Ceisteanna—Questions. - Law Reform.

Dick Spring


3 Mr. Spring asked the Taoiseach his views on whether his statutory responsibilities relating to the reform of the law of the State, pursuant to the Law Reform Commission Act, 1975, should be transferred to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in order to place a direct onus on implementing the reports of the Commission on that Minister. [18092/97]

The statutory functions of the Taoiseach in relation to the Law Reform Commission, as set out in the Law Reform Commission Act, 1975, could be described, in general terms, as providing for the Taoiseach to be the conduit for the submission to the Government of matters relevant to the Commission, such as membership, annual reports and work programmes. There are no specific responsibilities on the Taoiseach in reform of the law. The Taoiseach also has certain statutory functions in staffing matters.

It would not be appropriate to transfer these functions to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and such a transfer would not in any event have the effect envisaged by the Deputy. The Law Reform Commission is an independent research body whose statutory function is to keep the law under review and to formulate proposals for law reform. The Government is not and has not ever been bound to act on proposals of the Commission. That is not to say that the reports of the Commission are ignored.

Examination by the Commission of aspects of law can provide a very useful backdrop for consideration by administrators and legislators. An examination of the Commission's annual reports will show that many recommendations of the Commission have been legislated for in recent years.

Recommendations from the Commission's Report on the Confiscation of the Proceeds of Crime contributed to three Acts passed in 1996, namely the Proceeds of Crime Act, the Criminal Assets Bureau Act and the Disclosure of Certain Information for Taxation and Other Purposes Act. In 1997 the Bail Act and the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act reflected the work of the Commission, as do Bills at an early stage of preparation on nullity, fraud offences, indexation of fines and civil evidence.

I commend the work done by the various Law Reform Commissions since 1975.

In his reply the Taoiseach stated he has no special responsibility for the implementation of law reform and that is exactly my concern. I put it to him that there does not seem to be anybody in the Taoiseach's office who has responsibility for advancing the process from the publication of the reports to recommendations for legislation. I put it to him that it would be worth providing that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which has responsibility for criminal and civil law reform, will be in a position, by virtue of the statutory instrument, to get on with the work. The Law Reform Commission has provided a solid basis of research — it has produced some 54 reports and other working papers — but there is a potential for the good work done by the commission not to be implemented under present circumstances.

I accept the Deputy's point. As I stated, the Act provides no legislative basis for this — I am merely quoting what is in the legislation rather than what the spirit should perhaps be. The Deputy suggests that if reports are put forward someone should then drive the recommendations further. In researching the question I noted it had been suggested that there should be a separate criminal law reform commission to follow through on these matters but it was not decided to do that when the suggestion was made a number of years ago, nor was anything else done. The Deputy will be familiar with the Deloitte Touche report, commissioned some time ago, which is considering the implementation of these issues. I may raise it in that context with my Department, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Mr. Hederman to see if any issue in that area is worth pursuing.

I would appreciate it if the Taoiseach would do that. If it is his judgment that he will not transfer the totality of his responsibilities to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, an official should be appointed with responsibility for following through on the excellent work done by the Law Reform Commission in the last few years.

I will do that. I take the point that under the Act of 1975 it is not a legislative function but I assume that the spirit of the Act is that the matter would be followed up. At times it is actively done but it is not covered in the law. I will raise the issue with the appropriate authorities.