Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers - Report of the Review Group on the Office of the Attorney General.

Mary Harney

Question:

1 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach whether the report of the Review Group on the Office of the Attorney General has been fully implemented. [3674/97]

The report of the Review Group on the Office of the Attorney General, published on 21 February 1995, listed 25 recommendations for early implementation and identified another 10 issues requiring further consideration.

Since then two progress reports from the Attorney General have been published outlining action taken on the recommendations. A copy of the second report on the implementation of the report was made available to each Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas in May 1996. I propose to circulate in the Official Report a summary of the latest position which outlines further progress in so far as the Office of the Attorney General is concerned.

Overall, substantial progress has been made in implementing the report of the review group. The office of the Attorney General has undergone a period of sustained change and that change is continuing. Systems and procedures are being refined to meet the changing demands being placed on the office.

A strategy statement for the office will be published within the next few weeks, the office has moved into the final stages of its information technology plan and the Government will publish an annual report of the Attorney General for 1996 in June of this year. This arrangement will provide the Government with an opportunity to keep the operations of the office under continuous review.

REVIEW OF THE OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL

Summary of Progress on Recommendations as at 10/2/97

A. Management of Office

Recommendation

Comment

Development of a Management Advisory Committee.

A Management Advisory Committee (MAC) is operational in the Office of the Attorney General.

New post of Head of Administration.

An appointment was made to this post in November, 1995.

Involvement of TLAC in making senior appointments in the office.

Arrangements are in operation for the involvement of TLAC in the filing of relevant senior level vacancies.

New post of Systems and Services Manager at Assistant Principal Higher Scale level.

An appointment was made in February, 1996.

Urgent preparation of Strategic Management Plan, encompassing both divisions of the Office and the Office of the Chief State Solicitor.

This process has been completed and a strategy statement for the Office will be published in the forthcoming weeks.

Development of internal communications on a structured basis.

Internal electronic mail has assisted in the achievement of this goal. Regular meetings of staff are also held.

Participation in Secretaries Conference, the Assistant Secretary Network and Principals Network.

This is now done.

Review progress in implementing Groups recommendations after six months.

This has been done.

B. Information Technology and Other Support Services

Recommendation

Comment

Development and implementation of IT Plan.

The Office has moved into the final stages of its Information Technology plan which is being implemented with the assistance of the Department of Finances Centre for Management Organisation and Development (CMOD).

Recruitment of qualified legal Librarian.

This has been done.

Training in IT.

Ongoing training continues for all relevant staff on Information Technology matters.

Introduction of suitable staff appraisals.

This matter is in the early stage of development. The development of a suitable performance appraisal system, especially for professional staff, is a difficult one. However, in the context of the implementation of the Governments policy in Delivering Better Government this matter is being addressed as a priority issue.

C. Advisory Section

Recommendation

Comment

Burden of work allocation to be shared (by Senior Legal Assistant) with one other member of the MAC.

All post which is not marked personal is seen by more than one member of staff, and allocated by a member of MAC.

Important and sensitive cases to be brought to attention of the Attorney General.

All Legal Assistants are obliged to operate an early warning system, the purpose of which is to bring sensitive matters to the notice of the Attorney General. The development of IT systems when fully operational will simplify the procedures for doing this.

Development of specialised units for particular areas of work.

The further development of specialism is ongoing.

Delegation of processing of personal injury cases (with certain exceptions) to the Chief State Solicitors Office.

Personal injury claims at Circuit Court level are now handled by The Chief State Solicitors Office.

Feasibility study on appointment of claims manager.

The Civil Service Commission are in the process of recruiting a Senior Claims Manager.

Review of staffing after six months of new arrangements.

Ongoing improvements are being made in the staffing of the Office in the advisory, drafting and administrative areas. Total staff numbers are now 67 compared with 46 on 1 January 1995. Additional resources which may be required in the coming months are under consideration.

D. Office of Parliamentary Draftsman

Recommendation

Comment

Vacant post of Parliamentary Draftsman, and Assistant Parliamentary Draftsman, absorbing the position of Director, Statute Law Reform and Consolidation Office, to be filled with assistance from TLAC.

All of these appointments have been made.

Phased recruitment of draftsmen to commence.

This recommendation has been implemented. Six draftsmen are now engaged by the Office on a contract basis. If required further contract draftsmen will be engaged. Three additional permanent draftsmen were recruited since 1995. A further two draftsmen are expected to be recruited later this year.

Attorney General to consider attendance of the Parliamentary Draftsman at Committee on Government Legislative Programme.

An Assistant Parliamentary Draftsman, who has particular responsibility in the area of legislative programming, currently attends these meetings, along with the Attorney General.

Consolidation of statutes to be undertaken by appropriately selected outside professionals.

A former Parliamentary Draftsman is being employed on a contract basis for the purposes of the consolidation of the Tax Acts. This is the largest consolidation project in the history of the State.

Separate secretarial clerical support for the Parliamentary Draftsmans Office.

Two clerical officers have been assigned as clerical support to the Office of the Parliamentary Draftsman.

E. Issues Raised in Report Requiring Further Consideration

Recommendation

Comment

Professional staff should be facilitated, subject to time and budgetary constraints, in keeping abreast of relevant developments in national, European and international law.

Relevant opportunities to attend seminars and courses are availed of as they arise. The provision of a full-time Librarian and the availability of access to legal databases has also facilitated the process of keeping abreast of current developments.

Scope for upgrading more basic office facilities.

The provision of (i) an improved messenger service (ii) proper reception facilities (iii) a new telephone system are each being addressed in the context of the acquisition of additional accommodation in the building.

Reassessment of accommodation needs of the Office.

The Office of the Attorney General has taken up occupation of additional accomodation in the North Block of Government Buildings in Merrion Street. Renovation work on this building is expected to commence in the coming months.

Extending to solicitors, eligibility for recruitment to the Office.

Solicitors have been made eligible for appointment to Draftsman posts. The Attorney General does not consider it appropriate because of the nature of the work involved to extend eligibility for Legal Advisory positions to the solicitor profession at this time.

Possibility of linkages with legal Departments of Universities (e.g. in the area of legal research).

The Office has linked up with Universities in specific areas and will continue to avail of further opportunities for such co-operation.

Developing additional and/or alternative training for drafting work.

A training programme for draftsmen is being implemented under the direction of one of the Assistant Parliamentary Draftsmen. The contract draftsmen (who are draftsmen with experience at the highest level) have also been given functions in relation to training.

Feasibility of private sector involvement — i.e. contracting out or franchising the preparation of indexes.

The Chronological Tables of the Statutes 1922-1995 was launched during the summer of 1996. Work on producing the 1922-1996 version is now well under way. The Index to the Statutory Instruments 1987-1995 was also published in 1996. Contract staff are being used to assist in these publications. In addition the Office will shortly go to tender to select a publisher to produce a CD-ROM version of Statutes and Statutory Instruments 1922-1996.

Possible use of outside professional expertise as appropriate and when cost effective.

Six outside professional experts on a contract basis are assisting in the work of parliamentary drafting. These six consultant draftsmen are dealing with the drafting of the Governments legislative programme as well as undertaking consolidation work.

As the affairs in the office of the Attorney General resulted in the fall of a Government and this Government is on its last lap, is it not reasonable to expect the recommendations of the report to be fully implemented? What main administrative changes have taken place in the Office of the Attorney General as a result of the sections of the report that have been implemented to date?

This is not the Government's last lap, it is a practice run for the next full circuit we intend to traverse.

There is just a wall in the way.

A general election.

As the Deputy will note from the reply, virtually all the recommendations have been implemented. The fundamental premise of her question is not accurate.

As this is Question Time, will the Taoiseach be good enough to respond to the question I asked? What main administrative changes have taken place in the office of the Attorney General to date? I expect an answer to that question.

They are set out in public documents in the Dáil Library and are the subject of a long appendix to this reply.

I will settle for a summary.

A total of 29 recommendations are either already implemented or are in the course of being implemented. It is not possible to summarise them. The only way I could give the Deputy an adequate answer would be to read each of them into the record. They are being circulated. The Deputy should table questions on individual recommendations if she requires further information. If she insists I will go through the recommendations one by one, but that would not be the best use of parliamentary time.

The reports issued by the Attorney General's office have been helpful to the House. However, they do not address the procedures whereby other officials in the office deal with numerous cases with which the Attorney General cannot deal because of previous involvement. How do the Chinese walls work in so many cases in the Office of the Attorney General?

Anyone who has had an active practice at the Bar before becoming Attorney General will encounter cases in which he or she may have had a previous involvement. There is nothing unusual or unprecedented about that. There is no evidence that any previous Attorney General acted improperly in this regard, even though almost every Attorney General came from private practice. The current Attorney General has instituted a formalised procedure for dealing with the matter. That it is a new procedure is not an inference about previous Attorneys General.

If a matter does not require counsel's advice the head of the office, a senior legal assistant, deals with it and reports to me or to the Government without the intermediation of the Attorney General. If the head of the office cannot deal with a matter with the aid of in-house services, external counsel is obtained by the head of the office without reference to the Attorney General. If the Government requires senior counsel's advice on a matter in which the current Attorney General is conflicted, arrangements exist to deal with the matter.

I did not know the Deputy wished to raise this supplementary, but I have given him the best outline possible of the arrangements in place. I do not have information written down on the subject. I believe what I have said is accurate, but if there is a slight alteration I will inform the Deputy.

A committee of the House sat recently to examine the compellability of witnesses Bill. Members of the committee were told by the relevant Minister that the committee could sit until midnight on the Thursday in question to complete Committee Stage with a view to taking Report Stage in the Dáil the following Wednesday. The Minister promised to table at least 50 amendments on Report Stage for the following Wednesday. Members of the committee received telephone calls last Friday to say that would not happen. We later learned this is because the Attorney General's office is unwilling to put together all the amendments in such a short space of time. Will the Taoiseach confirm if that is the position?

A recommendation in the second report of the Attorney General's office stated that "there should be an extension to solicitors for eligibility for recruitment to the office".

I advise the Deputy against quoting at this time.

One of the recommendations was that recruitment in the Attorney General's office be extended to both barristers and solicitors. That was also a recommendation of the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs, to give a wider remit to the Attorney General's office. The Civil Service Commission advertising for recruits to the Attorney General's office——

That should be sufficient.

——advertised for barristers only. Could the Taoiseach respond to that?

I understand that matter is under review but it does not come directly within the purview of this question.

It is not a subject concerning the internal efficiency of the office.

It is. It is in the report.

Let us hear the Taoiseach.

I am furnishing to the House full information on the implementation of all the recommendations in the report. That will provide satisfactory information for the Deputy on all relevant matters. If he has further questions to put arising from that information, he is free to do so.

As regards the legal profession, it is important we recognise that there are two competing branches in this profession. If a certain category of post previously confined to one branch is to be opened to the other, there will be pressure to open all posts to both branches. The traffic cannot be in one direction only. As long as we maintain the division between the two professions, there will be pressure from both sides for positions to be opened. A number of posts which were previously reserved for barristers have now been opened to solicitors. I am not aware if an equivalent number of posts which were previously reserved for solicitors have been opened to barristers.

As regards the drafting of amendments to the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Bill, 1995, this is complex legislation which deals with something not dealt with by successive Governments since 1970. It involves striking the appropriate balance between the rights of individual citizens and those of the democratic assembly, committees of the Dáil and bodies established by it to get information. It involves the Houses of the Oireachtas potentially entering into areas which they did not previously enter, for example, where the courts might consider they had a primary responsibility. It involves many difficult judgments arising from that and the wording of any legislation is one with which we must deal with considerable care. It is true there were difficulties in producing all the required amendments in the time frame originally envisaged. I am glad more time is now being taken to consider the legislation and the further amendments to it which are under consideration. I do not expect this delay to be long but I am happy that more time has been afforded for drafting amendments. The contributions made by all parties in the committee have been helpful and have been taken into account as far as possible in the drafting amendments.

Does the Taoiseach agree there was considerable unease at the subcommittee set up for Committee Stage of the compellability legislation, that the Attorney General was judge in his own cause? There was a feeling among Members that we could do with an independent view of what is and is not necessary to conserve the independence and integrity of the office of the Attorney General in relation to that office's compellability before committees of this House. Is the Taoiseach aware the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Doyle, informed that committee that, if we were ever to have another Wallace committee, it would require a special Act of Parliament to establish it because the Bill prohibited any officer of the Attorney General being called before such a committee in future?

On a separate matter, is the Taoiseach happy with the overall management of the State's litigation? Is he happy that claims against the State — in prisons, in the Army relating to deafness or relating to ordinary employer negligence cases — are being handled efficiently and well? Is there scope for appointing someone to a position such as the Solicitor General in England which would be a position dealing with day to day management of litigation with political responsibility as well via the Attorney General to this House?

We are having quite an extension of this question and we also seem to be delving into the affairs of a committee of the House.

I have information to hand which answers Deputy Dermot Ahern's questions about solicitors. Solicitors have been made eligible for appointment to draftsmen's posts which is an improvement in the position of solicitors. It is the view that legal advisory posts should continue to be filled by barristers.

As far as management of the State's litigation is concerned, I have been aware and concerned about this for some time, but not in the sense of imputing any lack of diligence or skill on the part of the people concerned. However, from an organisational point of view, where categories of claims are consistent with one another, there could be more economical ways of dealing with them collectively rather than individually. I know the high level group chaired by the Attorney General examining the interaction of the various State law offices will examine this matter. It is of particular concern to them to ensure that the State law offices — the Chief State Solicitor's office, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney General, the Department of Justice and the Garda Síochána — interact and operate with one another in the most effective fashion possible to ensure the most efficient management of the State's legal business.

As far as the affairs of the subcommittee are concerned, I would have no problem entering into an argument with the Deputy on the subject of the compellability legislation but it is inappropriate to Question Time.

This question has taken up a disproportionate amount of time. Let us come to No. 2 in the name of Deputy Dermot Ahern.