the situation.

I know a person bringing a claim to the High Court who wishes to have it heard in Cork. Usually it takes approximately one year to prepare a case for trial and then notice of trial is served. However, as of now, that case will probably not be heard for three years from the time the notice of trial is served. That is an outrageous denial of justice to the claimant in that case.

A similar situation arises in the Circuit Court in Cork. Fortunately, the situation is not too bad in the rural areas, but in the city there could be a delay of two or three years in the hearing of a claim because of the pressure of business. Last week I checked the number of cases where civil bills have been issued this year and I discovered that 3,500 civil bills have already been issued in the Cork Circuit Court district. This is separate from criminal cases. That is a fair indication of the extent and volume of the business to be dealt with. The number of judges is insufficient in this regard.

In relation to delays in the court system, someone will take a case under the Constitution which states that justice will be administered in our courts. If a person's case is delayed for such a long period that he or she is denied justice, there is a constitutional imperative that his or her case must be heard. A person with a serious personal injury claim, who subsequently discovered he or she has a serious illness which might be life-threatening, would be entitled, under the Constitution, to bring the case to court. Hopefully the problem of delays will be removed from the system.

In many ways our judicial system is a lottery. There used to be many complaints about juries in civil actions. In most civil actions juries have been replaced by judges who decide the law and the award to be granted. That change has resulted in the introduction of a great degree of unpredictability in the system, which is not helpful. A number of High Court judges are considered progressive or liberal in the sense that they are generous in granting awards for damages, a number are considered conservative and considerably less generous in granting awards for damages and another group fall in between.

If a case where the estimated award for damages is £75,000 is assigned to a judge considered to be conservative, the person may be awarded £50,000, but if the case is assigned to a judge considered to be liberal, the person may be awarded £100,000. Major discrepancies arise in terms of possible awards and difficulties arise on the part of legal advisers who, in many instances in the Four Courts, wait to hear which judge is assigned to a case before they give final advices on whether a claim should be settled. That degree of unpredictability is unfortunate and arises from a range of attitudes which are understandable as judges are human. However, some effort should be made to remove such unpredictability. I appreciate I am treading dangerous constitutional waters as judges must be independent in the exercise of their judicial functions. If a problem is raised, it should be addressed. Because of the degree of unpredictability in granting awards, there is more pressure on the system and delays in settlement.

I recommend to the Chief Justice and the President of the High Court that some thought should be given to dealing with this problem, which is not improving the administration of our justice system. I note that the Chief Justice is setting up a judicial studies institute and perhaps this problem might be discussed and addressed by it.

I wish to refer to another aspect relating to judges, their retirement age. There are many views on the proper retirement age for judges. Under this Bill all new appointees to the Supreme and High and Circuit Courts will be required to retire at the age of 70. At present District Judges retire at 65, but are entitled to annual extensions of their retirement age up to the age of 70. Ultimately this will ensure a standard retirement age of 70 for judges. Two aspects of this matter need to be addressed. It is unfair that District Judges should be placed in a different retirement age category from that of other judges. When they reach the age of 65 why is their retirement age subject to annual review? I think it probably relates to the time District Court Justices were regarded as civil servants and that there was some anachronism in the past which gives rise to this position. It is degrading that they should be singled out to make an annual pilgrimage to determine if they are fully compos mentis or otherwise able to continue on as judges up to the age of 70. If there is a rule for one judge it should apply to all judges, we should not make fish of one and flesh of another. Is it not more important that judges of the superior courts should be fully compos mentis than judges of the District Court, if that is the reason for this requirement? There is a case for the abolition of the provision requiring District Justices who are 65 to make an annual pilgrimage to extend their retirement age to 70.

The Minister has, rightly, aimed at setting a standard retirement age for judges, but 70 is too high and thought should be given to progressively reducing the retirement age in the years ahead. I compliment the Minister on establishing a standard uniform age, but when making appointments she should make provision under the Bill to progressively lower the retirement age over a period of five to 15 years.

Regarding the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, Deputy O'Donoghue in his usual trenchant style talked about the danger of appointing party hacks and similar references were made by Deputy O'Dea. People in glasshouses should not throw stones, but that may be somewhat facetious. I do not want a Sunday Independent hack like John Drennan writing that my speech is in defence of party hacks. If somebody is involved in a political party, at a minimum that should not be a negative factor in appointments. Not enough people are involved in party politics and that applies to all parties. I encourage people in the Bar Library or lawyers throughout the country to become involved in the political system. As a politician, I object to a superficial approach that denigrates people who have been involved in politics by referring to them as party hacks. Politicians should be the last people to denigrate those who give their time to political parties.

Court facilities are not directly referred to in the Bill, but will arise as a result of the passage of the Bill. If more judges are appointed, we will need more court facilities and we must consider the standard of those in place at present. In some cases basic facilities are not available and in others there is not sufficient room, toilet facilities or telephones, basic requirements for this modern age. Another important provision, consultation facilities, are sadly lacking in many courthouses. I know from my experience of practising in the courts that poor consultation facilities may have been acceptable in the past when a case may have been settled for £15,000 or £18,000 in the corner of a court or in the outer hall, but when dealing with sensitive matters in the family law area lack of such facilities is unacceptable. We will need to pay greater attention to the whole question of court facilities in future. In some cases where there are consultation rooms not even a chair is provided. That is not good enough.

There is a need to examine the excessive cost, waste and expense built into the system. The kind of examination I have in mind is a hard-nosed examination by independent persons who would have experience of management, designed to find a more cost effective approach to running our courts system. I say this particularly because I do not want to take from the committee set up under the chairmanship of Mrs. Justice Susan Denham. As I understand it, the role of that committee is to consider having the courts system under an executive agency and how that might best be done in view of the administrative difficulties associated with it. I am thinking of an indepth examination of areas where there is waste and excessive cost in the courts system. I do not think the great and the good in the judicial system should be involved in this investigation. To a degree — I am a lawyer myself — there is a certain club atmosphere involved. I am not sure that members of the club are the best to root out waste and excessive costs. Some changes have been ill-advised.

There was a great cry when in insurance cases the system of having two senior counsel and one junior counsel was changed. This was particularly applicable in personal injury actions in the High Court. The abolition of that rule was expected to reduce expenses and insurance costs. What happened? It has turned out to be a barristers bonanza. The costs — barristers fees — have, in many instances, doubled as a result of this change. I should like to give an example. In the past in a claim for, say, £95,000 or £100,000 it was necessary to have two senior counsel at a fee of £1,000 each and one junior counsel at two-thirds of that cost. The costs for one day would be in excess of £2,500. If the trial continued over two days the costs could be £4,000. What will happen now with one senior counsel? His fee will be a minimum of about £3,000 on the first day, the fee for the junior counsel will be two-thirds, amounting to £5,000 for the first day and 50 per cent extra if it runs into a second day. The result is that there will be fees of between £7,500 and £8,000 to barristers instead.

There is an old saying: for every complex problem there is a simple solution that does not work. It did not work in this case. I do not blame the barristers. The barristers did not claim that this change should be made, rather it was forced on them. Obviously, they reacted in their own way and were not going to be at a loss. They have not been at a loss, quite the contrary. That type of issue needs to be examined.

Similarly, in relation to attendance by professional witnesses, there is a rip-off of the courts system by many of those involved in producing reports, some at £120 a time. Often these reports are requested so the professional witnesses cannot be blamed. For first reports a charge of that kind is justified but for follow up reports on a six months or a yearly basis where only a few lines are involved, a fee of that order is excessive. The amount involved for professional witnesses attending the court is excessive.

Section 45, which requires the exchange of medical and other reports, must be fully developed so that the necessity for professional witnesses attending court will be eliminated as far as possible. The exchange of reports should be sufficient for the opposing lawyers and also for the judges. Only where there is a need to cross-examine a witness will there be a requirement for court attendance. That will shorten the time of the trial and it will reduce considerably the expense involved.

The commission or a committee should be established to examine in detail the workings of the system to try to eliminate exccessive costs and waste in the system. I am convinced there is waste and if tracked down, steps should be taken to eliminate it.

This is a good Bill and I look forward to a good Committee Stage debate.

Tá áthas orm an deis seo a bheith agam labhairt ar an mBille seo, Bille a bhfuil stair thragóideach ar go leór bealaí ag baint leis ach stair shuimiúil.

Some of my colleagues on this side of the House will be aware that since I became a Member more than 20 years ago I have been in the habit of keeping a fairly detailed diary of developments while in Government and out of Government. Certainly, the period of gestation for this legislation will have a very proud place in that diary whenever — maybe in another 20 years time — it is printed.

The debate which took place here on 2 November 1994 makes very interesting reading. I wish to quote a few paragraphs for which I will give the references later

This Bill is the product of the most closed Department of State led by a Minister who has many skills but who puts no value on accountability and transparency. Why do we allow ourselves to be bullied? Surely it is time the Dáil had the courage to assert itself. What happened to the great Labour tradition under Brendan Corish and Frank Cluskey. This latest legislative chicanery will add fuel to the fire. There is a burning desire in the hearts of the people for greater accountability. It is time that became a fire in the hearts of Members of this House.

Judges themselves cannot escape criticism. There is no Lord Mackay in the Four Courts. The opposite appears to be the case——

We have more High Court judges than Cabinet Ministers, and they have a difficult job to do. However, do they, and their colleagues in the lower courts, sit for long enough per day and on enough days per year to justify an endless creation of more judges? I will put it in blunt terms that both the judges and the public will understand. Some judges and administrators have the system over a barrel; there will continue to be a backlog of cases until we appoint more judges. That is the way they operate and this is the main reason for the creation of more judges.

Those are not my words; they are taken from the Official Report of 2 November 1994, volume 446, No. 6, columns 1404 and 1405, and were uttered by the Sunday night soundbite man, the Minister of State, Deputy Gay Mitchell. I miss the Sunday night soundbite man who has been very quiet recently. Only that we see him for divisions here one would think he had passed on to a better place.

I would reject the comments — I did not have an opportunity to do so this time last year — that the Department of Justice could ever be described as the most closed Department. I express my appreciation for the tremendous work done at high speed on the 1994 Bill by the same members of the law division of that Department who have worked on the Bill before the House today. Another comment made at that time is as follows:

This is the treaty of Tinakilly...

This is shotgun legislation — the progeny of the one-night-stand at Baldonnel. Its early appearance on the Order Paper owes more to politics than to legislative consideration. So any consideration of this Bill, has to examine not just its legislative content, but its political context as well.

Again, those are not my words; they are taken from the Official Report of 2 November 1994, columns 1420-21 and were uttered by Deputy Gilmore who is now Minister of State. It is interesting to read what people said and to ask where when they are in a different position a little over a year later, the wonderful ideas they had have gone.

This is my first contribution to any Justice debate since I left that Department almost 12 months ago. I have been tempted on a number of occasions to intervene but I always held back on the basis that it would be unfair to my successor to comment on issues of which I had an intimate knowledge. However, I break my silence to speak on this Bill because of the special background to the 1994 Bill. Particular sections of that Bill were the product of the deal worked out between Fianna Fáil and Labour after the famous Baldonnel summit to facilitate the Labour Party in exchange for Harry Whelehan's appointment.

My colleagues, Deputies Cowen and Dempsey, worked long and hard to agree additional proposals for inclusion in the Bill. At Labour's insistence, the then Bill provided for a series of statutory procedures which had to be followed before a person could be appointed to the Bench. In the main, these procedures involved the Presidents of each of the courts having a significant say in who could be nominated to their courts. The 1994 Bill also included the establishment of a new court of appeal which would greatly free up the Supreme Court and enable it to concentrate on giving quality and well researched judgments on significant issues before it.

I am greatly concerned about the statement the Minister made yesterday evening that 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. Will the Minister tell the House what she understands "consistent decisions" to mean. Does she mean she would prefer a different decision from the latest decision on the McKenna case, for example? As we all know, it is dangerous to talk about interference in any way with the courts of the land. If the Government is looking for consistent decisions, in what way will it insist that judges give it those kinds of decisions?

What do we have now from the Minister and the Government? We have a charter for political patronage on a scale hitherto unknown in appointments to the courts. Worse than that, it has taken a year to produce this appalling piece of work to enable this discredited Government fix up its friends. Imagine the howls of the Labour Party in protest and derision if Fianna Fáil in Government had produced this Bill. Labour, of course, perpetuates the fiction that it is somehow above fixing up its pals when the record shows it has no equal in looking after its diminishing band of friends and supporters.

Why has it taken the Minister so long to produce this document and to give it a cloak of respectability as this Government's contribution to judicial and courts reform? Twelve months ago I left a perfectly sensible Bill which could have been amended during its passage through the House. Debate on that Bill commenced on 2 November last. I suspect we would never have seen the Bill before us had my party agreed to a Government proposition some two weeks ago to take one particular section of this Bill in isolation and pass all Stages of it in both Houses of the Oireachtas within a week. When the Government was reminded that the full courts Bill was ready, it was then and only then that the Government agreed to publish it.

I have to wonder aloud whose pal was being fixed up under the particular section involved. I can picture the scene in the Minister's modest office in Stephen's Green. The Minister, the programme manager and the civil servants are present. The Bill is completed and the staff, rightly so, are elated when suddenly a tall, bespectacled gentleman appears as if by magic, shaking his finger at the Minister and warning, "No, no, this will not be published until I say so". A helpless Minister, a rather confused and deeply upset programme manager and shell shocked, tired civil servants are rendered powerless. Yes, I remember it well.

I wish to refer to specific elements of the Bill. Why should the retirement age, for example, be any different from that which applies generally across the public and private sector? I said that over a year ago and I still believe it. I had a preference at that time for 65 but I asked here on 2 November last for Deputies' views. I agree with what Deputy Jim O'Keeffe said in relation to moving towards a common retirement age. That might be the better option to take at this stage but at column 1407, volume 446 of the Official Report, Deputy Gay Mitchell stated: "However, whatever age is allowed — and I certainly would not support going beyond 67 years — there should not be an extension unless for exceptional reasons ...". At column 1431 of the same volume of the Official Report, Deputy Gilmore stated:

The way to make a distinction is to appoint judges for a fixed term. The problem with judicial appointments is not the age at which judges retire, but rather the length of time they sit on the Bench. The principle of seven year terms which is now acceptable for senior appointments in the public service needs to be looked at as it would have the additional advantage of providing for a turnover of judges, allow younger people to sit on the Bench and given that the question of gender balance has been introduced to the debate, might also allow a greater proportion of women to sit on the Bench.

What happened to all those wonderful propositions made by two Deputies who are now in influential positions in the Government, one working in the Taoiseach's Department and the other working particularly closely to his party Leader who has a significant influence on Government policy?

I regret that all the Minister has done with this Bill in 12 months is to remove the independent element from the appointments procedures to replace it with three of her own appointments. I presume — and I am sure the Minister will clarify this when responding to the debate — that "three" means one Fine Gael, one Labour and one Democratic Left appointment.

I have no doubt that in due course these appointments will be trumpeted as the very essence of independence and now the Attorney General is also to be a member of the board. Will the Minister, when responding, explain to the House how the Attorney General can give impartial advice to Cabinet subsequently as to the suitability or otherwise of a particular candidate being recommended by the Minister for Justice for appointment when the same Attorney General will have been party of the selection-rejection process from day one? That is not openness, transparency or accountability. That particular pane of glass which was heralded so much a year ago is either terribly fogged up or we were talking about stained glass, not a clear pane. Perhaps former Fine Gael Deputies or Senators, not to speak of friends of Labour or Democratic Left, will be fixed up. Perhaps there is a former Attorney General on the sideline or is he being lined up for something much bigger to reflect his undoubted experience in advocacy?

It is appropriate that the Minister of State, Deputy Durkan, is present in the Chamber because I want to cite a contribution he made on 2 November 1994. The Minister of State is an expert in quoting what people said in the past and I am delighted he is in the Chamber to hear this. At column 1587, volume 446 of the Official Report, Deputy Durkan stated:

I worry about what will happen in the future. Will people be nominated on the basis of whether they are of the political left, right or centre? If so it will lend itself to endless complications in the future. No matter what happens in the future there will always be the possibility of somebody pointing the finger, in the aftermath of a particular appointment, and suggesting that those who sat on the Bench at a particular time were on one or other side of the political divide. I do not recall that happening before. The Government has set the scene and the agenda for this and it will have to live with it. The Government should apologise to the Judiciary for the damage it has done.

One could read the very same comment today and it would be far more true in these circumstances than it ever was on 2 November 1994. Paper does not refuse ink and the Official Report tells only the truth.

This Government's interpretation of openness, transparency and accountability is that the judicial appointments board will be required to submit to Cabinet all the names of those it has considered and to recommend no fewer than ten as suitable for appointment. In the event of two vacancies arising in the same court, the Minister can ask for any number of recommendations. Therefore, if there were two vacancies in the same court the Minister could, hypothetically, ask them to nominate, say, 100, 200 or 300 people. I am sure that among all the Fine Gaelers involved in the legal profession around the country there might be several hundred quite suitable for appointment and there would be a never ending list of people who could benefit from political patronage.

Whom does the Government think it is fooling? A cynic might say the Minister's hand is not being exactly stayed. The Minister wants to have her cake and eat it while pretending she is lifting the veils of secrecy and mystery surrounding a vital area of Irish society. To make matters worse, there are those in the so-called liberal media whom she counts among her friends who will gravely not acquiescence in her direction. I am thinking of the paragons and guarantors of everything that is good for society.

The Minister had the barefaced cheek to state in the press statement that her proposals were more transparent. Perhaps she would be good enough to tell the House about the Government's appointments to the Bench since it took office. She might also mention the names of the successful candidates. Is my memory failing me or did I read somewhere that a couple of former high profile Fine Gael Party activists are now on the Bench? I wish them well and I am sure they are admirably qualified for the difficult and hazardous work they have undertaken. However, one can only imagine the shouts of "cronyism" or "cosy cartel" the Labour Party would embark upon if it was in Opposition and these appointments were made by either of the two major political parties. The party of high standards my eyeball, it is more like the party of expediency and manipulation. Those two virtues will reap a very large whirlwind. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Durkan, is looking forward as much as I am to the reaping of that whirlwind. Thank God for the innate sense of the electorate who do not suffer the myopia of some of the Government's friends in positions of influence. The justice of democracy is that a vote in Dublin 4 is worth no more than a vote in Carraroe.

During Second Stage debates on such Bills one obviously has to make a general statement and, with the exception of the provisions on the retirement age, the appointments boards and other particular concerns, there is very little opportunity to refer to individual aspects. Nevertheless there is a number of provisions worth referring to.

I have great concerns about the proposal to make the Attorney General a member of the selection board as it will not be possible when the appointment comes to Government for him to be judge and jury on the candidates. In the case of appointments to local authorities the county manager or county secretary who makes the ultimate recommendation on the appointment will not have been a member of the original selection board; a member of another local authority will be on it. I laughed when I read the Minister's statement that: "Requiring the appointments board to recommend only three to five names as proposed in the 1994 Bill would restrict unduly the Government's discretion in the matter of judicial appointments". I presume this refers to political discretion and that she and the Government felt there was a great political restriction on them in that they were not allowed to have more than five nominees recommended to them.

We should acknowledge that the present system for selecting persons for appointment to judicial office has served us well. We have been very fortunate to have a Judiciary which is respected for its integrity, independence and fairness. However, this does not mean that the system for appointing judges is immune from criticism. It may be inevitable that the system is open to criticism as up to now the procedure has been reserved exclusively for Government and there have been no clear accompanying statutory or other guidelines on how the system should operate.

I welcome the Bill which I am delighted to say my party forced out of the Government when it refused to take the selective provision which it wanted to take very quickly. I look forward to seeing the amendments put down by Fianna Fáil. I am interested in seeing how those Deputies in positions of importance on the other side of the House who recommended such amendments in Opposition will vote on Committee Stage.

I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on its introduction. Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn's contribution was reasonably amusing in that she referred to remarks made by certain individuals. She has more experience than me in the House and I have no intention of digging through the numerous tomes to find remarks made by certain people. However, I remember some of the remarks made by Deputies on all sides of the House both before and since I became Deputy. I am referring to remarks made during the beef tribunal and other sagas.

I have an interest in how the courts work, how the information is given to them and how the costs arise. It is very important from the point of view of victims in personal injuries cases and others that justice is seen to be done. In cases where there are long delays victims can get very depressed and they can develop a bad attitude to the courts. The Minister and her predecessor endeavoured to improve the operation of the courts and to ensure that cases are taken at the earliest possible date. If, say, personal injury cases are not ready to be taken in court on a certain day they are automatically put back for six months. This is very annoying for the victims and is one of the reasons claims for personal injuries are so high — the victims get frustrated, dig in their heels and demand the highest possible compensation which is usually paid three or four years after the accident.

There are many reasons we need to improve court procedures. People who have been beaten up in their homes and elsewhere want the criminals to be brought to justice as quickly as possible. Members on all sides of the House must work towards improving the system. I know the Minister is doing her best in this regard and it is only correct that Opposition Deputies should put down proper and well constructed amendments to the Bill. We should not play politics with the victims of crime who have suffered severely.

Judges must adopt a commonsense approach to cases and in this regard I welcome the proposal on judicial training. It is difficult to understand why one judge may impose a severe penalty for the non-payment of car tax while another judge may impose a less severe penalty for the same offence.

This brings me to the retirement age of those involved in the administration of justice. It is difficult to understand why the retirement age for judges is not similar to that for people in business or civil servants. Once people reach a certain age they may not be able to fully understand the complexities of certain cases or the problems associated with them. The Minister must tackle this issue, the delays in taking cases and the level of justice meted out. Justice delayed is justice denied. This applies not only to cases involving personal injury but also to those involving people in business. In many cases business people are slow to go to court because they know it will take years to have their case resolved. Some people get away with less than honest dealings because they know there is little likelihood they will be brought to court. This is why the Minister's proposals to tackle the problem of delays by appointing 17 more judges, initiating changes in court administration and developing a long-term approach to improving the system are very important. The elimination of delays will enhance the efficiency of the court service. The Minister has set out very important principles in the Bill.

I have seen the effects of long delays in hearing a case. In one case the family bread winner was put out of business as a result of an accident and he had to wait three-and-a-half years for his case to be resolved due to all sorts of technicalities. In another case involving farmers' rights, the case has been put back for years and farmers do not know if they will ever get their entitlement. The then Minister Mr. John Wilson said some eight years ago that it was a complete injustice to farmers that they were not paid at that time, yet for technical reasons that case has not come to court.

The cost of the beef tribunal brought the high cost of court hearings to everybody's notice. Possibly that case should have never gone to court and should have been sorted out in this House, but it did go to court and everybody is paying ever since. Nobody seems to know whether it cost £25 million or £35 million but taxpayers have to pay this colossal sum. As a result the European Commission will ensure that we will pay fines for breaches of beef processing regulations.

The administration of the courts is very relevant to taxpayers. The Minister has appointed a working group under the chairmanship of Mrs. Justice Susan Denham and this is extremely important. I am against the setting up of committees for the sake of it but we need to take a completely new look at how the court system works. I hope this group will come forward with proposals and realistic suggestions on how to streamline the system and make it easier for people to have access to the courts. Delays in court hearings and the high costs of going to court are interlinked. Those who are well off can afford to go to court and employ a senior and junior counsel as well as a solicitor but many people are slow to seek justice because of the high cost and extraordinary delays involved. When a case goes to the High Court, two senior counsel, one junior counsel as well as the solicitor are involved, together with all sorts of advisers and the cost of one or two days in court can be enormous.

The Minister has appointed a body that will decide on the appointment of judges. That issue was discussed already in the 1994 Act but the Minister has taken a major step forward. For Members to suggest that previous Governments were innocent of political appointments in every area would be an injustice. Down through the years political appointments have been made and I agree with the previous speaker that it is not wrong that some of those involved in politics should be appointed to boards and committees. People who avoid becoming involved in party politics would find it very difficult to understand how the system works and what is required of a judge. I welcome the fact that the Minister has set up a board to decide on who should become a judge and that only those of the highest calibre will be chosen.

The courts will have to deal with the consequences of drugs. If we are to apprehend and bring drug barons to justice we need to speed up the court system. Families are afraid to allow their teenage children go to discos or out in the evening in case they get involved in drug related activities. When their offspring are out they anxiously wait up until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. to see they return home safely. This problem has not happened over night but results from the lack of legal mechanisms to put drug barons in jail. I want to ensure that their case cannot be transferred from one court to another or from one area to another as a way of avoiding the arm of the law. The only way that parents can be sure their offspring are safe is when the drug barons are caught and are quickly brought to justice as this serves as an example to others who might get involved in drug related activities.

The distinguished journalists will be glad I am not talking about silage or effluent today but about the state of courthouses. It is important that courthouse buildings are up to a certain standard. In Monaghan the courthouse is in very good condition because as Members may realise the old courthouse was blown up and was not in use for many years.

As a result of that tragedy, the courthouse was reconstructed and is now one of the finest in the country. The Government has allocated funding for the repair of the Carrickmacross Courthouse but the courthouse in Castleblayney, where the District and Circuit Court sits, is in a deplorable condition. As the Minister proposes to increase the number of judges who will sit in these buildings, she should ensure they are kept in proper repair. The courthouses in Clones and Ballybay are also in need of urgent repair. As the Border region suffered a great deal due to the Northern troubles, a case can be made for the provision of additional funding for the repair of courthouses in the area.

Courthouses should be used more than one day per month. I urge the Minister to encourage people to use them for community activities when courts are not sitting. If that were the case appearing before a court would not be a traumatic experience for people who are often scared by the grandeur of the buildings and the wigs worn by judges.

Seven farmers in my constituency were brought before a local court for pollution offences. As two of their farms were included on one deed map the solicitor involved was able to use the same details for both farmers, but the farmers incurred astronomical costs. Will the Minister examine the position whereby extraordinary costs are added to nominal fines? This happens in many cases, not all of which involve farmers. It is unacceptable that in a case where seven farmers pleaded guilty to offences the solicitor concerned should have received approximately £600 for each five minute case. I make that plea as a farmer representative.

I welcome the Minister's proposal to increase the number of judges and the realistic measures proposed to cut the costs involved in court cases. As a result, I hope that justice is done in a more proper and expedient manner.

As a rural Deputy I am reassured by Deputy Crawford's expertise and thorough knowledge of silage effluent and so on. We need many more Members like him, particularly when approximately 10,000 farmers marched outside the House yesterday to highlight concerns about their livelihoods. The increasing crime level is a major concern for most people in the city. To date judicial appointments were political, made by the incumbent Government, and that system served us well. While the majority of those appointed had political leanings, excellent judges have been appointed with expert knowledge and experience who have gained respect in the profession. The public has more confidence in the present judicial system than in the system of appointing directors to semi-State boards, a system that has been the subject of adverse comment for many years, and not merely because of recent events. It, rather than the judicial system which has served us well, should be thoroughly examined. I do not believe the manner in which our judges have carried out their duties under the existing system can be criticised.

The Bill was conceived in Baldonnel. The gestation period was considerably longer than nine months and we have been presented with a different version of the 1994 Bill. The present proposals try to convey an impression of the removal of political patronage from the judicial appointments system. While all judges must be appointed by the President on the advice of the Government, the present proposals are an exercise in smoke and mirrors in that they will be heralded as an attempt by the Government to restore the much vaunted aspiration of openness and transparency in the appointments system. The spin doctors will spew out media and press releases trying to convey that the proposals are an attempt to depoliticise the appointments system. This anti-cosy cartel tripartite arrangement by the clever use of an appointments board will no doubt attempt once again to regain the high moral ground of political propriety by suggesting that the provisions dealing with judicial appointments and the other provisions of the Bill will have a radical effect on the administration of justice, increase its efficiency and reduce legal costs and delays.

The Fianna Fáil proposals of 1994 were more sound and transparent than the present proposals which require all applicants who respond to advertisements, or who have been invited to apply, to have notice of their applications submitted to the Minister for Justice and the board shall recommend at least ten names for appointment to judicial office. The Government is obliged to consider only the recommended names but there is no statutory prohibition, nor could there be, which would prevent the Government advising the President of its intention to appoint a person whose name might or might not be on the list. Members on this side asked why a list with a minimum of ten names should have to be submitted. If members of the public read the Official Report of this debate they will not be impressed by the suggestions that there will be more independence attached to the appointment of judges and that they will be further removed from the political system than heretofore.

Sections 29 and 30 provide for the appointment of solicitors of ten years standing or more as judges in the Circuit Court. Appointment of solicitors to the High or Supreme Courts is not permissible under this Bill. The Minister, who through the Government has unfettered power of appointment, should not limit the appointment of solicitors only to the Circuit Court. I appreciate that the appointment of a solicitor to the Circuit Court will be heralded as a legal first, whenever that happens. With increased specialisation in the law many solicitors, particularly in large practices in this city, are divided into distinct legal departments. They have tremendous specialised legal knowledge and should not be excluded from consideration as to their suitability for appointment to the High Court.

I acknowledge the expert knowledge of Deputy Shatter in family law. He was one of the first people in Ireland — over 20 years ago in 1974 — to produce a leading practitioner's book on family law. Equally, people with expert knowledge in construction, arbitration and commercial law should be considered, as well as barristers from the Law Library, for appointment to the High Court.

The provision of appointments to the Circuit Court does not go far enough and the Minister should consider widening it to include the High Court because she may not have the opportunity to do so again for many years.

I agree with the general principle and thrust of the Bill's provisions if political temptation can be controlled and the bona fides of section 16 can be implemented. The public should be assured that briefless barristers and "down on their luck" solicitors — perhaps because of their time-consuming political activity — will in future find it more difficult to be assured of a sinecure because of their strenuous efforts in supporting a political party before appointment.

The section leaves a lot to be desired. As Deputy O'Donnell stated, it could be interpreted simply as a post-box in which to leave your application, rather than applying to the Department of Justice as heretofore. There is nothing in the section which indicates that the board will prioritise the suitability of candidates in any particular order. The political antenna is retained by the Minister in ensuring that three persons appointed by her are members of the board. Nothing in section 16 suggests a list of nominating bodies who could put forward the names of suitable persons who subsequently could be narrowed down to three for appointment by the Minister. This provision, which has been commented on by all speakers on this side of the House, will have to be looked at seriously by the Minister if she wants this Bill to go through with the degree of credibility necessary for us to support her in ensuring that the idea behind this appointments board is achieved.

The provision which requires persons to undertake training or education courses on appointment as judges is sound in principle. Despite the fact that judges at all levels operate at the coal face, on many occasions there has been a lack of consistency in sentencing policy. Furthermore, district justices and Circuit Court judges require every possible resource to ensure that consistent principles are applied, particularly to family law cases. The administration of justice is brought into disrepute when a huge variation in sentencing or otherwise is apparent in decisions handed down by various courts.

We are all aware that some judges are described as being more generous than others in dealing with personal injury claims or other types of action. Defendants can fare poorly before a certain judge if they appear on speeding or drink-driving offences. The decisions of a certain senior High Court judge have even been described as practically unappealable due to their soundness, but what does that mean for other High Court judges? Do their decisions — depending on whether they are reversed on appeal to the Supreme Court — allow barristers to advise clients that one judge is soft or another judge is hard?

The section is long on aspiration but short on specifics. Where are the resources to provide these courses? Sending 50 district justices off to Tinakilly House for an induction or training session will not be small beer. May be this is more smoke and mirrors, especially if the Minister and her Department fail to give staff and resources to the presidents of the various courts to implement this important provision which I fully support. It is a well established system in England and in other common law jurisdictions and it must be attempted here in a serious fashion if public confidence in the administration of justice is to be maintained.

I referred to family law cases and the appointment of extra judges will help in expediting the huge delays now apparent at all levels of our courts system. This, with what appears to be an extensive list of orders that can be made by a county registrar, is a move in the right direction. There are long delays in the Circuit Court civil list which can be exacerbated by solicitors or barristers wishing to delay further the moment of justice for their clients. Frivolous procedural points can often throw a case back by months, sometimes even years, with serious consequences for the individual or company seeking justice.

The granting of these additional powers to county registrars is welcome and I am sure that the Bar Council and the Law Society may comment on the adequacy of the list. The Minister should have an open mind on further orders that could be made by a county registrar if they are submitted for consideration on Committee Stage.

The list, primarily of procedural type motions, should in practice result in reducing legal costs as quite a number of them can now be applied for within the competency of any solicitor. That will save barristers' costs in appearing before a Circuit Court judge. More importantly it would have the effect of ensuring that the list of cases indicated as ready for hearing would proceed the day on which they are listed. Having plaintiffs, defendants, their witnesses and experts hanging around courthouses is not an exercise for the fainthearted. Many people return home without having had their day in court because of procedural wrangling between opposing legal teams on a day that, generally speaking, runs only from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Anything that ensures cases are heard expeditiously is to be welcomed.

Granting these extra powers to county registrars must be matched with a recognition of the conditions under which some county registrars and their staff have to work. Some of the orders referred to will require the appearance of teams of solicitors, and barristers if necessary, and their clients before county registrars. Unlike the taxation of costs which county registrars do, without the necessity of most of the above to make an appearance before them, their offices in nearly all cases are totally unsuitable if all or some of the above have to appear before the registrar.

On the technological front the housekeeping of most county registrars' offices has improved with the provision of fax machines, computers and photocopiers. However, the physical space occupied by county registrars and their staff is totally inadequate. Some courthouses have been renovated and excellent work has recently been done to substantially improve Galway courthouse. I pay tribute to the previous Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, who committed substantial moneys towards improving the Galway complex which has been much admired. It is very necessary for such a busy place and is the venue for decisions of the High Court.

I wish to be parochial for a moment in referring to the situation in Castlebar which is abominable and intolerable, to say the least. It must be improved if the staff of the Circuit Court office is to provide the public with a service as well as giving back-up to the administration so necessary for justice. If the situation is bad in Castlebar, words could not describe the facilities available to the staff of the District and Circuit Court offices using Swinford and Westport courthouses.

Our county manager is in the course of preparing a substantial plan — which will be submitted shortly to the Department of Justice — for the renovation of County Mayo's main courthouse in Castlebar. Throughout the country and in particular in my own county, the Department of Justice has provided the capital funding necessary to improve some of our courthouses — not to the standard that they require to be brought up to but it is certainly a big improvement on what they were like. The plan for Castlebar will be costly but it should be responded to because it is badly needed if the county registrar's office is to give effect to the additional new powers granted to it under this Bill. It will also ensure that the public will be comfortable in that courthouse. I hope the plan will not gather dust in some file in the Department of Justice for years to come. We must provide the necessary facilities to ensure the trauma experienced by those involved in such cases is lessened and that the stress experienced by litigants is not added to by the State failing to provide a suitably sized hearing room, waiting room, consultation rooms and basic sanitary facilities. In most rural courthouses there is only one room which is used by litigants of both sexes. That is unacceptable.

The responsibility of a Government does not cease with the establishment of one courthouse in each county. Article 34 of the Constitution provides, inter alia, that the courts of first instance shall also include local and limited jurisdiction. It has been interpreted as referring not only to District Courts but to Circuit Courts. Some time ago the Circuit Court review working group considered drastically reducing the number of Circuit Court venues. I am not sure of the up to date position but the proposals will be strenuously opposed. The issue was reported extensively in the media less than 12 months ago and perhaps the Minister will advert to it when replying.

The proposal that a barrister shall not wear a wig deserves comment. It has been suggested that such archaic head dress is intimidatory, places barristers on a different level from solicitors and interferes with the relationship of persons in the court in an unquantifiable way which affects the public's ease in using the courts. Barristers frequently appear at tribunals, planning appeals and inquiries dressed in business suits. Our judicial system is adversarial by nature. A barrister has a job to do on behalf of his client subject to the rules of conduct of the court and Bar Council. If they can operate effectively outside the court in other venues without wearing ceremonial garb, why does the Minister not also prohibit the wearing of a gown? I presume the Minister is responding to a perceived public demand by prohibiting the wearing of a wig and, if there was an opnion poll, I am sure the public would be consistent and demand the removal of the gown. I have no objection to the wearing of wigs or gowns but the prohibition will be a puff of smoke unless the Minister is consistent and prohibits the wearing of gowns. I can imagine a barrister, for example, Deputy McDowell, chasing into court laden down with legal tomes and billowing gown would have the same perceived effect on the defendant or plaintiff as the wearing of a wig.

On balance this Bill is tinkering with a system long overdue for overhaul. The administration of justice and the separation of the executive and judicial arms of the State has not evolved to the stage necessary to cope with the demands placed on the system. Unless the public are assured that criminals will be dealt with expeditiously and severely the Bill will be seen as window dressing. They are up in arms about the alarming increase in crime and the near absolute certainty that an increasingly larger proportion of criminals carry on their activities undetected. The public demand action, an increase in available prison accommodation and that a stop be put to the revolving door prison policy.

The Bill will reduce court delays but where is the corresponding commitment to ensure that those who are apprehended and convicted will serve the sentence imposed on them? The Minister failed to assure the public on the issue and this Bill does not lessen the palpable fear in the community. The message must go out from the House that we are serious in dealing with crime. Lip service is no longer sufficient and will not be tolerated by taxpayers.

I listened to Deputy Hughes' contribution with interest and agree with most of what he said. I did not hear him declare his interest under the Ethics in Public Office Bill. I declare my interest, being a member of the legal profession. It gives me no joy to say that in 1987 I went from the most unpopular profession to the second most unpopular one — from the legal to the political. I hope this Bill will redress the balance. As legislators we must facilitate the proper and efficient administration of justice by making appropriate amendments to legislation and ensuring proper resources are made available.

I will defer much of my comment until Committee Stage. I am pleased the Bill will come before the Select Committee on Legislation and Security and look forward to the debate and the presence of the Minister at that forum.

Almost every speaker commented on the unsatisfactory delays in the courts system. The old adage that justice delayed is justice denied is an unfortunate reality of the administration of justice as we approach the end of the century. I am pleased the programme for Government includes reference to a fundamental review of the courts system. This legislation will go no small way towards ensuring that review will pay dividends.

I welcome the long overdue appointment of 17 new judges. Two are being appointed to the High Court, two to the Supreme Court, seven to the Circuit Court and five to the District Court. I congratulate the Minister on the appointments, particularly the seven to the Circuit Court. That is where most administrative difficulties and delays occur. There has been an increase in business in that court in the last ten years. The Circuit Court hears much about the criminal workload, family law cases and civil cases. I regret that the delay in getting a case to a court hearing is approximately three years. That is unjustifiable in a modern western democracy. We should set a time limit within which delays should be reduced. I will give details of figures I received from the County Registrar in County Laois — a county no different from any other rural area. In 1983, 620 applications were brought before the Circuit Court covering crime, civil bills, equity, matrimonial matters, District Court appeals, motions and miscellaneous matters, licensing, landlord and tenant valuation appeals and applications under other headings. By 1993 this figure had reached 2,000. This indicates the huge workload which has to be borne by the Circuit Court. As well as having far more and different types of cases to deal with, over a period of years its jurisdiction has been increased. This, in no small way, has added to the burden. Following the passing of the divorce rederendum and the enactment of the consequent legislation it is plain to see that it will have to carry an even greater burden so far as the administration of family law is concerned. The appointment of seven judges, although welcome, will only go some of the way towards ensuring that a proper and consumer friendly administration of justice scheme is put in place.

The current system under which many Circuit Courts sit from 11 a.m. until 4.30 p.m. or 5 p.m., Tuesday to Friday is detrimental to the fair administration of justice. The long vacation whereby the courts close down from the end of July or early August until early October is a relic of a bygone era, it is both outmoded and unjustifiable and contributes in large measure to delays in the administration of justice. This practice cannot be allowed to continue. While I accept that some judges operate an efficient court which is consumer oriented, unfortunately, this is not true of other pillars of the judiciary. It is time they stepped down from their ivory towers and entered the real world.

The legal calendar and work diary of the courts can be sharply contrasted with that of this House. During the past five years our work diary has been changed considerably with the introduction of longer sittings and the committee system. We were forced to do this by the general public who felt that the House was not sitting often enough and we were not congratulated or complimented for so doing although I presume it was never intended that we would. The legal diary has to be subjected to the same level of reform.

It has been suggested that as most judges live in Dublin they need Monday free to travel to the provinces. This is, undoubtedly, a relic of the past when it took a considerable amount of time to travel from Dublin to the provinces by coach and four. Regrettably, Monday is still regarded as a day off and a day on which Circuit Court judges do not sit on the Bench. This, in many ways, contributes to delays.

The report of the review body on civil jurisdiction in England published in 1988 comments on the question of delays far more succinctly than I could. It states:

Delay undermines justice, it reduces the availability of evidence and erodes the reliability of that which is available. It denies compensation to those who are entitled to it until long after it is most needed. It causes continuing personal stress, anxiety and financial hardship to ordinary people and their families. It may induce economically weaker parties to accept unfair settlements and it also frustrates the efficient conduct of commerce and industry.

One could add that it also increases the costs involved. It is because of this that we should, through this legislation and the working party which the Minister has established, tackle the question of the extraordinary and unacceptable delays in the courts system.

I welcome section 48 which deals with the question of education and training of new judges. This is extremely important. Prior to taking up their positions appointees should not feel embarrassed about being asked to undergo training. The comment was made among legal sources that if there was a statutory obligation to undergo training only the mediocre would accept appointments. That, to say the least, is an arrogant statement. It is common sense to provide for an element of induction training for someone working behind a desk one day and, without any great notice, catapulted to the Bench the next. In such circumstances training is absolutely essential. Most of the likely candidates, and those whose names are appearing on the list to which Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn referred, would not find this repugnant.

It is a pity there is no reference to the redrawing of the circuits. This is essential given that the Circuit Court only sits one week per quarter in the provinces. The figures I have given highlight the great need for improvement. The redrawing of the circuits should be considered to ensure equity. This would help to reduce delays.

It was argued in the House some years ago that juries were responsible for the high level of awards in civil actions which, in turn, gave rise to high insurance costs. After much debate it was decided to abolish juries in personal injury actions, but this has not made any difference, insurance costs and the level of awards have not been reduced. This is an indication of how we, as legislators, and the Department of Justice can, not so much get it wrong, as fail to get it right. We made this a priority and committed ourselves to achieving results which, unfortunately, have been most disappointing.

There is reference to the role of the county registrar in section 33 which is an interesting one. The county registrar is one of the most under-utilised assets in the justice system. The twelfth interim report of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure recommended changes in legislation to allow county registrars deal with non-contentious applications, the signing of cheques, pre-trial applications and some motions and, in short, that the county registrar should be on a par with the Master of the High Court. This is envisaged in section 33. I would go further, however, and suggest that the county registrar could, in effect, play a role as a deputy judge. I will pursue this matter further with the Minister on Committee Stage.

The under-utilisation of the county registrar is underlined by the fact that that official cannot sign a cheque, he either has to send it to the judge's home or else ask the judge to call in the next time he is passing. This is extraordinary. I know the Minister will change this. It is a small reform which is long overdue.

Deputies asked for a uniform retirement age of 65 for judges. I do not agree with this. The Minister has achieved the right balance in changing the retirement ages of High Court and Supreme Court judges from 72 to 70. Many judges are not appointed until they are in their late 50s or early 60s and many sound landmark court decisions have been made by expert judges in their early to mid 60s.

The working group on the courts commission, under Mrs. Justice Denham, is welcome. The Minister should have set a time scale within which the commission should report, but regardless of the report it produces, more legislation is needed. I do not see this as a comprehensive Bill but an interim measure to be followed up after the publication of the report of the working group which I expect to report within the lifetime of the Government and hope will report before the end of next year.

One of the most important aspects of the system which the commission will have to examine is the separation of criminal work from civil work. The former is given priority in the Circuit Court and this is right and proper but this ensures that civil work is left behind. Included in the civil list is the area of family law. It is not good enough that Fridays are designated to deal with family law, at the end of a busy week when criminal cases and, if the time allows, some civil cases are dealt with. Friday is not a suitable day for family law cases. There should be a separate family law court structure with family law sittings separate from civil and criminal work. I am awaiting the final report of the Law Reform Commission on this issue which I expect will be published sometime in 1996.

I do not have time to speak about the huge costs with regard to expert witnesses and the need to change the law of evidence. While people have been critical of legal costs in court proceedings — maybe rightly so — we often forget the huge costs with regard to medical and engineering witnesses and evidence required to adjudicate on cases such as striaghtforward tragic road accidents.

The Bill deals with fitness to practise. I fail to see why solicitors are unfit to practise in the High Court when barristers, as mere advocates, can gain automatic and exclusive right to that court. This is unfair and I see no reason for it.

A television programme in the lead up to the divorce referendum dealt with inadequacies in the legal system. It showed a courthouse, which I recognised as the one in Trim, in which a family law consultation was being held in a dungeon, on the door of which was nailed a notice which read "male prisoners only". This, in a nutshell, underlines the problems in the physical layout of courthouses.

I welcome the Bill and I was glad of the opportunity to contribute to the debate on it. I eagerly look forward to Committee Stage and I congratulate the Minister for taking the first step in the radical and fundamental reform promised in the Programme for Government.

I am delighted this Bill has again come before the House, although I wonder about the delay. I pay tribute to Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, who initiated this measure last year, for the work she put into it. With the benefit of the Second Stage debate which she led last year and comprehensive discussions with interested bodies in the meantime, one would have expected that the Government could have done better but, alas, this is not so.

Benjamin Disraeli once said that justice is truth in action. If this is so, all citizens are entitled to their share of truth. On the other hand, James Matthew said that justice in England was open to all, like the Ritz Hotel. That is not the kind of justice I want to see but a court which is accessible to everyone, free, independent and with impeccable integrity.

I would like us to return in the near future to the court of appeal provisions which have been dropped from these new proposals and which were a large part of the 1994 Bill. However, for the moment at least we should concentrate on the measure before us today.

The proposal which will most capture the imagination of the public and fill the column inches of the newspapers is the setting up of a Judicial Appointments Advisory Board to advise the Government on appointments to the Judiciary. This is a necessary and overdue step, but I am disappointed the Minister has watered down the proposal to the point where the original intent is almost negated.

Our 1994 proposal envisaged the board short-listing three to five names which would be communicated to the Government and from which it would make the final nomination. This gained mixed reaction at the time and eliminated much of the party political element but maybe the common sense of it did not appeal to the Minister. We now have a proposal to short-list ten names, which is too wide a choice. The Minister seemed to be prepared to accept the principle that the previous method of selection was, at best, unwise and, at worst, open to abuse but she is now unwilling to grasp the nettle and limit the choice to a realistic number of nominees which does not immediately guarantee the inclusion of a nominee of the correct political persuasion.

With regard to the retiring age for the Judiciary, judges are no different from the rest of the working population and should have the option of retiring from the age of 65. The reduction of the mandatory retiring age to 70 goes part of the way to meet this and will help the career prospects of those up and coming members of the legal profession who aspire to the Bench.

The proposal to open up the Circuit Court Bench to solicitors is a welcome elimination of an unnecessary restriction and those solicitors who are able and qualified will be a welcome asset in a higher court. However, as so often happens with this Government, it only goes so far and will not walk the final mile. I cannot see why this concession is not also extended to the High Court and the Supreme Court.

I also welcome the proposal to make training courses mandatory for new judges. This has been advocated for a long time by those who are close to the legal system and the operation of our courts.

Correctly or not, the claim is often made that judges are out of touch with the real world. In some respects this is not only true but is nurtured and encouraged by the system. We expect the Judiciary to be independent and almost free of contact with the outside world but in order to achieve this judges seem to retreat from mainstream society, safe in their own legal world of work and social contact.

Some will have come from modest backgrounds but 30 years in a relatively well paid profession, even at the level of solicitor, will have cushioned them against most of the economic hardships which many people experience. As judges, they are daily cocooned from the normal everyday hardships average people encounter, down to even having a garda guide them into reserved parking spaces as they arrive for work. I realise there are sound security reasons for this but it is symptomatic of how sheltered a life they live and how remote they are from the normal contacts of everyday life. Many judges will never have known or will scarcely remember what it was like to be broke on a Thursday night, while most of their clients, at district level at least, will often not know the security and stability of a regular job and a steady income. Proper instruction and guidance by sociologists among others, with a comprehensive range of education in the application of the law and a programme of sentencing guidelines, would not only result in a more effective Judiciary but would also make life much easier for judges. It would eliminate much of the criticism levelled at the Bench of what are perceived as too lenient sentences. This is not a rebuke or a criticism but merely a comment on that matter.

Judges should receive not only a comprehensive course of training but regular refresher courses. Failure to recognise that is failure to acknowledge the pivotal role played by the Judiciary in society. In the machinery of the law they are not only another cog in the wheel but the very axle on which the whole process turns. Almost without exception the Judiciary have served this country in an exemplary manner, but there is always room for improvement. The court system in any country is a very formal process, and a certain formality is not only welcome but necessary to maintain proper decorum and respect for and from those who pass through the system.

The trappings of office, most notably visible in the wig and gown, were not only impressive but were, and were meant to be, stressful and intimidatory, mainly to defendants, which was unacceptable. I welcome the abolition of wearing the wig but I am prepared to accept the gown as it is not so intimidating and underscores the formality of the proceedings. Most people will have witnessed the wearing of a gown by teachers in schools and every courtroom seen on American TV shows a gowned judge who is capable of conducting business in a normal manner. It would be foolish of us not to take every opportunity to update the manner in which our courts conduct their business. While business and commerce make the best use of new technology for communication, office procedure, word processing and retrieval, so too must we bring the administration of justice not only into the 20th century but into the 21st century.

We learned a very costly lesson in recent years in the Office of the Attorney General where not only thinking and attitudes were outmoded but also the procedures and systems. We do not need a rerun of that elsewhere in our administration. It is long past time when the effect of the introduction of new technology to our courts should have been assessed. I realise we are making strides in that direction but much more needs to be done. If the old legal maxim "justice delayed is justice denied" is true and I believe it is, we daily deny justice to those who have to wait years to have their cases heard. There is no reason that the operation of the courts should be so slow except that the service has been consistently denied proper funding and resources.

The operation of the Planning and Development Acts is a case in point where people must be dealt with within a specified period of time. In comparison to the courts that is a relatively stress-free system and the outcome will not be a jail term. Courts should be required to be equally speedy, and with sufficient personnel and resources there is no reason they should not be. For many people attending court it is probably their first and only time going through a very nerve-racking and stressful process. They may be there to seek the discharge of a duty or defend an action from an innocent stance, but whatever the circumstances each person is entitled to a dignified hearing in dignified surroundings without the feeling that the system is pitted against them or that they will get less than their due.

Often court surroundings are little testament that we cherish all the children of this national equally. It must be very demeaning for people, often at the lower end of the economic scale, who find themselves trapped in successive court proceedings, with regular interviews with probation officers, to have to conduct their business in draughty corridors, hallways or even on the footpath, very often within the hearing of other litigants, legal representatives, gardaí and the general public. Those people, regardless of their wrongdoing, are entitled to their dignity as they go through the court system. We must also improve the position for court officers who work daily in what are often trying conditions.

Our legal system must be improved to the stage where people would be glad, particularly in civil cases, to go to court to have a dispute adjudicated upon. Instead of carrying what may be a particularly Irish stigma, "he took me to court", our courts should be regarded as places of consultation and friendly resolution of problems in much the same way as a doctor's surgery provides solutions for those with medical problems. I suppose that is too much to hope for, but it is something to which we should aspire. It happens in other countries with people's courts and so on.

Many of the decisions made in the passage of this Bill will affect the ability of the courts to do their work and dispense justice during the next couple of decades. We must be conscious that we have a duty to facilitate the dispensation of justice to the best of our ability, with the ordinary people in mind. As Cicero said: "the good of the people is the first law of all".

I particularly welcome the increase in the number of judges available to the courts, but that goes only part of the way to solving the problem. In the District Court there will be five extra judges, but without courthouses the increase is of little benefit. Most District Courts share premises with the Circuit Court and when the two courts clash the District Court naturally loses out. I am glad that in those circumstances in the Dungarvan district the judge seeks an alternative venue and holds his full schedule of sittings, and the local authority facilitates him in that regard. That practice should be imitated countrywide, with sittings held on every occasion scheduled. Likewise, when a lengthy criminal trial takes up the time of a Circuit Court judge his list of civil cases will inevitably fall behind, not only by a matter of weeks but sometimes a year or more. That is not good enough. There should be a number of judges available to pick up the slack and keep the wheels of justice in motion.

The proposal to increase the number of Circuit Court judges from 17 to 24 is welcome but falls short of what is required. That will improve but will not solve the problem. The workload will still be too great, there will still be a queue for hearings and justice will still be delayed and denied. Two extra judges are to be allocated to Dublin and one extra judge to Cork. It would be logical to appoint a second judge to the four Circuit Court districts with large urban populations — the eastern district which takes the Dublin overflow, the south-eastern district, including the large urban area of Waterford, which serves the same population as the Cork district, the south-western district, including the city of Limerick, and the western circuit, including Galway. The position in the other Circuit Court districts could be improved by providing the necessary floating judges. If the Minister is to improve the system she should provide the extra personnel required to do a proper job.

The increase in the number of judges in the High Court and Supreme Court is also welcome, particularly as the additional judges allow for two sittings of the Supreme Court in most cases. That will have the effect of doubling the capacity of that court. I urge the Minister to improve the position pro rata throughout the various courts.

A feature of this Bill which is long overdue is the provision which will allow for some of the purely administrative functions of the Circuit Court to be discharged by county registrars. That will be a major benefit for litigants and will assist in bringing cases to court in a much shorter time. On that basis I urge the Minister to be generous and provide the necessary extra staff, resources and buildings to eliminate the lengthy delays. That can be done and, if we are to be a humane and caring society, it must be done.

In conjunction with a review of the workings of our courts it is advisable to consider the system of law and order. I regret that the vista is less than satisfactory, with crime increasing not only in numerical size but in seriousness. The only brightness on an otherwise dark horizon is the obvious benefit we have gleaned from the peace process. I congratulate everybody who has worked towards the achievements in that regard. Because of the delicacy of the ongoing negotiations I am hesitant to say much about that matter. However, it would be wrong of me not to acknowledge the part which the Fianna Fáil Party, and its leader, played in breaking the initial impasse. This country gained immensely from the early courageous actions of all sides of the traditional divide. Without those initiatives, many people would not be alive today. There has been a huge economic spin-off which will grow as the years of peace pass. I look forward to a time when violence of a paramilitary and pseudo-political nature is only a dim and painful memory.

A threat which lurks on our streets and is as real, as sinister and as potent as any paramilitary threat is drugs. The activities of the dealers and godfathers are a threat to and a corrupting influence in society. I wonder if this serious crisis will lead to the decline and fall of western society. We may not be suffering the worst of it yet, but as surely as the plane in a spiral will become wreckage on the ground so too will society disintegrate if this threat is not met head on and eliminated from our midst.

There are 2,700 addicts in this city alone, but that figure does not take into account the number in jail, unregistered or who do not yet know or admit they have a problem. What is the real figure for drug addiction here and what is the cost in human lives and misery? What is the monetary cost as the addicts plunder to feed a habit they cannot control? We must not only treat this as a huge problem, but as a major crisis in our midst.

If we value our young people, whom we continually refer to as our greatest national asset, we must take whatever steps are necessary to provide the legal framework, resources and personnel to counter this menace. There are drugs of one description or another in every secondary school. The appalling deaths on our streets in recent weeks indicate a different breed of criminal. Such gun law and contempt for law and order must be met head on. People must be protected from the godfathers and executioners in our midst.

As we have seen from the successes of our gardaí and customs officials, whom I congratulate on their efforts to stem the tide, there are more drugs coming into this country than will be used here. This is a European problem which must be fought through the combined efforts of EU and Irish officials and financed from EU resources. We cannot hope to police the coastline with our complement of ships and aircraft. We must share this job with out European partners because it is as much in their interests as ours to eliminate or, at least, contain the drugs threat as much as possible.

The Minister had the opportunity to put in place effective measures to deal with this horrendous problem but, unfortunately, she did not grasp it. Her tenure has been a series of missed opportunities.

I welcome the introduction of this Bill as a further attempt to update the legal framework within which justice is administered. The existing court structure was set up under the Courts of Justice Act, 1924, which was updated by the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act, 1961. However, Ireland today is different from that of 1961 and 1924.

If our democracy is to function, or the laws we enact are to have any meaning or EU regulations which are part of our legal system are to be given full effect and social change is to be effective then there must be a proper judicial framework within which the law is administered. However, the judicial framework is grossly inadequate. The public complain about long delays in hearing cases in courts, about out of date procedures and about a system which they do not understand. People frequently blame the legal profession for these problems. However, credit is due to barristers and solicitors for putting up with such an inadequate system. They work within a system which is the responsibility of this House. They are not responsible for the delays, the out of date rules and procedures or the underfunding of the court system.

I welcome the efforts of the Minister for Justice to overhaul the system by providing a new framework, additional personnel and more flexible rules. This Bill is about the administration of justice, but it will not be successful unless the Government is prepared to fund the system which is underfunded.

I ask the Minister to make funds available for the restoration and modernisation of all courthouses. Procedures must be put in place to train judges and library research facilities and proper backup facilities for the legal profession must be provided in each county. Staff must be properly trained to deal with the workload of the courts, particularly the increase in family law cases which will result from the divorce referendum.

I welcome the provision in section 6 to increase the number of judges of the Supreme Court from five to eight. I welcome section 7 which allows the Supreme Court to sit in two or more divisions. The five judges assigned to the Supreme Court is the same number as that provided in the 1924 Act. However, the workload of the Supreme Court in 1995 is greater than that of the Supreme Court in 1924.

The Supreme Court is overburdened with civil appeals on High Court decisions, particularly in personal injury cases. People must wait two or three years before their appeals are heard. A system which puts such pressure on the Supreme Court and which causes such delays damages the courts' status and brings its efficiency into disrepute. Our courts should be able to operate without stress or strain. People appearing before the courts should not have to tolerate such delays. The court system is a service. However, it has been brought into disrepute due to the shortcomings in the legal system upon which it is based.

I welcome the increase in the number of judges and the fact that the courts can now sit in a number of divisions. This will greatly enhance its efficiency and enable it to organise its business more effectively. I welcome the provisions in sections 9, 10 and 11 which increase the number of judges of the High Court, the Circuit Court and the District Court. Society is now less complacent and, therefore, the courts must carry an increasing workload. This is evident in the area of family law. At present, many judges deal with family law and other matters while under severe pressure. A judge making a decision under pressure cannot administer justice properly. I welcome these provisions which will take the pressure off our Judiciary and enable judges to give more time to individual cases. That will benefit those who come before the courts and it will help the administration of justice.

The Minister should consider reorganising the workload of the courts. Simple road traffic offences should not be dealt with by the courts. If a garda believes a person committed an offence, the person in question should be advised of it by way of summons and an automatic fine should be imposed unless the individual contests it and, if contested, the matter should be brought before the court.

I do not understand why many family law matters for instance come before the Circuit Court when they could be more appropriately dealt with in the District Court. Matters related to licensing laws could also be more appropriately dealt with in the District Court. The Minister should examine the jurisdiction of the various courts, particularly that of the District Court which should be expanded.

Many people have criticised the appointment of judges by the Government. Since 1922 successive Governments have appointed judges equipped for the job and made the right decisions. For years judges have done a good job on behalf of the State. In our history as an independent State very few complaints have been made about the unsuitability or lack of capacity of judges. Given that, I wonder why we should depart from the present system. I am aware that view will not be popular and people are calling for accountability and so on.

On the condition of courthouses, particularly those in County Mayo, for years solicitors and barristers have complained about the scandalous condition of the courthouse in Castlebar in which the Circuit Court sits. The sound system is very poor and people cannot be heard in court. The facilities available to the legal profession and the public are appalling. There is no facility for people to discuss their business privately with their solicitors or barristers. There is a public toilet in the courthouse but it is not suitable for use. If the Minister and the House are serious about providing law and order and concerned for those working in the courts, they must provide proper court facilities for the public, barristers and solicitors.

I was once a witness in a case heard in Belmullet courthouse. Pedestrians and passing traffic can see through the window. That causes problems particularly in family law cases, when the people involved do not want their neighbours to know of their case. If the House is serious about implemening this Bill, it must invest money in the system and spend money on the appointment of additional judges.

It is wrong that people must wait for long periods before their cases are heard. I am not a solicitor, but a constituent of mine has been waiting three years for his case to come before the High Court in Dublin and he does not know if it will be heard in the next three to four years. He is depending on the State to provide for him and money already provided will be given back if he wins his case. The system should be reformed to eliminate delays. New legislation, rules and regulations are introduced in this House regularly. This gives rise to more legal work and proper facilities must be put in place for judges along with consultation rooms for clients and their barristers and solicitors.

For years people have criticised the wearing of wigs by barristers. I do not object to it and consider it a matter for the Law Society. I compliment solicitors and barristers who have provided a good service for years although they have charged well for it.

I compliment the Minister who promised to introduce this Bill. I am not a member of the legal profession. My job is to protect the rights of the ordinary punters, who have suffered due to delays in having their cases heard. They pay the fees of their barristers and solicitors and their cases should be heard in a reasonable time. A delay of three or four years is not reasonable. It is time we updated our judicial system and provided a proper legal service for the people. I welcome this Bill and hope further updating Bills will be introduced.

The Bill will not be effective if adequate funding is not provided. I hope the priority will be to provide proper facilities in courthouses, particularly the courthouses in Castlebar and Belmullet. At county council level I put pressure on the county council and the Department of Justice to invest money in upgrading the courthouse in Westport. The courthouse in Achill has also been upgraded. However, the conditions of other courthouses throughout County Mayo are scandalous. If the legal profession is to conduct its business properly facilities must be provided.

The introduction of this Bill illustrates foresight on the Minister's part. I hope it will be implemented and additional judges will be appointed in the near future to reduce the backlog of cases to be heard. As a public representative, I receive many complaints from constituents about delays in having their cases heard. As the Chair is aware, people with a court case pending tend to be anxious and worried about it, whether it relates to a serious offence or a personal injuries case resulting from an accident. It is only right that people should have an opportunity to have their cases heard in a reasonable time. This Bill provides for that and its provisions must be acted upon. I hope it will result in a major improvement in the manner in which court business will be handled.

I pay tribute to judges, barristers and solicitors for their good work. They are somewhat like politicians in that it is easy to criticise them, but they have a difficult job and must decide on sensitive issues. They have a proven record and have provided a good service since the 1920s.

I would like our judges to be more lenient in sentencing people who have not committed serious offences. Two constituents, one from Ballinrobe and another from Belmullet called to see me last week. The constituent from Belmullet in receipt of social welfare benefit was severely fined for making an illegal substance which he told me was for his consumption, and I do not doubt him, but the justice did not believe him and fined him £1,500. The husband of another constituent with ten children was caught for drunken driving and fined £1,200 by Justice Brennan, a former judge in Mayo. The man involved will continue to drink, but his wife will have to make cut backs to pay that fine. The imposition of the fine will not change the man's lifestyle. Judges should carefully examine cases to ensure justice is administered. There is no point in crucifying a person in receipt of social welfare benefit. Judges should penalise criminals and send them to jail, but they should be more lenient in the sentences they hand down to the people to whom I referred.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.