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Dáil Éireann debate -
Friday, 8 Mar 2002

Vol. 550 No. 3

Courts and Court Officers Bill, 2001: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The legal system is central to the notion of what it means to be part of a civilised society, as it has an impact on the lives of all citizens. Key elements of the system, including the courts and the Judiciary, have served this country well. Needs and expectations change over time, however, and provisions in successive courts Acts reflect the demands and pressures on the legal system. Unsurprisingly, the Courts and Court Officers Bill, 2001, also reflects an awareness of the need to reshape certain elements of the system and to change our approach in certain key areas. It contains a number of measures relating to the legal system, some more wide-ranging than others. The measures cover three broad areas, the Judiciary, the courts and the Courts Service.

Turning first to the Judiciary, Deputies will recall that the Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995, made solicitors of ten years' standing eligible for appointment as Circuit Court judges. This was seen at the time as an innovative step as it was perceived that such judges would bring valuable insights to the Circuit Court, given the particular role solicitors play in the legal system. In a further reforming measure, Circuit Court judges of four years' standing were allowed to become eligible for appointment to the High Court or the Supreme Court. In effect, therefore, an indirect mechanism was provided whereby solicitors appointed to the Circuit Court bench might, over time, ultimately serve on the bench of both courts.

Given the fundamental role played by the Judiciary in our legal system, it is not surprising that the pace of change in this area should be gradual and incremental in nature. Having said that, the debate on the 1995 Act focused attention on the question of qualifications for appointment as judges of the High and Supreme Courts and a working group was subsequently established to consider the matter. A key recommendation of the group was that suitably qualified solicitors should be eligible for direct appointment to the Supreme and High Courts. The Government had no hesitation in accepting the recommendation and one of the factors, among many, which influenced the decision was the contribution made by solicitors appointed as Circuit Court judges under the 1995 Act.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Part 2 of this Bill contains one of the central policy elements in this legislation, namely, that practising solicitors of not less than 12 years' standing should be eligible for direct appointment to the High and Supreme Courts. Over time, this provision should widen the pool of suitable candidates for appointment to the superior courts. The greater diversity in profile which may result will enrich further the judicial bench. It is of crucial importance in this context that solicitors are willing to exercise the general right of audience before the superior courts which they have had since the enactment of the Courts Act, 1971. In the absence of such a willingness and given the nature of the new provisions I am introducing, those provisions will be largely devoid of effect.

We are fortunate to have a Judiciary which is respected for its integrity, fairness and independence and my Government colleagues and I do not wish to see this position compromised by a complacent belief that the system in place at any given time is good enough for all times. With that in mind, this Bill contains certain new provisions relating to the manner in which the eligibility for appointment of candidates for judicial office is assessed. The Bill also provides for public scrutiny of the manner of such assessments.

Deputies will recall that to provide for increased clarity in the manner in which judges are appointed, the Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995, established the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. A key function of the board is to recommend to the Government the names of persons suitable for appointment as judges. While the advice of the JAAB cannot be binding on the Government for constitutional reasons, the Government has direct regard to the names recommended in advising the President on the appointment of a judge and it is a matter of record that all appointments made to date have come from the recommended list.

It is clear that the JAAB has an important task in making its recommendations. Accordingly, in line with the incremental approach which I referred to earlier, additional elements of transparency and accountability are being introduced into its procedures. Section 10 of the Bill provides that the JAAB will make an annual report to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The report will set out details of the board's activities and performance of its functions. It may include information relating to the number of persons considered by the board for appointment to the various judicial offices in the period concerned and the gender, professional qualifications and experience of those people and those appointed to judicial office. The report may also include information relating to the procedures used by the board for examining applications and the criteria used by the board to select persons to recommend to the Minister.

The Bill also provides for an important safeguard relating to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board's report. Steps will be taken to ensure that the report will not include information which discloses or could disclose the identity of persons considered by the board in relation to appointment to judicial office, but who were not appointed. Section 7 of the Bill gives a new responsibility to the JAAB, specifying that when recommending a person for appointment to the superior courts, the board should hold the opinion that the person has an appropriate knowledge of the decisions of the superior courts and an appropriate knowledge and experience of the practice and procedures of the courts. The JAAB will have particular regard to the nature and extent of the person's practice in so far as it relates to his or her personal conduct of proceedings in the Supreme and High Courts. The conduct of proceedings, which is under scrutiny, can be as an advocate, as a solicitor instructing counsel, or both. These provisions simplify considerably the recommendations of the working group on judges' qualifications which, on closer examination, were seen to be needlessly complicated.

The working group placed considerable reliance on the fact that litigation experience in the superior courts, based on whether a solicitor is regularly engaged in the conduct of relevant proceedings, should be a condition precedent to appointment. The rigorous scrutiny to which the various recommendations of the working group were subject during the course of the drafting process suggested that this concept could give rise to uncertainty about the appointment of solicitor judges and result in any such appointments being vulnerable to challenge in the future. The Bill now proposes to make relevant litigation experience a matter about which the JAAB should form an opinion before recommending an applicant as eligible for appointment. Notwithstanding the departures from some of the working group's recommendations, I am deeply grateful to members of the group for their work and for the time they devoted to their deliberations. Without their thoroughness and diligence, it would have been more difficult to develop many of the proposals in the Bill before the House.

One point the working group noted is that an increasing number of practising barristers or solicitors change from one profession to the other mid-career. The working group recommended that such persons should be entitled to rely on cumulative relevant professional experience to meet the eligibility criteria for appointment to the superior courts. Section 6 of the Bill provides for this recommendation and also provides that cumulative relevant professional experience may be reckoned in meeting the eligibility criteria for appointment to the Circuit and District Courts.

The number of judges available to hear cases at any one time is always a matter of controversy. Conscious of the need for increased resources in this area, I put proposals to Government in the last year or so to legislate for an increase in the number of ordinary judges of the High Court. In making these proposals to Government, I had regard to the fact that a number of judges are engaged in valuable duties with tribunals or commissions of inquiry. Furthermore, Mr. Justice Quirke is undertaking significant work with the Public Service Benchmarking Body and Mr. Justice Smith has recently been appointed as chairperson of the Standards in Public Office Commission. I also took account of the views of the former President of the High Court that the workload of that court is such that an acceptable service cannot be provided to litigants with the current number of judges.

The number of cases being set down for hearing, particularly in the area of criminal law, has risen dramatically in recent years. High Court business has been further increased by the introduction of additional areas of litigation such as Criminal Assets Bureau cases. Some significant and lengthy trials in the Special Criminal Court have made it more difficult for the President of the High Court to provide an efficient service for the hearing of other cases.

Irish law supports the right to an early trial and the prohibition of proceedings where there has been an undue delay by the State which may prejudice the chance of a fair trial. The needs of litigants involved in civil and commercial cases also have to be acknowledged. Having considered my proposals, the Government approved the preparation of legislation for an increase in the number of ordinary judges of the High Court. At present, there are 24 such judges. The Government's decisions provide for an increase of two in this number, bringing the maximum number of ordinary judges to 26.

Legislative effect is given in section 25 of the Bill to the initial Government decision to increase the number of ordinary judges of the High Court to 25. I will introduce an amendment to section 25 of the Bill on Committee Stage to take account of the further decision of the Government, which was taken after the Bill was published, that the number of ordinary judges of the High Court should be 26.

Deputies will be aware that the Government recently decided to appoint three additional judges to the Circuit Court to facilitate the work of the tribunal chaired by Mr. Justice Flood. In order to give effect to the decision, I will introduce a Committee Stage amendment which will increase the number of ordinary judges of the Circuit Court from 27 to 30. In addition, I will also introduce an amendment to provide for an increase in the number of ordinary judges of the District Court from 50 to 52 and to provide that there may be up to 14 unassigned judges – the statutory limit is 12 at present. Enhanced pension arrangements for Mr. Justice Morris, who has agreed to chair the tribunal of inquiry into the allegations of misconduct on the part of certain members of the Garda Síochána in Donegal, will also be made by way of amendment to this Bill.

Continuing on the theme of the rights of citizens to easier access to the courts and to the speedy resolutions of matters brought before the courts, section 11 of the Bill provides that a judge appointed to a higher court may complete any partly heard cases which he or she may have been hearing in the lower court. This measure will apply particularly in the case of Circuit Court judges appointed to the High Court. At present, when a Circuit Court judge is appointed to the High Court, any cases which he or she may not have heard completely are transferred to another judge of the Circuit Court Bench and completely reheard. In terms of continuity and the duration of the case, this may be a source of concern for all parties. I consider that this measure, which will not cause any undue disruption of the work of the higher court, is a sensible one which addresses the needs of those most significantly involved in any case, namely, the litigants.

On a separate issue regarding judicial appointments, section 4 of the Bill ensures that a judge of the European Court of Human Rights will be eligible for appointment to the superior courts in the same way as, for example, a judge of the Court of Justice of the European Communities. Section 9 of the Bill clarifies certain administrative arrangements which are relevant where a person such as a judge of the Court of Justice is being appointed to judicial office by the President.

Provision is also made in section 4 for Circuit Court judges of not less than two years' standing to be eligible for appointment to the superior courts, replacing the existing provision where such judges have to be of four years' standing to be eligible. Ten years' service as a barrister or solicitor is required for appointment as a Circuit Court judge. The ten years plus two years arrangement envisaged in this section has a certain symmetry with the arrangements for appointment as a judge of the superior courts in so far as practising barristers or solicitors are concerned in that there is a 12 year practice requirement incumbent on such persons. A new element in respect of the latter which is imposed by the Bill is that the requirement of 12 years' practice for barristers and solicitors who wish to be considered for appointment as a judge of the superior courts must include a continuous period of practice of not less than two years immediately before such appointment.

County Registrars who have practised as barristers or solicitors for not less than ten years prior to their appointment are already eligible for appointment as District Court judges. Under the provisions of section 5 of this Bill, such county registrars will now be eligible for appointment as Circuit Court judges. The opportunity has also been taken in section 5 to simplify the eligibility provisions regarding the appointment of District Court judges to the Circuit Court.

I will now turn to matters which are, perhaps, more germane to the way in which the courts carry out the business of administering justice. It is evident that ever increasing numbers of people are using our courts on a daily basis. I mentioned earlier the citizen's right of access to justice. This right is recognised in the significant increases in the monetary jurisdictions of the Circuit and District Courts in the matters of contract, tort and related jurisdictions. The current jurisdictions of the Circuit and District Courts were set in 1991. The increases now provided for are from £5,000 to €20,000 in the case of the District Court and from £30,000 to €100,000 in the case of the Circuit Court. The Government considers that the jurisdictional amounts provided for in the Bill are realistic levels which are appropriate to today's society.

The fact that cases can now be taken at a lower level than hitherto should mean that all parties will incur reduced costs. This is good for individual litigants and the State where the latter is party to an action. The District and Circuit Courts are located conveniently around the country. Therefore, it is not just legal costs which will be affected. If, as expected, the proposals in the Bill lead to a substantial transfer of actions from the High Court to the lower courts, there will, in addition to the greater convenience, also be savings in matters such as travelling expenses for litigants and witnesses. These proposals will facilitate reductions in the real cost of litigation.

The increased jurisdiction levels are provided for in sections 12 and 13 of the Bill. Sections 14 to 17, inclusive, provide for amendments to other enactments which are necessary to reflect the increased levels. The increased jurisdiction levels proposed for the Circuit Court and District Court are in keeping with Government initiatives in the area of ease of access to justice generally. The Government has decided to establish a statutory board – the personal injuries assessment board – to decide issues of quantum in personal injuries arising from employers' liability and motor insurance claims. The Government has also established the State Claims Agency to apply best commercial practice to the management of certain personal injury and property damage claims against the State with the objective of ensuring that such claims are resolved fairly, expeditiously and economically.

Deputies will be aware that the Courts Act, 1991, allows the Government to revise, by order, the monetary limits of the lower courts having regard to the value of money generally since the limits were previously revised. The legislative provision for an increase in the jurisdiction levels of the lower courts which I am proposing today does not affect the provisions of the 1991 Act.

On a related jurisdictional matter, sections 18 to 20, inclusive, of the Bill provide for increases in the jurisdiction of the courts where certain family law matters are concerned. Essentially, these relate to maintenance payments and certain responsibilities incurred in the event of the birth or death of a child. Again, the increased jurisdiction levels provided for in the Bill are appropriate to and reflective of today's society and cost of living. These increases will assist many deserted spouses in obtaining substantially increased maintenance for themselves and their children under the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976. A similar increase in the weekly amount that may be awarded by the District Court for the maintenance of a child under the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964, is also proposed.

At this juncture, I wish to put Deputies on notice that I will introduce on Committee Stage an amendment to the Bill which will amend the Bankruptcy Act, 1988, by increasing the upper limit at which the official assignee in bankruptcy may agree costs. The revised upper limit will be increased from £1,000 to €7,000 and allow the official assignee to deal with the majority of smaller bills of costs, thus providing for a more streamlined, commercial and economic approach to costs arising out of bankruptcy procedures.

Deputies may recall the passage of the Valuation Act, 2001. The property valuation arrangements set out in that Act, when it enters into force on 2 May, will have implications for the jurisdictions of the Circuit and District Courts in property matters. The Circuit Court has jurisdiction in a wide range of cases where land is the subject matter of the proceedings and the rateable valuation of that land does not exceed £200. There are also a number of family law statutes where jurisdiction is assigned to the Circuit Court on a similar basis. In many of the cases arising under those statutes the family home would be the main asset at issue. The District Court also has a certain family law jurisdiction where the rateable valuation does not exceed £20. An assessment of the jurisdiction requirements in property matters is being undertaken by officials of my Department and the Courts Service, the outcome of which will lead to further legislative provisions in the matter of jurisdiction coming before the Houses in due course.

If the increases in jurisdiction provided for in the Bill are to be effective, it is essential that plaintiffs are encouraged to initiate their actions in the lowest court which has jurisdiction to hear them. This is also desirable from a social viewpoint, as otherwise litigants who are financially better off would have an advantage over poorer litigants. This policy is reflected in statutory provisions in courts legislation which generally limit the costs which a successful litigant may recover in an action to the costs appropriate to the lowest court having jurisdiction to grant the relief given.

The discretion of the courts to grant costs higher than the level of costs appropriate to the lowest court having jurisdiction to grant relief is circumscribed by the Courts Act, 1981. It is proposed at section 16 of the Bill that the limits prescribed in that Act be updated in line with the monetary jurisdiction provisions contained in the Bill. Provision is made at section 17 for an increase in the award which the District Court can make in an action for unliquidated damages which may be remitted to it from the Circuit Court in certain limited instances. Again, the increases proposed are in line with the jurisdiction provisions made at sections 12 and 13.

I have referred to the impact of increased jurisdiction levels in reducing court costs. Another feature of the Bill where reduction of costs is an issue is the significant provision at section 26 to change the manner in which interest is calculated on costs, charges or expenses of certain judgments, orders or decrees. At present interest on undischarged legal costs runs at 8% per annum from the date of the judgment relating to that cost. This is also the rate which applies in respect of judgment debts proper. While it is helpful that interest should apply to outstanding legal costs to encourage prompt settlement between the parties to an action, the rate of 8% per annum which applies is not appropriate given the interest rates which prevail currently in the State as a whole. In future, a nominal rate of 2% per annum will apply from the date a judgment is given to the date when the parties agree costs among themselves or until the date on which a certificate of taxation issues, whichever is appro priate. Thereafter, the interest rate of 8% which applies to judgment debts will apply to the outstanding costs until that amount of costs is paid. Provision is also made in this section of the Bill for the 2% rate to be varied by ministerial order, having regard to the levels of interest generally in the State.

The third broad area addressed in the Bill concerns the Courts Service. An independent Courts Service was provided for in the Courts Service Act, 1998, and the service itself was established on 9 November 1999. Not surprisingly, after two years' experience it has become clear that certain administrative refinements are desirable in the interests of having a more streamlined operating procedure for aspects of the service. A number of provisions in the Bill relate directly to this matter.

Section 31 of the Bill provides that the annual report of the Courts Service will be in respect of the preceding calendar year, rather than the 12 month period commencing on the establishment, or anniversary of establishment, of the service. The Courts Service's first and very comprehensive report was laid before the Houses last summer. For practical reasons, this report covered the period from establishment day to the end of the year 2000. All future reports will, on foot of the new statutory provision, be in respect of the relevant January to December period.

The procedures for delegating within the Courts Service the authentication of particular orders or instruments are clarified at section 32. Similar clarification in relation to the determination by the Courts Service board of its functions and the delegation of those functions is made at sections 33 and 34. Section 35 explicitly permits the Courts Service board to establish committees, not just to advise it, but also to carry out certain functions of the board. Section 36 introduces some minor administrative adjustments to the existing provisions which relate to the functions of the chief executive officer of the Courts Service.

Planning matters are addressed in section 37 of the Bill, which ensures the Courts Service continues to enjoy the exemption from planning permission requirements provided for in the Courts Service Act, 1998, which predated the Planning and Development Act, 2000. Section 38 concerns the expenses incurred in the provision of accommodation for High Court judges on circuit. The effect of the provision is to ensure the determination of such expenses will be a function of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, not the Courts Service.

The remaining provisions of the Bill are largely of a stand-alone nature. For instance, sections 28 and 29 deal with the arrangements governing membership of the various rules committees and allow for the delegation of membership in appropriate instances, while section 24 removes certain anomalies with regard to the service of Circuit Court documents.

In section 27 there is provision for a minor adjustment to the Charities Act, 1973, to deal with problems which can arise in the case of charities established by statute where their objects are no longer relevant. The provision will allow the Commissioners for Charitable Donations and Bequests to deal with such cases in a way which is not possible at present.

The brief resumé which I have given of the Bill's provisions makes it clear that, while it contains certain provisions which are of considerable importance, it also contains many provisions which are more mundane in nature. This is not controversial legislation and I hope Deputies on all sides of the House will co-operate in ensuring its speedy passage. The Bill is essentially practical legislation and I will be introducing a limited number of technical amendments to it on Committee Stage.

The work of the Courts Service is dynamic and ongoing. The Chief Justice and chairperson of the Courts Service board, the Honourable Mr. Justice Keane, recently announced the establishment of a working group to examine and report on the operation and organisation of the various jurisdictions of the courts system. The working group has very wide-ranging terms of reference and will be carrying out its functions in three or more modules dealing, first, with the criminal law and, second, the civil law. I welcome the establishment of this working group and wish it every success in its deliberations. I also look forward to the presentation of its findings in due course.

The key elements of the Bill are: solicitors will now be eligible for direct appointment as judges of the superior courts; there will be increased transparency and accountability in the manner in which the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board operates; and the jurisdictions of the Circuit and District Courts will be increased to reflect more fully the needs of society.

There is no closed list when it comes to activity in this area and, in future, it is more than likely that there will be other court related Bills containing other reforms. I mentioned, however, the incremental approach which is a feature of courts legislation. A modern and complex society such as our own, which is undergoing rapid change, places many demands on our legal structures and it is right that those structures should be examined and, if necessary, reformed to reflect the changing face of society. Nonetheless, the centrality of the justice system in our society means that we have to exercise our stewardship with care and any reforming measures must be preceded by considered debate and clear and rational analysis. That was the approach taken to some of the key provisions in the Bill. It is also the approach being taken in other areas, as evidenced by the Chief Justice's working group on jurisdiction to which I have just referred.

I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies on the proposals contained in the Bill which I commend to the House.

I am pleased we are at last debating this legislation in the House. While the Minister did not do so, although he has been in office for a number of years, I should make the obvious declaration of interest as a member of the legal profession and a solicitor. At this stage it should not be necessary for me to do so but I nevertheless believe I should.

The Minister rightly says the Judiciary has served us well. It has done so since the foundation of the State. Often members of the Judiciary have been at risk because of the nature of the cases they have been called upon to determine and the circumstances in which sentences have been imposed. At all levels of the courts – the District Court, Circuit Court, High Court and Supreme Court – there are men and women of outstanding ability who have served the State well and continue to do so. Nevertheless, it would be wrong of us not to acknowledge that people have been appointed to the Judiciary who appeared to be unable to conduct matters in the manner hoped for at the time of their appointment. However, that covers a very small minority of appointments going back to the foundation of the State. The overwhelming majority of members of the Judiciary have served us well and will continue to do so.

The Bill is welcome for a number of reasons. While I speak as a solicitor and a public representative, I wish to make my case without batting for any side of the legal profession. It has been my view for many years that appointments to the Judiciary need to be made from a wider and broader pool of lawyers than the current one. Originally, members of the solicitors' profession could only be appointed to the District Court. Over a number of years in this House I made the case that not only members of the solicitors' profession but legal academics should also be eligible for appointment to the Circuit Court, High Court and Supreme Court.

The Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995, made provision for the appointment of members of the Circuit judiciary who were originally solicitors to the High Court after four years service in the Circuit Court. The Act also made provision for the appointment of solicitors as Circuit Court judges. That was an important reform. My party was in government and it was a matter of controversy that I sought to extend the possibility of solicitors being appointed to the High Court and the Supreme Court. The expert group, referred to by the Minister, derived from the exchanges that took place on that legislation at a time when he was Opposition spokesperson on justice.

The expert group reported a considerable time ago. I welcome the fact that it is now agreed in principle that this Bill will extend the pool from which members of the Judiciary can be selected and will include the possibility that members of the solicitors' profession will be appointed to the High Court and the Supreme Court. However, I have substantial reservations about the controls and limits to be imposed and I am somewhat alarmed at a comment made by the Minister in his speech.

Should the Judicial Appointments Board make recommendations concerning the appointments of members to the Judiciary, whether dealing with solicitors or members of the Bar, section 7 provides that the board "shall have regard, in particular, to the nature and extent of the practice of the person concerned in so far as it relates to his or her personal conduct of proceedings in the Supreme Court and the High Court whether as an advocate or as a solicitor instructing counsel in such proceedings or both." The Bill envisages that members of the solicitors' profession who either act as advocates in the superior courts or are regularly involved in litigation before them as solicitors instructing counsel will become eligible for appointment to the High Court and Supreme Court judiciary.

However, in his speech the Minister seems to envisage curtailing at the outset the specific provisions contained in the Bill. He states:

I would hope that, over time, this provision will widen the pool of suitable candidates for appointment to the superior courts and that the greater diversity and profile which may result will enrich further the judicial bench. Of course, in this context, it is of crucial importance that the solicitors are willing to exercise the general right of audience before the superior courts since they have had since the enactment of the Courts Act, 1971. In the absence of such a willingness, given the nature of the new provisions which I am now introducing, those provisions will be largely devoid of effect.

The Minister appears to be already watering down the Bill. He is telling the House that only solicitors who act as advocates before the High Court and the Supreme Court will, in practice, be appointed to the judiciary of the superior courts, while solicitors who may have 12, 15, 20 or 25 years' experience in attending before the superior courts, involved in major litigation, not acting as advocates but as solicitors instructing counsel will, in practice, never be appointed. In his reply he needs to explain why he is already watering down what the Bill proposes. He also needs to tell us whether he intends to further amend the Bill in this area or whether he is simply acting on the approach he in government would adopt.

While I welcome the fact that solicitors will, at least in theory, become eligible for appointment to the High Court and the Supreme Court, I regret the Minister did not take a more radical step. There is no reason eminent legal academics, who make an important input into the development of our jurisprudence and whose expertise is widely regarded and frequently relied upon by solicitors and barristers in court, should not be seen to be eligible for judicial appointments, as they are in other continental European countries. Why must we still, so many years after the State got its independence, slavishly follow the English model? Eminent members of the United States Supreme Court have come from academic life. We are excluding a whole group of expert lawyers from eligibility for appointment as judges to our courts.

Having been involved in this issue over the years, I am aware that a great deal of politics goes on between the Bar Council and the Law Society. The solicitors' profession and the Bar have been battling out this issue but the public interest demands that the determination as to who should be eligible for appointment to the Judiciary is not one to be resolved through the politics and the clashes that occur between the solicitors' profession and the bar. There is a wider public interest to be considered.

There is a huge pool of fine academic lawyers in this State who have substantial expertise in Irish law. Many of them are specialists and many have greater expertise in their individual specialities than some practitioners. They would have a substantial contribution to make in the public interest in broadening the expertise of the Judiciary. I regret the Minister has not seen fit to take the more radical step and broaden the pool. It is to be regretted that, apparently, the dead hand of politics of the legal professions should determine what should happen. In saying that, I am aware that the Bar Council has fought a rearguard battle for many years against solicitors being appointed to the Judiciary. In documentation I have had made available to me under the Freedom of Information Act, interesting submissions were made by the Bar Council to the Minister in the context of this legislation.

There is one note of a meeting on 19 May 2000 of the Bar Council on the courts Bill involving officials from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The note states that the response of the Bar Council was extremely negative with regard to the legislation the Minister intended to bring forward. The note continues ". . . they expressed concern that the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board would be overrun with solicitor applicants who were not suitable for appointment to the superior courts . . . they suggested that the risk of an unsuitable candidate being appointed would thereby be increased." They were also negative about the proposal that solicitors go from employment rather than private practice directly into the court.

That is from a minute of a meeting involving members of the Bar Council. It is extraordinary that members of the Bar Council should have been concerned with the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board not merely being overrun with unsuitable applicants but recommending unsuitable applicants, having regard to the fact that the board's composition is prescribed by the 1995 Act. That composition is the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court, the President of the Circuit Court, the President of the District Court, the Attorney General, a practising barrister nominated by the Bar Council and a practising solicitor nominated by the Law Society. The suggestion that a large number of unsuitable applicants might put such pressure on the eminent board that it would result in its producing a series of half-baked recommendations of inappropriate solicitors is one I find incredible. However, it is indicative of a certain mindset which is more concerned with protecting vested interests than the public interest.

In that context I am concerned by a particular provision in this Bill which the Minister omitted to mention in detail in his speech. It is a provision which has not been adequately explained since the legislation was published in March 2001. The new provision to be inserted in the 1995 Bill is included in section 7(16)(a) and reads: “The Minister shall consult with the Attorney General prior to bringing proposals before the Government in relation to the appointment of any person other than the Attorney General to a judicial office.” That may seem an unexceptional provision but it is a rather odd one. The 1995 Act prescribes that the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board will recommend seven names to the Minister for Justice of persons it recommends as appropriate to be appointed to a judicial vacancy. At present, under the 1995 Act, seven names are submitted to the Minister which he presumably brings to Cabinet where he presumably recommends one.

However, this Bill seems, for no apparent reason and with no explanation, to give the Attorney General, currently Mr. Michael McDowell, a special position. It seems that after this Bill is enacted, no Minister for Justice, having received recommendations from the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, will be able to go to Government with a proposal for judicial appointment unless it has first been vetted by the Attorney General and, presumably, obtained the Attorney General's agreement.

The reach of the Bar Library seems to be extending into the Attorney General's office to ensure there is little or no prospect of any solicitor being appointed to the High Court or Supreme Court. I find it extraordinary that the Attorney General should be given this special position for another reason. The Attorney General is one of the people the 1995 Act appoints to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board and he is involved in determining, along with the other members of the board, which seven names go to the Minister. Of course, when the Minister gets those names he is not bound by them as, under the 1995 Act, he must also be informed of other applicants who would be appropriate appointments even if they are not among the seven names recommended.

I do not understand why the Attorney General, as a member of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, makes a decision and the board then makes a recommendation to the Minister but the Minister cannot go to Government without again consulting the Attorney General. Presumably that gives the Attorney General a precedence and special position over and above the Chief Justice and the President of the High Court, the President of the Circuit Court and the President of the District Court when it comes to making such nominations.

We know the current Attorney General is a man who constantly basks in his own brilliance and never fails to announce it to everyone. However, I do not see why the present Attorney General should be put in a superior position when it comes to recommending names for judicial appointment – a position ahead of the Chief Justice or the President of the High Court. I do not know why the Minister is capitulating his position in playing the pivotal role conferred on him by the 1995 Act and is handing that role to the Attorney General. I suspect it is not unconnected with the fact that the Bar Council is still fighting a rearguard action against the appointment of solicitors to the Judiciary. Fine Gael will oppose this provision and will oppose the Bill on Second Stage for reasons I will go into.

It is also disappointing that a Minister who talks about the need for transparency in the making of judicial appointments has not incorporated into the legislation a Fine Gael proposal that goes back 18 months and which was the subject of debate at the time of the Minister's ill-fated legislation dealing with disciplining members of the Judiciary. The time has come when, if the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board makes a recommendation to the Minister and seven names are in that recommendation – one of which is chosen by the Minister – we must add greater transparency to judicial appointments. If the Minister determines to recommend a name to Government, that name should be given to the Oireachtas committee on justice. If that committee deems it appropriate, it should hold whatever hearings it deems necessary to consider whether the nominee is appropriate. It should be in a position to express an opinion on that issue to the Minister and the Government and the report of the committee should be laid before both Houses. That would bring true transparency to bear on the appointment of members of the Judiciary but, sadly, that issue is not dealt with.

The legislation seeks to increase the jurisdiction of the various courts. I recognise and support the idea that the financial limits imposed on the various jurisdictions of the lower courts are out of keeping with inflation and should be increased. However, it is interesting to note that the increase the Minister proposes in this legislation, in the context of general financial limits outside the family law area, is substantially in excess of the increase he originally stated he would introduce. I have particular queries about this. I recognise the value of extending the jurisdictions of the lower courts if that will reduce legal costs and that is a valuable objective. However, it will not work unless the lower courts are better resourced and have a greater capacity to conduct hearings than at present.

I refer to the way the District and Circuit Courts are currently constituted. They can barely allow more than a single day of continuous hearing for a case when it comes before them in the civil litigation area. The increase in the District Court limit is large but probably manageable in the context of the maximum limit the Minister proposes. The increase in the Circuit Court limit will prove a problem. It will result in business being transferred from the High Court to the Circuit Court, not just business which should fall within the Circuit Court jurisdiction area, but additional business that should be dealt with at High Court level.

I doubt the capacity of the Circuit Court to cope with the additional volume of cases that will be transferred to it. The additional number of Circuit Court judges the Minister proposes to appoint, primarily relating to the Flood tribunal, will not ameliorate the problem. If the Minister intends to increase Circuit Court jurisdiction to the levels he proposes, he must make provision for the appointment of at least an additional five Circuit Court judges to the three he now proposes. He would also need to make additional substantial financial provision for resources to ensure the Circuit Court can properly hear and deal with these cases.

The Minister's proposed increase in the number of High Court judges is also inadequate. The increase is from 24 to 26. We need a minimum of 30 High Court judges. There is a huge and growing backlog of cases in the High Court in the civil area, while in the criminal area the current position is completely indefensible and unsustainable. The Central Criminal Court has a huge backlog of criminal cases, particularly in the area of rape and sexual offence. There are cases that will take three to four years to be heard from the date the prosecution commenced. Some cases in the court list on Monday of this week have already been two years coming to court. Due to the scarcity of High Court judges, they were put back onto the Central Criminal Court list with no prospect of being heard for another 18 months.

Some young teenagers who have been sexually abused are being brought to court, with all the worries and upset that causes, expecting to give evidence in cases of sexual abuse. However, at the last minute, they are informed that their cases are postponed for 18 months. There are insufficient members of the High Court Judiciary to cope with the criminal lists and there are growing civil lists in particular areas. The extended number of judges the Minister proposes is inadequate. I urge him to amend, on Committee Stage, the reference in the Bill from 26 to 30. That would at least give the possibility of an increased High Court Judiciary even if he does not make the appointments at this stage.

I wish to deal briefly with the area of sexual offences. In the last seven days, there have been a series of cases in which sentences that have left the public gasping in incredulity have been handed down. Judicial comments have been made which lack insight and sensitivity. These will act as a disincentive to victims of sexual abuse reporting to the Garda or having the courage to put up with the pressures inherent in a criminal prosecution against alleged offenders.

I will refer briefly to two cases. One is the extraordinary case that came before the High Court in which a member of the High Court Judiciary imposed a suspended sentence on the grounds that it was only rape. It was also said that the only other thing for which the convicted offender could be criticised was that, during the rape, he threatened to kill his victim. On that basis a suspended sentence was handed down. That is extraordinary and shows a frightening lack of insight. I hope the case is appealed by the Director of Public Prosecutions on the grounds of leniency.

Yesterday, James Kelly, also known as Brother Ambrose, was before the court for a second time for sexual abuse. This time he was before Cork Circuit Criminal Court. He pleaded guilty to 77 offences of sexual abuse over many years. This man was previously sentenced to a huge term but, again, to the incredulity of the public, the term was dramatically reduced in a manner difficult to explain. He was sentenced previously to 34 years, but only served two and is about to be released. As this man is 76 years old and has served two different terms, previously handed down by Cork and Galway Circuit Courts for child abuse, he is to be released. This is another suspended sentence. Why? Is it because he is remorseful? This man should be locked up for life.

Many of his traumatised victims, now in their adult years, find it impossible to sustain an adult relationship because of the abuse they suffered at his hands. What does it matter to them that at the age of 76 years he is remorseful? How many sexual offences does someone have to commit for the Judiciary to take the view that the offender should go to jail? People are always remorseful when they are caught. This man preyed on young people for about 40 years. The number of people he abused is almost uncountable. It is still not known whether they have all come forward. I cannot understand why such people are being dealt with in such a lenient fashion no matter how eloquent the pleas by their counsel.

Another important issue is the provision of training for members of the Judiciary dealing in sensitive areas such as rape and sexual assault or family law. Some training which will ensure a degree of insight and understanding and result in the integrity of our legal system being upheld and not being brought into disrepute is necessary. In the area of sexual assault, it will ensure that victims know that if they put up with the trauma and distress of going to court, there is some possibility that justice will be done at the end if the alleged offender is convicted.

I want to conclude on a public interest issue. The Minister is aware I already raised this issue in connection with the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill. It is appropriate that Deputy O'Malley started off this debate in the Chair. In 1971, under the Courts Act he introduced as Minister for Justice, solicitors were given the right of audience in our superior courts. At present, I remain one of the few solicitors who exercise that right, but others intend to do so. There are still seriously anti-competitive practices operating within our legal system which are contrary to the public interest and which make it much more expensive for people to be represented in our courts.

The Minister is aware that I have tabled an amendment to the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, proposing that a provision be included in law which makes it clear that both solicitors and barristers can jointly act as advocates in presenting cases. I made that proposal because whereas solicitors can appear as advocates, and whereas the law does not prevent solicitors and barristers jointly acting as advocates, the practices and pressures that derive from the Bar Council in practice prevent junior counsel acting jointly with solicitors as advocates in cases. That is wrong. A number of solicitors in the country have particular expertise in areas of law in which they practise and they could well present cases in our higher courts. Just as we might have two senior and one junior counsel presenting a case, there are cases in which it would be appropriate that a solicitor and a junior counsel could jointly act as advocates.

Although there is no legal provision in place, the Bar Council in practice prevents that happening. Over two years I have had extraordinary correspondence with successive chairmen of the Bar Council. They make it clear that this is something the Bar Council is not prepared to tolerate. Apparently the council regards it as unacceptable that any solicitor, irrespective of his or her experience, should present a case together with a junior counsel. This means that people frequently pay for too many lawyers and incur excessive and unnecessary legal costs in order to present cases in our courts.

This is a point to which I will return when we discuss the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill and the Courts and Court Officers Bill. I regret the fact that the Minister has so far declined to accept my amendment despite the fact that, as he says, there is no law preventing solicitors and barristers jointly acting as advocates. He is, apparently, still acting under the instruction of the Attorney General, who takes his advice from the Bar Council.

I am here because my colleague, Deputy Howlin, has not yet arrived due to the Bill being listed for 4 p.m. I will give way to him when he arrives.

I acknowledge that the legal system has been well served and is probably central to the operation of any civil society. It affects every aspect of our daily lives and our roles as citizens. I concur with the Minister's views in that regard. I do not wish to become embroiled in the nuances of the selection and appointment of persons to judicial positions. The calibre of the appointments made in recent years has been high. The area of greatest concern to me – I have expressed this privately at every opportunity – is the extension of jurisdiction.

I must indicate to the House that I am a member of the Bar; I earn my living as a barrister. I am professing my interest now in order that there should be no ambiguity about where I stand. I have no problems with the appointment of solicitors at the various courts of this land. I applaud the rights of audience. I have practised before, mainly in the Circuit Court. If I was to argue strongly in favour of what the Minister has done in relation to jurisdiction, it would be because I would stand to benefit personally. The increase in the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court would be of tremendous benefit to me. Instead, I am arguing that the Minister has gone far too far.

I have practised in the Circuit Court for 12 years and have always found that the judges there work extremely hard and put in very long hours, from the late Judge O'Malley to Judge Deery, Judge Kenny, Judge O'Leary and Judge Anthony Kennedy who works extremely long hours. Judge Carroll Moran and Judge McMahon are, like all their colleagues, very able. There is a perception that the people concerned stop work at 4 p.m., but nothing could be further from the truth. Often they work until 7 p.m. on various cases which may have a long way to run and run into second and third days. They try to accommodate the various practitioners and witnesses. They must go back to their rooms after sitting those hours and spend more hours studying various aspects of the case. They must apply legal principles and interpret the law as it applies to arguments they have heard during the course of the day. I salute them from my own experience at the midlands circuit and limited appearances in Dublin's Circuit Court and acknowledge the tremendous work and dedication of the Circuit Court judges before whom I have had the privilege of appearing. I acknowledge their hard work and the long hours they put in and that working in the country, they may be away from their homes.

Very often across the various Circuit Court settings there are special sittings to accommodate cases expected to run over into a second or third day. From that perspective they are already creaking at the seams. They are not able to deal with the normal workload, yet they must accommodate special sittings. Additional, unassigned judges must be brought in to hear cases, some of which are equity matters, of which the Minister will be well aware, having been a practising solicitor for many years. Equity cases can go on for a week with injunctions and various intractable disputes. Much time must be spent on them to obtain a conclusion. Already the Circuit Court is under significant pressure. There has been a significant increase in the number of crimes which must be dealt with at Circuit Court level. Often a full week may be dedicated to criminal matters or matters of indictment that must be tried before juries. There is also a considerable backlog of cases at that level.

This does not take account of the significant increase in family law cases. The Family Law (Divorce) Act, 1996, the Family Law Act, 1995 and various other family law Acts introduced since then have widened the scope and capacity of the Circuit Court to deal with these matters. I appreciate the importance of this and concur with the Minister's broader view that access to the courts should be made easier. However, he will need to establish circuit family law courts across the various circuits to deal with family law matters. He has done some good work in the provision of accommodation, improvements, enhancements and refurbishments for the courts, but there are still no consultation rooms available for family law cases in some of our Circuit Court settings. This is not appropriate in this day and age.

Fundamental matters are being dealt with and decisions with far reaching and wide ranging effects are being made, yet consultations take place in corridors and alleys rather than in the comfortable confines and convenience of consultation rooms. There should be a specialist family law court available across each circuit at least, because there will be an increase in the number of family law matters being heard at that level. I appeal to the Minister to provide increased resources to ensure that appropriate court accommodation and facilities are provided in this important area where various rights are determined and matters finalised in relation to children and other matters. It is important that there is confidentiality, as we have in relation to in camera cases, and that people have the opportunity to be consulted in private.

That is an increasing area and one that will be devolved down to the Circuit Court. However, I am worried that the increase in jurisdiction is too great, as the Minister proposes to increase it from €38,000 to €100,000. It is correct that the figure be increased but this takes it too far. An appropriate jurisdiction would be €60,000 to €65,000, taking account of inflation and that there has been no amendment to that level of jurisdiction over the past ten years. I will pursue an amendment to the effect that €60,000 to €65,000 is the appropriate jurisdiction because otherwise a huge workload will be generated at Circuit Court level.

The Circuit Court is already under pressure and the Minister is now increasing the number of judges from 27 to 30. However, a number of those judges will work for a number of years at the tribunals. There is no effective increase in the number of judges who do the ordinary work, although the judges in the tribunals will do extremely important work and I acknowledge that. The official appointments were announced on 18 or 19 February and they are only being discussed today. It will be a considerable period before the legislation will be ratified by this House and the Seanad, and before the Bill is signed by the President. Those judges will be devoted to important work at the Flood tribunal and that is why they were appointed. However, the Minister is increasing the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court with no additional judges to deal with that increase.

It is not just car accident cases that will be dealt with. There will be an increase in other areas of civil litigation such as contract cases. The Minister, as a solicitor, is well aware – as is Deputy Shatter – that contract cases can start on a Monday and still be running on a Friday. That happens even now when the limit is €38,000. What will it be like when the limit is €100,000? Deputy Shatter is right in that there will be a significant number of cases and the proper arena for them is the High Court. They are going down to the Circuit Court. Even though I would be one of the beneficiaries of that decision, I argue against a vested self-interest here because this measure will block up the operation of the Circuit Court. As a practitioner, I am speaking against my own interests although it is rare that somebody comes to the House to argue against what is to their benefit.

I do that for the best of reasons. I am not motivated by the Bar Council. I heard Deputy Shatter refer to the council. I did not think it wielded so much clout and I do not think the Minister thought that either. I have learned something today. I must increase my contribution to the council if it is that good.

The Deputy would be surprised how good they are.

I am amazed by that.

They have kept this issue running for six years.

I would also like to find out the views of the Minister's body in relation to the increase in jurisdiction. I think it will be a disaster although perhaps not all at the junior Bar would agree. We should look at the practicalities. Jurisdiction is being increased by more than 2.5 times the current figure. There will be a huge number of cases to be heard, including contractual cases.

I am not doubting the ability of the eminent persons at Circuit Court level to hear or determine the cases. It is a question of resources. Deputy Shatter mentioned five judges being required but I respectfully disagree with him. In order for the Minister to operate this – if I am wrong about this I will be big enough to acknowledge it – it will take 15 to 18 judges. He will probably say that is mad but we must wait and see. Deputy Shatter is more expert in the family law area than I, but I still say there will be pressure and family law courts will be needed to deal specifically with that important area.

What about injunctions? This is another area where matters can be dealt with expeditiously by means of plenary summons and they can get into the High Court automatically. At Circuit Court level, the interlocutory application will very often be the determination of the various matters. That can take a significant period and will now be available at an increased financial level of up to €100,000. I can see where the Minister is coming from in relation to the rateable valuation of property. If I am correct, he is awaiting a further evaluation of that. The 20 judges there are already overworked and will have more work to do as a result of legislation passed in the House over the past five years, under the tenure of the Minister. This measure will accentuate the difficulties. If the Minister does what he proposes, he will have to find significantly increased resources.

The resources do not only concern members of the judiciary, whether solicitors or barristers appointed to the Circuit Court or District Court. Has the Minister had any communication with the unions representing personnel at this level? I have not had any and I am just wondering because it will lead to a need for more registrars, personnel, back-up staff in the courts, people dealing with orders and so on. There will be a huge demand because of that. There will be a significant amount of work and there will be staff considerations in relation to all this.

This is a good Bill in many ways and I have no hang-ups about it. As a member of the Bar, I welcome solicitors. The solicitors who have been appointed are very eminent people and have done a very good job. I can say that having practised in front of at least four of them who are very eminent people and who work very long hours. The solicitors are entitled to appointment to the High Court. They have had rights of audience and, as Deputy Shatter said, some of them have exercised these very well. I have no personal view here and am not advocating a particular course but I am alerting the Minister to a problem.

I refer to the figure of €100,000 or £78,000. Times have moved on since the figure was £30,000. Some £50,000, €65,000 or thereabouts, is the correct jurisdiction which, although it will still put a strain on the current operations, is manageable. Have insurance companies sought this increase in jurisdiction? I do not think they have. We are all caught up with costs and so on. A significant element of costs arise because of the failure to deal with cases early on. There is too much toing and froing. I am a great believer in furnishing whatever reports are there early on. The Minister encouraged that through one of the statutory instruments on the disclosure of reports; I think it was S.I. No. 398 of 1997 or 1998. The exchange of reports has helped to move cases on so they can be concluded a lot sooner. That should be the case at every level. I support that and it is operating very well. Early intervention is very important to try to deal with cases as quickly as possible. A maxim we have all learned is that justice delayed is justice denied.

What will happen when the Circuit Courts become snowed under? The Minister might say that will not happen but I have no doubt that in significant cases, there will be representatives of plaintiffs and defendants, orthopaedic surgeons, actuaries, on occasion, and accountants in the Circuit Courts to prove loss of earnings and so on. There will be cases which will run a lot longer. The defendants will have to have their say and they will have engineers, actuaries, accountants, consultant surgeons, maybe neuro-physiologists or whoever depending on the nature of the injury. Evidence will have to be given in court unless there is agreement in relation to the exchange of reports. They can be handed in and taken as evidence once they are agreed. However, in their absence, all those people will have to be there. There will have to be stenographers because people will have a right of appeal. The Minister cannot limit that right nor has he sought to do so because it would not be constitutional. Instead of dealing with cases more speedily, cases will take considerably longer and they may well be the subject of an appeal to the High Court.

The Minister is right in that the court in this instance will be the Circuit Court which has a jurisdiction of £78,000. That will provide speedier access which is correct and laudable. All the Minister's motives are laudable but the practical operation of those objectives will run into the sand and problems will be encountered. I believe I should raise this aspect in the Chamber today as somebody who practises in those courts, knows the workload which already exists and recognises what this will mean. It could mean that next year the Minister will be back to seek an increase in the number of judges to practise in the Circuit Court because the system will be creaking at the seams, if not clogged up entirely. The problem at High Court level, particularly in the criminal courts, will be transferred down the line to the Circuit Court. While trying to achieve various objectives, one will set others back rather than advance them.

There is obviously grave concern about the serious delays in the Central Criminal Court to which Deputy Shatter referred and the significant time between the date of return for trial and the actual date of trial. That is generally from the District Court to the Central Criminal Court for charges relating particularly to rape, sexual assault and murder. Deputy Shatter mentioned that this can take a number of years. If a person is in custody, that is another problem. There is the victim on one side and the accused on the other, although everybody is presumed innocent until proved guilty. The accused could be in custody for two or three years if they do not get bail. All those matters must be taken into account. We have often seen cases being called but there have been no judges available to deal with them despite the best efforts of the Judiciary to deal with them as quickly as possible.

I appeal to the Minister to consider the monetary jurisdictional aspect of the Circuit Court as proposed and to increase it to a realistic level. My gut feeling is that if the current proposal goes through unamended, it will lead to significant difficulties. Unless there is a significant increase in the number of Circuit Court judges to deal with that problem, there will be a huge backlog in the system and the Minister may have to come back again.

The Deputy has used 30 minutes and has one minute remaining.

The Deputy is not timed in court.

It is not a bad performance for a spokesman on agriculture.

The Bill as drafted proposes to delete section 14(2) and section 14(3) of the Law Reform Commission Act, 1975, which provides that for a barrister appointed as a commissioner in a whole time capacity or a full-time capacity of the Law Reform Commission, such services will be deemed to be practice at the Bar for the purposes of the qualification of a judicial appointment. It appears the Minister is ending that position but he should consider it carefully. Like all Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, he has been the beneficiary of tremendous research reports from the Law Reform Commission. This proposal may be a disincentive for legal practitioners to take up positions with the commission if the time they serve is no longer calculable for later appointments. I ask that this be looked at in that context. We must applaud the Law Reform Commission for some of the excellent reports it has brought forward. It has helped initiate a number of legislative measures which have been brought to fruition in this House.

I am glad this Bill has finally been brought before the House. I note it was presented on 30 March 2001; there has been no great hurry to consider it. My experience of these matters tells me that anything that suggests change in the legal area is always taken very slowly.

I have read the Bill and in many respects it could have been drafted 30 years ago. It is extraordinarily conservative and makes only slight changes. It assumes that everything that has been there for the past couple of hundred years will remain in place, subject only to the occasional tweaking in response to the times we live in. There is no real effort to come to grips with the differences of the 21st century vis-à-vis the reign of Queen Anne when one of our learned legal societies adopted the motto nolumus mutari. It was explained to me that mutari was both a transitive and intransitive verb and could be translated as either “We are unwilling to change”, or “We are unwilling to be changed”. They told me I could take either translation because both were correct. This motto from the reign of Queen Anne is still very much extant in the 21st century.

A great deal is made of the fact that solicitors can now be appointed as judges of the superior courts. I remember proposing that and including it in a Bill in 1971. I had to withdraw it because I was subjected to the wrath of the trade union that operates north of the Liffey. I remember thinking that the much commented on restrictive practices that went on at the lower end of the Liffey, at the docks, were less restrictive than those that went on further upstream. I regret to say that not much has changed.

Except in the docks.

The docks have changed, but there has been very little change upstream. The same type of restrictive practices go on. We now live in the era of the spin doctor and they pay large sums of money to portray themselves on radio and television as being supportive of progress, which, I would have thought, is scarcely the case. I welcome that, 31 years later, it will now be possible to appoint solicitors as judges of the superior courts and I do not think the sky will fall in. The Government of which I was a member in the early 1970s was told that the sky would fall in if such a thing happened.

Why is it that many sections of this Bill, like other Bills before it, set out in such extraordinary detail the length of time that a barrister or solicitor has to be in practice? I do not see that that is necessarily a qualification. In most countries judges are trained as judges. They are not taken from practitioners and as a result are frequently very much better. They are more consistent and often more objective. It is assumed in the Minister's speech and the Bill that the only people it could be contemplated to appoint as judges, at any level, are practitioners. That is not so. As it is the case in England, we assume that it must be that way, but it does not have to be so.

In most countries judges are trained after they graduate and they are frequently more successful. We assume that the legal system we have had for several centuries is the only one and that nothing else can be contemplated. That is not so and it would be worthwhile looking at the more sensible and less expensive arrangements that pertain in other countries. I would like provision made in some future Bill for the training of young lawyers as judges. They could specialise in particular areas if necessary. We should get away from the mania about practitioners. The reason the law trade unions want practitioners appointed to the Bench is that they want people who are familiar with what might be called "the inner practices" of the law. They do not want people who would rock the boat on some of what happens.

This Bill makes reference to costs and that they bear interest at 8%. That is four times more than it is possible to obtain in the open market and about eight times more than for smaller sums of money. I do not know why that has continued, but it has and I am glad the Minister is changing it. There is a more fundamental difficulty with costs in the law than the rate of interest which they bear. The difficulty is their size. It is calculated, and not denied, that costs add an average of 42% to the amount of compensation given in an average case. If someone is awarded €100,000, the cost to the insurance company, and therefore the policy holders, is €142,000. I do not know whether that level of costs is replicated anywhere else in the world; I doubt it. It is not on this side of the Atlantic, and would not be tolerated in the European Union outside of this country and Britain, where we have a lawyer dominated legal system in which justice, the needs of litigants and the public are secondary.

The Minister should look at this even though he will be told that these things cannot be done. We were all told that in our day. Many advised me that one could not do various things and that the kind of provisions in this Bill would never happen. Some of the matters to which I refer may not happen for 30 years, and when they do, people will ask why were they not done 30 years before since it makes common sense.

It is proposed to appoint many new judges in the District, Circuit and High Courts. I find it difficult to understand the reason it is necessary to have more judges in the High Court when the jurisdiction of the other two is to be considerably increased. Much of the civil work done in the High Court will be transferred to courts below it.

Neither the Bill, nor the Minister's speech, addresses the matter of vacations. Judges sit for approximately seven and a half months of the year in the High and Supreme Courts. There are four vacations which take up between four and four and half months. If some judges, even only half, sat during the vacations, it would do much to clear the arrears in some areas about which we hear.

The four terms are Michaelmas, Hillary, Easter and Trinity, which had some relevance about 200 years ago, but the public now is not aware of the difference between them or the reason these lengthy vacations, during which virtually everything comes to a halt, are compulsory. It would make a great deal more sense if the courts sat on a more logical and less historical basis. I shudder to think what would happen to the practice of medicine if it had to be conducted to the same timetable as it was 200 or more years ago. I do not know if my friend, the Minister, is a reforming zealot. I think that he is not, but he should attempt, before he gives up his office, to make one final effort, perhaps in amendments to this Bill, to bring more sensible arrangements into effect.

Civil work takes up a great deal of the courts' time, a high proportion of which consists of the assessment of damages in personal injury cases, in the great majority of which there is no great contest on liability. It is simply a case of the amount. Most countries now have reached the stage where the assessment of damages for personal injury is done by assessment boards and no one suggests in the countries concerned that any great injustice is done. That could be done here, too, quickly, expeditiously and cheaply with a huge saving for the public because the enormous amount of costs, 42% of awards, would not have to be paid leading to a considerable reduction in the cost of premiums.

The Minister refers to the proposed board as dealing with employer's liability and motor insurance cases. I hope it will also deal with public liability cases, which are essentially the same. I am disappointed that he referred to it but does not introduce it in the Bill which is a suitable one in which to include it. If it does not see the legislative light of day soon, it will, like most things, including most of what is in the Bill, not do so for a very long time. That will be because it will be resisted. Efforts will be made to have the assessment of damages by people other than judges declared unconstitutional. This measure would have been brought forward years ago but for the implicit threat that it would be found to be unconstitutional, which is a great pity as the country is choosing to inflict on itself an unnecessary cost in order that the traditional sources of income of certain professions can be preserved. That is not justifiable.

There are 38 sections and three Schedules to the Bill. Many of the sections deal with trivial matters that could have been dealt with under the remit of the Minister, as Ministers have powers to make orders on many matters, some of them very important. One example is the section on whether the Attorney General should be a member of the committee on the rules of court. He will undoubtedly have this honour conferred on him and I am sure will rejoice at it, but it does not appear to be a world shattering event.

It will be the only new job he gets this year.

Of all these minor sections, I draw the attention of the House to section 38, to which the Minister referred, as it brings what he called mundane matters, but what I would call trivial, to their limit. Unless one has experience of these affairs, as I have, one has no idea of the toing and froing that went on to have this section included. Its effect is that the payment of expenses for High Court judges on circuit shall be made now by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform rather than by the legal services board.

I consider a pound to be a pound, or that a euro is a euro, and that it does not matter much where it comes from, but, apparently, a pound paid with dignity has more importance and value than one disbursed by a board. It is incredible that a section must be inserted into a Bill to provide for such an utterly mundane matter. I fail to understand why they have to be done but I know something of some of the sensitivities involved. I could give examples from another age but I had better not, although not much has changed.

I welcome the Bill, in so far as it goes. The Minister is committed to having it passed with some amendments prior to the dissolution of the Dáil and I congratulate him on that. In so far as the jurisdictions are concerned, the figures mentioned are sensible. I heard Deputy Penrose say that the Bar Council was not in favour of it. I have no doubt it is not in favour of it. I recall on one occasion in the early 1970s proposing to raise the civil jurisdiction of the Circuit Court from £600 to £1,000 and to raise the civil jurisdiction of the District Court from £50 to £100. I was told that was outrageous and unthinkable, that it could not be done and that it would have the most devastating effect. I welcome the figures the Minister has published but I notice that under an Act of 1991, he has power to make these increases anyway by order. Why did he wait to put this measure in legislation? It might have been better to do it earlier by way of order.

I look forward to the Bill being passed and I hope that between now and Committee Stage the Minister might consider some of the amendments I have suggested. In particular he might consider bringing in the necessary provision for the personal injuries assessment board, which is the most vital of the numerous reforms needed in our legal system and in the administration of law.

With the agreement of the House I would like to give five minutes of my time to Deputy Barnes.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

In relation to the Bill, I am concerned about the increase in the number of judges. I wrote to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform about this some time ago. I do not have the actual figures to hand – I tried to get them from the Department today, so far without success – but there has been a huge increase in the numbers of judges and we are now proposing to increase the numbers again. There is a danger that the currency may become debased by increasing constantly the supply of judges. That is not a reflection on anybody in particular but it is something we need to consider. The courts, in the main, have upheld the law and applied justice and, in some cases, they have done the work of this House. However, judges are unaccountable in reality and they sometimes put independence and accountability in the same stall, so to speak, but they are different.

I want to refer to section 7 but I would first like to tease out some questions in relation to the Judiciary, the Government and the Legislature in view of the content of the Bill. In the United Kingdom, there is the Office of Lord Chancellor, who is at once head of the Judiciary, member of the Cabinet and a member of the Legislature as chairman of the House of Lords. That could not happen here because of the separation of powers, and I do not suggest it should, but an effort has been made in recent years to evolve the role of the Attorney General into some sort of 16th member of the Cabinet. I am fearful that the Attorney General would become the representative of the lawyers at Cabinet. That is not a reflection on any particular Attorney General, I am talking about the office itself.

If we compare the role of the Attorney General, as adviser to the Government, to the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General, as adviser to this House, the Comptroller and Auditor General has remained absolutely independent, even independent of the House and the Committee of Public Accounts which I had the honour to chair for a number of years. He does not take direction from anybody. To some extent, however, the Office of the Attorney General has not maintained the sort of independence one would expect from an independent, neutral adviser on law. The Office of the Attorney General has now become more than adviser to the Government. It is some sort of protector of the Constitution by court rules, a type of Robin Hood figure who is there by implication of the rules of the courts.

It appears it is now intended that the Office of the Attorney General will become a type of super clearing house for the appointment of judges. I do not know how that came about. This is a serious point that needs to be debated, and this Bill needs to be amended. I mention this in passing but perhaps it is time to consider appointing a Minister of State at the Office of the Attorney General so that the Legislature can, in appropriate, open and defined circumstances, seek accountability from the Attorney General on his ever-increasing and widening role. The Dáil should consider a vetting procedure for judges before they are appointed and perhaps we should consider setting out guidelines for the ethical behaviour of judges so that what would or could constitute a motion to remove a judge by the Houses of the Oireachtas would be clear to all.

I want to mention in passing the Sheedy case. As far as I can recollect I have never spoken on it in this House but there is an element of that case that has never been cleared up. There may be other peculiar circumstances where such issues have not come to public attention but one question which remains unasked from that case is why the original presiding judge, Judge Matthews, who indicated that a lighter sentence was being considered actually applied a heavier sentence. Did he, at that stage, become aware of something untoward that caused him to change his mind? Everybody who justified what happened thereafter said that someone had to correct an injustice that was done but as far as I can see nobody asked why Judge Matthews indicated he was considering a particular sentence and then imposed a much heavier sentence. That question needs to be asked. Is something untoward happening that we do not know about? Unless we lay down some rules and regulations and unless there are known rules for the ethical behaviour of judges, is there not a greater likelihood of the sort of controversy which arose in the Sheedy case arising again?

Judges have started their own review. That needs to be watched with great care. Nobody can be a judge in their own cause, so to speak. A certain person told me that when his father was Attorney General, he would render advice to the then Government. The Taoiseach would thank him for his advice and the Cabinet would make whatever decision was best in its judgment, and the courts were available to anybody who wished to challenge that decision. In a five-judge court one can get a three to two decision, for example, so no one lawyer, be it the Attorney General or otherwise, can be considered to be infallible.

I want to return to section 7 because the Bill, as circulated, proposes to allow solicitors to be appointed to the higher courts for the first time. Section 7 provides for a statutory right for the Attorney General to be consulted before judges are appointed. The Attorney General is leader of the Bar which puts him in the position of insider on behalf of a stream of lawyers. Alternatively, what would the Bar Council say if the next or some future Government appointed a solicitor as Attorney General? As I understand it, there is no reason that should not be done, but there would be uproar if it was done. Yet it thinks it is right that a barrister should be put in this position, as provided for under section 7.

Who sought this provision and why was it sought? Is it to protect the public interest, as the Attorney General is required by court to do or to protect the interests of barristers? A judicial appointments advisory board already exists, of which the Attorney General is a member. Why does he now need a separate and sole statutory right of consultation? The Attorney General is adviser to the Government. Why should he have any statutory right of consultation? The Government, of which the Attorney General is not a member, must be free to seek and to accept or reject whatever advice it wishes. What would legislators think if, say, the Chief Justice sought the statutory right of sole and separate consultation on the appointment of judges? They would think it a gross interference with the independence of the Executive and the Oireachtas. The Attorney General's constitutional station in life does not give him a right to such a statutory power.

It is the President of Ireland who appoints judges, as set out in Article 35 of the Constitution. She exercises this power on the advice of the Government whose members are exclusively Members of the Oireachtas, almost always TDs. There is no constitutional provision that requires or suggests a statutory role for the Attorney General. Many Attorneys General have had private practices while serving as Attorney General. Counsel depend on solicitors for their briefs. Are solicitors to be beholden to an advocate who could influence their prospects for appointment to the Bench separately from the appointment to an advisory board. Should other barristers be put in a subservient position to one of their number?

The proposal is of doubtful constitutional validity. The Government relies on the advice of the Attorney General on the constitutionality of proposed legislation. As nobody can be judge in his or her own cause, the Attorney General should have sought the advice of a senior solicitor before advising on section 7.

If there is to be a statutory right of prior consultation before the appointment of judges, it should be conferred on an Oireachtas committee to ensure there is openness and transparency in the public interest. This is one way the Oireachtas could carefully examine Government proposals and hold the Executive more accountable for its actions. It is a further indication of the need for the Oireachtas to interest itself more fully in the administration of justice and of the need for reform. I have been pursuing this matter since I published the Reform of Courts Administration Bill, 1986 some provisions of which have since been implemented. I quoted Deputy O'Malley at that time.

Another delicate point is, should the President-CEO of the Progressive Democrats have a separate and sole right of consultation before persons eligible for the office of judge can be appointed? I have had the occasional clash with Mr. McDowell, but I respect his integrity. However, that is not the point. It is his judgment that requires scrutiny. If a future Attorney General were also Secretary General of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael or President of either of those parties, should he or she have a statutory right to sole consultation before judges could be appointed? I think not. Neither should the current provisions be allowed to proceed.

Mr. McDowell needs to be called publicly to account. I call on him to make a statement on the matter. I wrote to him about this matter when this Bill was published and other than an acknowledgement from his office I have had no further communication from him. This is an appropriate matter to raise on this debate and I hope I have raised it in an appropriate and dignified manner. It is an issue of concern that needs to be addressed.

I welcome the Bill, but like previous speakers believe it would be better if it contained more fundamental change. It would be better if it went further in allaying the real concerns people have about the workings of the courts or what sometimes seem to be the non-working of them and, as Deputy Shatter said, what seem to be extraordinary and outrageous judgments, which instead of encouraging people to seek justice deter them from doing so. It is a matter of great public concern that time limits and financial constraints do not allow a great number of people seeking justice to believe they have access to it. It is of even more concern when, having gone through the long and torturous procedure of bringing a case to court, judgments are made that not alone deny people justice but in rape and serious sexual assault cases leave them feeling that they are being raped and traumatised all over again.

In a climate where everyone must be highly skilled, update their skills and raise their awareness to even hold on to or progress in their jobs, it is extraordinary that there is no demand for such training within our legal system. I concur with the call for such training by previous speakers. The introduction of training of judges is of imperative urgency and it is extraordinary it has not yet been introduced.

I had the privilege of attending a conference recently of a group in Dublin Castle and it was a great learning experience. The group included judges from the UK, social workers, members of the police force and other people involved in dealing with violence against women and on the streets. One of my greatest learning experiences from that conference was gained from participating in a workshop of practising judges who exchanged information on the different jurisdictions they represented in the UK. They gave information on this area and people from outside the law advised how they felt certain reforms should come about. That gave me and other lay people attending the conference a great insight into the thinking of and ways in which judges reach their decisions. It was the most accessible and open experience I have had of the judicial system. That type of workshop would be of extraordinary benefit and should be part of the training and retaining of judges.

Prior to that conference a group of enterprising judges in the UK formed a network of people who meet frequently to exchange information. They update each another and leave themselves open in an informal session where they can exchange information and lay people can learn how and why they come to some decisions. There is a great need for such a network here. There are times when judgments are made that do not concur with the sense of justice or the sense of decision making in which the lay man or particularly people before the courts can believe.

Deputy Shatter referred to some of the most extraordinary and distressing judgments on rape and sexual assault cases that emerged during this week alone. I believed, as did many women who got in touch with me, that any learning, reform or legislation that had painfully been brought through this Legislature had been rolled back. Not only is there no reform but we are moving backward rather than forward.

The area of cases stated is another area to which my attention has been drawn by Deputy Shatter – and of which the Minister is aware – where reform is needed in regard to the efficiency and effectiveness of the working of the courts. If a judge has a retirement date by which time he will not have concluded a case, the case has to start all over again. A reform that should be introduced under the Bill is that in such cases there should be provision to appoint the judge as a temporary judge, for the purpose of finalising any case or cases which that judge has not completed at the date of retirement. That makes eminent sense and I hope the Minister will take it on board.

I applaud what Deputy O'Malley has said, that we should grasp this opportunity to make more fundamental reforming changes. There is grave public concern about the perception of the Judiciary and the type of inward looking world it is. It is no coincidence that within the English system the inner temple is used. In fairness to the Scottish system it has devised its own. I see that as a symbol of a huge amount of the arcane workings of the courts.

A fundamental reform of the Bill should be that the Judiciary and we as legislators are set up in such a way as to ensure, as far as possible, that justice can be administered openly, transparently, effectively and, above all, fairly. The opportunity to do this should not be missed. Despite the many submissions which the Minister will receive to delay or object to reform, he should use these weeks to bring about some of the fundamental reform for which we are crying out.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I welcome particularly the opportunity to support the progressive positions being proposed in the Bill. There have been substantial changes in recent years. This is as it should be because we live in a changing world. Society has changed. The demands on the courts, as elsewhere, are changing all the time. It is important the courts which have served us exceptionally well should be equipped to deal with the evolution of society and problems that may arise in the future. The area of family law has become a huge new dimension in court practice. Matters of this kind have always to be taken into account when changes are proposed either to the courts, court practices or the number of judges available. I welcome the fact that what is proposed in the Bill is not being proposed once and for all. It has to be recognised that there will continue to be a need for change and reform.

The second point I make, which the Minister has underlined, is that the courts are there to serve the citizens, not the judges, or the practising lawyers. The priority to be borne in mind is that the fundamental role of the courts is to serve the needs and vindicate the rights of the ordinary citizens. Sometimes these rights come in conflict particularly in the civil courts. That is the area where the independent Judiciary must make a determination which will be binding on all the parties who seek access to the courts. For this reason change is important, and I welcome a number of changes which have taken place recently, particularly some changes which have taken place at the behest of that most conservative of bodies, the Bar Counsel, of which I happen to be a member.

In accordance with the recommendations it made some years ago, it was left open to those of us who feel more comfortable without the wigs on our heads not to wear them. A large number of the members of the Bar avail of the opportunity to appear properly robed but without the extra camouflage of a wig which seems to convey a strangeness, an authority and a solemnity which is not necessary or appropriate. In that context it must be remembered that the Judiciary particularly has to be conscious that its role always is to vindicate the citizen's right.

I will make some observations on that. From now on, the reports of the judicial appointments advisory board will be presented to the Oireachtas. My colleagues here will understand that the independence of the Judiciary which has been the cornerstone of the Constitution must remain and must be respected by us if, and whenever, we come to debate these reports which will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. There is an interconnection between all the institutions of Government, including the Judiciary, but I hope if and when we debate those reports we will not fall into the trap of setting ourselves up as alternative judges to comment on the discharge of responsibility of individual judges, in the matter of sentencing or such matters. It is right and proper that we should comment and criticise if needs be on a trend, as we see it. Equally, it would be entirely inappropriate and would undermine that independence, which is so vital in the whole operation of the Judicial and courts system, if we were to use that provision to criticise individual judges on the sentences they might impose. If so, we might as well recognise that the whole independence of the Judiciary will be undermined. I make this comment in advance in light of the new provision.

The third point concerns the rights of citizens. There is probably no area where that comes into play more critically than in the area of criminal law. Because of all the demands being made of judges – I have some reservations and apprehensions about some of the extra curricular demands – it has been demonstrated that on many occasions the President of the High Court does not have available to him a sufficient number of judges to deal with a particular matter, from the point of view of the individual citizen. I have in mind especially the criminal trials and the lack of an adequate number of judges to deal with them. It is a matter of grave concern, not in the interests of the Bar, solicitors or anyone else involved in the legal profession, but in the interests of those being sent for trial.

We are familiar with the old principle that justice delayed is justice denied. I understand there is a minimum delay of 18 months between a return for trial from the District Court to the Central Criminal Court, for charges which relate to serious offences such as murder and rape. In some cases the accused remains in custody until the trial date, which is, by any standards, unsatisfactory. Unfortunately, when the trial date comes around there are insufficient judges to deal with the matters coming up for hearing in the Central Criminal Court. I welcome the Minister's pro posal in the Bill to increase the number of High and Circuit Court judges in that context.

The Oireachtas is constitutionally an arm of government in its broadest sense and its Members, while welcoming the Minister's decision, should be conscious of the dangers of referring every issue of importance to a sworn judicial inquiry. While I do not question our right to judge what is important, I have had reservations about such inquiries since the establishment of the beef tribunal, which lasted for a considerable length of time. If we insist on establishing many inquiries to look into important matters without considering whether there is sufficient judicial capacity to deal with them, I regret to say that we will cause some of the problems we bemoan, namely, lack of access to courts and long delays before trial. I am glad to say, however, that there has been a significant improvement on the civil side, as cases in that area are being set down much more expeditiously than was formerly the case. It is a tribute to Governments during the years which, in consultation with the president of the High Court, have increased the number of judges and helped break the terrible logjam on the civil side.

As a member of the Bar, I have had no illusions of grandeur. I am always slightly amused and a little cynical when I hear people quoting whom they call "eminent senior counsel", when it suits them. While I do not claim to be eminent, I have been a senior counsel since 1973 and I am happy that my views on issues such as we are discussing today should be questioned and challenged. The fact that a senior counsel gives an opinion does not mean that the opinion suddenly develops an eminent status and should not be questioned. If we have reservations about views expressed by senior counsel, I suggest that we attach the same eminence to them as we do on occasions when we happen to agree with them.

I would like to speak about the Office of the Attorney General. I was in government on a number of occasions when the Attorney General, in the course of his constitutional role, advised the Government in respect of appointments to the Bench, whether at Circuit, High or Supreme Court level. While I do not question the objectivity of Deputy Shatter's views as expressed in the House today, I do not share his concern about an Attorney General who practises in the superior courts. It is important that an Attorney General should be free, where appropriate, to take cases in the courts, although not on a full-time basis.

I agree entirely with the Deputy.

Perhaps I misunderstood the Deputy's earlier comments.

I think it is a good thing that an Attorney General should take on cases in the courts.

I apologise, as I misunderstood the Deputy.

I want to be of assistance to the Deputy by making clear that I agree entirely with him.

It is important that legal professionals, no matter what their office, should not be remote from the practice, procedure and changing moods and needs of the courts. It is harmful to be to be isolated in an office without a connection to those one represents, as I discover each time I return to the courts.

Deputy Barnes referred to judicial reviews, which did not take place to a great extent ten or 15 years ago, due to the old issues of mandamus and certiorari. It is quite appropriate that judicial review has become a growth area. If there are inappropriate exercises of administrative responsibility, which we find from time to time in local authorities, planning boards or elsewhere, it is essential that a citizen has the right to bring judicial review proceedings, which I welcome. It has to be noted, at the same time, that it applies only in respect of decisions, either of administrative tribunals or lower courts, such as the District Court. There is no facility for judicial reviews of High Court decisions, as that court determines whether something was done, undone, or not done, which might either offend the law as we pass it or the Constitution which the people have adopted. The only provision in such circumstances is an appeal to the Supreme Court, a provision used constantly. I have found myself on both sides of it in recent times, properly so.

It is important that matters can be reviewed by our courts. I hope practising lawyers, solicitors and barristers, as well as other citizens, are of the view that the judicial review procedure has been an extra avenue to vindicate or test rights. It is a huge growth area. Those of us who have returned to practice after a number of years have found that handling judicial review applications has helped us to relaunch our legal careers. At the same time, the judicial review system needs to be respected and enhanced.

I welcome the fact that the superior courts are being made more available to practising lawyers of both professions, as a provision is made for practising solicitors of not less than 12 years standing in Part 2 of the Bill. I do not think I am unique among my Bar colleagues in welcoming this development, although there is an observation I would like to make. I have never believed that barristers qua barristers have a superior knowledge to solicitors qua solicitors, as such a belief is nonsense.

Anyone with experience in either of the two professions knows that legal workers live, work, socialise and congregate together in places such as the Bar Library. They discuss cases and issues at the Bench and consult each other in relation to complex matters not previously encountered. There is access to a pool of knowledge, research and reports which could not be reasonably or normally available to practising solicitors unless they engage with large chambers. Sometimes there is a certain status distinction between the two branches of the law. I never see it that way and I could not attempt to justify such a distinction. However, the social contact and legal facilities happen to be available to members of the Bar and that is a very important asset.

This Bill addresses the important point that no one, not even judges, has a guarantee of permanence in a job. Judges are subject to Anno Domini in the same way as everyone else, and I welcome the provision in the Bill which allows them to continue for a period to conclude the consideration and determination of cases. This issue has become a problem recently and as judges retire, there are occasions when there is pressure to conclude the case. That is not a good idea because, in the interests of litigants and no one else, judges should have the opportunity to take whatever time is necessary for consideration and study to reach a conclusion. If that cannot be done within their term of appointment, there is no reason that it cannot be extended.

I will make a final observation regarding the Office of the Attorney General. One has to be careful. I recall over the years that the only advice available to the Government regarding the appointment of judges was from the Attorney General to the Minister who made the decision or a recommendation to Government. This system worked. I had reservations about the procedures introduced some years ago which I expressed in the Seanad. I took the view that one should not change something which is working. My concern at the time was that if people submit applications to this board, many of whom will be colleagues at the Bar or in the Incorporated Law Society, if they are not successful, they carry a sanction or penalty when they go back to their practices. This issue has been dealt with in this Bill to the extent that the matter cannot be disclosed to anyone in the event of someone being unsuccessful.

I welcome the Bill. In an ever changing society there will always be a need for reform and change. The seldom quoted motto of the Bar is nolumus mutari. Whether that is a transitive or intransitive verb, it means, “We do not wish to be changed”, or “We will not change”. I am glad that motto is no longer practicable. If this Bill contributes to effective reform, then I welcome it.

Deputy O'Malley disagrees on that point.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I wish to begin with a few general remarks. I regret that my contribution to the debate is later than I intended, but I understood the debate was not to begin until 4 p.m. I regret this late contribution for a number of reasons, not least of which is that the Minister is not present. It is important that he is in the House for this debate.

I also regret that this debate is taking place at the back end of a Friday. This is important legislation, but it could be more important as its scope is limited in terms of the reforms which are required. Notwithstanding the wonderful motto quoted by Deputy O'Kennedy, change is required in the areas of judicial conduct and judicial affairs and as the State and the requirements of the people change. It is not acceptable to shove this debate into the back end of a Friday and guillotine Second Stage. Many Members would wish to comment on the Bill as many of us have interactions at some level with the judicial system and would have important contributions to make. It is not good that we are circumscribed by the timetabling of the Bill.

I am sorry that the Minister is not in the House as I wish to express my regret that the Courts Bill published in my name, which simply proposed to appoint three additional Circuit Court judges, could not have passed all Stages by agreement this afternoon. That is the will of the House. If we had done so, the Seanad could have dealt with the Bill next week and we could have appointed the three additional judges which the Flood tribunal requested last summer when it received the promise of a quick response.

One can only come to the conclusion that the tardiness of the Government's response in appointing those additional members to the Flood tribunal is not accidental. A delay of a week, a month or even three months might be put down to difficulties. However, the request was made last summer and there is still no sense of urgency or alacrity in doing the important work of the Flood tribunal. The simple, two line Bill to appoint the additional Circuit Court judges would have met that requirement. I deeply regret that for no good reason other than the Bill did not come from the Government side of the House, it could not be accepted today.

This situation is grossly unfair to the three eminent – I use that word although I am cautioned against it – legal personages who were offered the posts and announced on 19 February. Two of those offered the positions were senior counsels. The three were announced publicly and cleared their desks on 19 February so, as judges, they would not be involved in normal work. I understand that they are very frustrated and they deserve better treatment. I am annoyed that the Minister did not see fit to resolve this issue by accepting my proposal.

I wish to comment on what is, and what should be, in the Bill. Much of the contents of the Bill will not be opposed by the Labour Party. The eligibility of practising solicitors of not less than 12 years standing to be appointed to the superior courts is long overdue. The artificial divide between the two branches of the legal profession has been a mystery to many of us who are not lawyers. Some of the artificial barriers which have been created do not serve the public well so it is important to break them down. Many of these barriers have been broken down legislatively, but are reinstated by custom, practice and prejudice. It is not only important that we legislate, but that we insist that the laws we enact are upheld and put in place.

The proposal that Circuit Court judges be eligible to be appointed to the superior courts after two, rather than four, years' service is also important, although it is not of great moment. I wish to be conscious of the quantifiably different roles of Circuit and High Court judges. I do not know whether this should be seen as an automatic promotion. Some people are suited to being fair and good judges in the Circuit Court, but would not function well in the High Court. We should not create the notion that it is like joining the Garda, with eventual promotion to superintendent. There are people who are absolutely suitable for District Court level but not other levels, those who are suitable for the Circuit Court but not the High Court and those who could sit at any level. The implication that this is a promotional grade would not be appropriate.

Section 7 of the Bill places the obligation on the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board to ensure nominees have appropriate knowledge of decisions, practice and procedures of the courts to which they are recommended. It is important they would have such knowledge but how would it be tested? Some time ago there was dispute in Government over the appointment of judges that spilled into the public domain. The Government asked the Chief Whip, now the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, and me to address the issue. We came up with a proposal for a judicial appointment procedure which was enacted by the next Government so I have some knowledge of the practices in relation to the appointment of judges. There was an ad hoc arrangement. It was amazing to hear the views of those in the legal profession on their sense of dignity about applying for a job. The vulgarity of applying to be a judge was anathema; they might be rejected and would be so devastated, their ego so crushed, that they would not be able to show their face among colleagues again. I do not accept that. There must be clear criteria by which people qualify for appointment to very important positions.

How will knowledge of decisions, practice and procedures of the courts be assessed? If the application is such a burden, it is doubtful there will be a test. How will people's suitability on grounds of character and temperament, as provided for in section 7(b)(i)(III), be tested? That is an exciting prospect for the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board – judging the character and temperament of individuals in relation to their suitability to be appointed as judges. It is, however, extremely important, a fundamental requirement for legislation dealing with judicial conduct.

Earlier discussions about this led to flawed proposals for a constitutional amendment and I take some credit for exposing the inadequacies of the Government proposals to the extent they were withdrawn. The reason the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said he could not proceed with the constitutional amendment was that it lacked cross-party support in the House and a constitutional amendment could not, therefore, be advocated. Obviously that does not apply to every issue. There is an unanswerable case for such an amendment to ensure criteria for judicial accountability.

I regret that since that initial testing of the water, we have seen no more of the idea. That is a great pity and it must be taken up by the Minister's successor because we need judicial accountability the same as we need the air of transparency that blows through this House, the administration of the Civil Service, local government and, hopefully, the Garda. The notion that any individual, even an exalted judge, is master of his own court to the extent that no one can comment on his decisions, even those that are bizarre, does not sit well in a democracy. We walk a fine line between the absolute independence of the Judiciary, which must be a cornerstone of any democratic society, and accountability. That line must be defined. Judges are not even accountable to their peers, much less the Oireachtas. It will be difficult to get those balances right. My party put forward good suggestions and the Government's proposals were worthwhile but we must revisit them.

We must go beyond accountability and consistency to basic good manners. Some of the comments judges make about people are appalling. A judge in the west described an unfortunate man before him as having a face like a mallet. That is unacceptable in a courtroom. Good manners should be listed among the requirements to be appointed a judge. Training and proper selection will lead to this but the proposals before us today do not get anywhere near to achieving it. We will not have time to deal with the issue in the current Dáil, it will fall to be dealt with by the next Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and should be given priority. If we enact this legislation in the meantime, I will be interested to find out how the suitability on the grounds of character and temperament will be tested in these proposals.

Section 10 of the Bill provides for an annual report by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, a welcome development. The criteria and style of the report will have to be decided after the enactment of the legislation but it will give the Oireachtas a better insight into the procedures for appointing judges and the associated difficulties. Not everyone wants to be a judge now, as the Government discovered when seeking volunteers to sit on the tribunals. We will have real knowledge, not just anecdotal evidence, through the annual report.

I welcome the extension in jurisdiction of the Circuit and District Courts. There is an argument about the exact nature of the increase being a value judgment but I will not take issue with the Minister's assessment.

The appointment of additional judges is one of the primary issues in the Bill. It proposes one additional High Court judge but the Minister says he will table an amendment to enable two additional appointments. The additional Circuit Court judges are not provided for at all in the Bill and will also be provided for by means of an amendment.

The Minister said he wishes to introduce a number of technical amendments. I give him notice that I will not agree to have the Bill guillotined on Committee Stage. We must have time to debate these matters and sight of the Minister's amendments well in advance. There was talk of Committee Stage being scheduled for next Tuesday, but that would be unreasonable in the context of Opposition Deputies having to prepare amendments, consider Government amendments and, if necessary, seek outside advice.

The delays in the courts are a real issue, as are the costs of litigation. Even where people take action, where the awards are tiny, they incur a penalty in the form of legal costs. It cannot be right and just that the penalty should be incurred in the legal costs in taking a case rather than by any fine imposed or settlement arrived at by the courts. We must come to terms with this and be allowed to discuss it.

While additional judges are to be appointed, an array of additional staff measures are required. The Courts Service has made good progress on court buildings, but many of them are still dreadful. They are inaccessible to those who are immobile or visually impaired. A programme of work setting out exactly what needs to be done in this area is required.

It is essential to address the issue of judicial training. When teachers become principals they embark on an entirely different job. The same applies to barristers and solicitors appointed judges. While there is on-the-job training and training in terms of conferences and seminars, a much more proactive and structured form of training is required. That applies especially to the family courts. Other Deputies mentioned a number of abuse cases where specific training is required. Perhaps dedicated judges expert in handling such cases should be appointed to deal exclusively with them on a rotation basis. The differences in views expressed by different judges who happen to deal with these cases intermittently are causing a lack of confidence in the administration of justice and, therefore, a decline in the reporting of serious crime. Both issues must be addressed.

I hope I will have more time to elaborate on my views on Committee Stage. I regret the Minister was not present to hear what I had to say and also that I was not present for the start of the debate because of the rescheduling of the commencement time.

I thank the Deputy and commend him for staying within the time. Does the Minister of State intend to speak?

No. The Minster will return to the House to reply to the debate.

Acting Chairman

I call Deputy Joe Higgins.

(Dublin West): When as conservative a person as Deputy O'Malley describes this Bill as conservative legislation, one can deduce it is very conservative. A number of Courts and Court Officers Bills have been introduced to the House during the years, an examination of which will show that the Government of the day tinkered around the edges of the legal and judicial system in a very piecemeal way. This Bill is similar. There is no root and branch analysis of the legal system, the role of the courts, court officers, judges and so on from any kind of a radical or fundamental perspective, such as their role in society and the changes necessary. The legal system is an arm of the conservative Establishment whose thinking dominates this society, economically, socially and politically. The Government of the day takes that as read and any legislation it introduces tinkers around the edges of these issues while making no attempt at a fundamental review of whether, for example, judges are qualified to do the job they are appointed to do.

There is also a huge class bias within the legal and judicial system. The leading court officers are drawn from a privileged strata of society and their thinking is totally suffused with its mores. The majority of people – the poor, the working classes and the unemployed – have no opportunity to become part of the legal establishment. Their main dealings with the law arise when they appear on the opposite side of the bench to the judge. On numerous occasions there is a chasm of misunderstanding between them because the judge's experience of life, education and privilege in society is far removed from that of ordinary working class people, many of whom are before the courts for very different reasons.

An entire section of the courts system at District Court and Circuit Court levels deals with nothing other than the downside of society. I am reminded of my time as an inner city teacher many years ago. Children of 12 and 13 years of age with reading ages of six and seven years attended my classes. As long as the teacher was willing to guard them, keep them quiet and off the streets, nobody wanted to know. A significant section of the resources of the courts system is also concerned with dealing with the downtrodden, the brutalised and those addicted to heroin who are constantly in and out of the District and Circuit Courts, taking up huge resources. There is no thinking on attempts to break this vicious cycle. Instead, there are occasional innovations, such as the designation of the District Court to deal primarily with those addicted to heroin and so on.

The Minister has not taken the opportunity to direct attention at the privilege and power of the legal profession within our society. It is quite incredible that for nearly two decades there have been stringent controls on how the wages of working people can rise in the public sector. A Minister in this Government is prepared to batter teachers into the ground rather than give them pension rights regarding supervision duties and their wages generally. Yet when it comes to the legal profession the Government is absolutely terrified and will not hear of placing any kind of restrictions on the fees demanded by the legal profession. This means of course that justice for the ordinary person comes at a price and is denied in many cases because the ordinary person cannot afford the legal counsel they should have for cases they might want to bring.

A few weeks ago we questioned the Taoiseach regarding fees being set for barristers in tribunals and he justified the situation where the legal profession sets its own fees. People are earning thousands of pounds a day to act as barristers or advisers in tribunals. This is never subjected to any kind of scrutiny in the Dáil because too many Deputies are on the same wavelength as the same privileged sector of society from which the legal profession is generally drawn. This has serious consequences for the ordinary person in society because justice beyond their economic reach is justice denied. On the other hand, if you are a wealthy person or company you can purchase justice because of the quality of legal counsel one can buy. The Minister is missing an opportunity here to direct attention at these issues.

A matter which has taken up a lot of time in the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, on which I serve, is motor insurance and young people. Incredibly, it has been verified that £40 out of every £100 paid out in claims for accidents in the motor insurance business goes to the legal profession; this in contrast to other countries where it is £6 or £7 or less. This situation requires a radical shake-up and involves taking on a privileged bastion of society, something the Government is failing to do and seems terrified of trying.

Deputy Howlin referred to the qualifications of judges, whether those are judges of the District Court, Circuit Court or any other court. It is incredible that a judge can stand up in court, as happened a week ago, say the only aggravating circumstance in a case of rape was a threat to kill the victim and let the perpetrator go with a suspended sentence. A judge who makes such a remark, betraying such judgment, should be dismissed forthwith. It is absolutely incredible. How can we have judges sitting in court who are so removed from the lives and feelings of ordinary people that they can act in this way? It points to a grievous deficiency in the requirements for appointment of judges in the first place. Why do we not have attention directed to that so that such outrages will never occur and no victim of such trauma will be subjected to such crass ignorance and lack of understanding of his or her trauma? As to the seriousness of a crime such as rape itself, let alone being dismissive of a mere threat to kill the victim – I do not know if those are the reasons Deputy O'Malley described this as a conservative Bill but they would be the reasons I would give. We need a root and branch examination of this area. We need a judicial system which is representative of the views and lives of the majority of ordinary people in our society and which is not so removed from them as is the case at present.

The Minister said he intended on Committee Stage to provide for three judges to go to the Flood tribunal. It is a source of absolute scandal that a request nine months ago from Mr. Justice Flood for three judges for his tribunal is only now being dealt with by the Government through the vehicle of this Bill. That is an outrage. The question must be asked – why the delay? We have here an abuse by the Government for political advantage to itself of the tribunals set up early in the life of this Dáil. It suited the Government not to have the extra judges as less embarrassing material would be brought out in public before the upcoming general election. That is the reason for the dragging of feet and should not have been allowed.

There is a crucial necessity to speed up investigations in the tribunals. They are obviously turning up very important information and have lifted the veil on many dark sides of the relationship between big business and leading politicians and sections of the political system. It is vital that continues but people want to see these investigations brought to an end and conclusions drawn. They are costing enormous amounts of money, with barristers virtually able to write their own fees. Virtually every week new matters come to the fore which need to be referred to the Flood tribunal. For example, Magill came out yesterday with urgent new revelations which must be investigated by the Flood tribunal, requiring the urgent allocation of more resources to the tribunal. The revelations concern the modifications in 1987 of the terms of gas and oil licences to multinational companies made by then Minister Ray Burke, which gave away our natural resources for nothing – not a penny in royalties. The tax regime also allowed them to write off virtually any costs. Those issues must be investigated by the Flood tribunal, hence the scandal in the delay in appointing these extra members.

Sa Bhille seo, Bille na gCúirteanna agus na nOifigeach Cúirte, 2001, níl aon iarracht scrúdú níos leithne ná níos doimhne a dhéanamh ar an gcóras dlí agus ar chóras chuirte na tíre seo. I ndáirire, sa gcóras tá a lán daoine le réamhbhreithiúntas na haicme as a dtarraingaítear iad. 'S iad na daoine seo a dhéanann suas an ghairm dhlí – na dlíodóirí, na breithimh agus a leithéid. Tá siad tagtha ó shleasa chúnga dár sochaí, daoine atá príbhléid ithe agus nach dtuigeann fadhbanna an ghnáthduine nó an dhuine bhoicht.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

I thank all the Deputies who contributed to this debate. The Courts and Court Officers Bill, 2001, is essentially a practical piece of legislation which combines some significant provisions with others which, while somewhat mundane in nature, are worthy of implementation.

Deputy Shatter noted the need to have access to a wider pool of individuals in so far as appointment to judicial office is concerned. He acknowledged past measures directed towards achieving this aim. Regarding the reference in my speech to rights of audience, I assure Deputy Shatter that this is not intended in any way to cut down the plain words of the section which are contained in the Bill. Eligibility will include those acting either as an advocate or as a solicitor instructing counsel or both. It would be healthy for the development of the profession of solicitors if more solicitors were to follow Deputy Shatter's example and exercise their right of audience. This, as he correctly pointed out, has been available to solicitors for more than 30 years, courtesy of Deputy O'Malley's Bill.

Deputies Shatter and Mitchell mentioned the need for greater transparency in the appointment of judges. I have some difficulty with the idea of an Oireachtas committee to deal with this issue. It might be difficult to devise a mode of operation which would not encroach upon the independence of the judiciary. The judicial appointments advisory board has already made an impact by providing a structure which puts an element of distance between the selection of judges and the political process. In this Bill further transparency measures are being provided for. This is definitely an area in which we need to make haste slowly, as the Romans might have put it. The administration of justice is such a central element in our society that the introduction of any fundamental change warrants considered and cautious scrutiny.

I note what has been said about the need to provide more resources for the lower courts, especially by Deputy Penrose. I will introduce an amendment to the Bill during the course of its passage which will expand the range of quasi-judicial powers available to county registrars and this will considerably relieve the burden on Circuit Court judges. Deputy Penrose made the point that because of the change of jurisdiction of the Circuit Court we will need to appoint an additional 20 judges. I hope Deputy Penrose was not suggesting that we demote 20 High Court judges. Deputy Shatter dealt with the question of extra Circuit Court judges.

I will consider the position of the Circuit Court when the additional jurisdiction is conferred upon it. It is too early now to estimate the exact impact but I accept that there will be an impact. It is likely to take some time for the effects of the initial extension of the jurisdiction to be felt in the Circuit Court. On a serious note, I acknowledge Deputy Penrose's point that there will be a need for additional resources. We will need to consider that seriously. Perhaps the transfer of resources, as opposed to personnel, would be appropriate. In any event, the change of jurisdiction will result in additional resources. It is not possible, however, for me to quantify that now.

Deputy Shatter adverted to delays in the Central Criminal Court. The backlog is decreasing. Judges will shortly return to the High Court. The benchmarking body chaired by Mr. Justice Quirke will report by the end of June. With regard to the resources available to the High Court, the appointment of two High Court judges must be considered in tandem with the proposal to expand the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court, thereby relieving pressure on the High Court. Deputy O'Kennedy also referred to delays in the Central Criminal Court. I intend to increase the number of judges by two and hope to see judges returning from other work later in the year. Under this Bill, the High Court will deal with less civil work due to the transfer of civil work to the Circuit Court. That, at least, is what is expected. The Courts Service Board has recently established a committee to look into the distribution of business across the various courts. This will include a look at the Central Criminal Court.

I wrote to the Chief Justice asking him to consider the jurisdiction of the courts. I would see great merit in a court which combined the jurisdictions of the Central Criminal Court and the Circuit Court. A court such as this would lead to a greater degree of expedience in serious criminal cases. The Chief Justice took this very seriously and has referred it for examination. We are waiting to hear from him and are awaiting a report on the matter. Deputy Penrose criticised the lack of consultation rooms in courthouses. We have considerably improved the courthouse stock in recent years. This year we are providing more than €26 million for courthouse accommodation. We are also investigating the possibility of using PPPs to advance the building plan.

Deputy O'Malley wanted to know why there was a need to specify long periods of practice requirements for judges. I acknowledge that he has a point with regard to the traditional approach which underlines the provisions concerning judicial appointments. However, there can sometimes be merit in adhering to traditions when they prove themselves to have worked in practice. These traditions have been working in practice for several hundred years, as he pointed out. The practice approach to judicial appointments is a feature of our common law. The training approach is, rather, a feature of a civil law system and would require considerably more in terms of analysis and assessment before such a sea-change could be effected. That is not to say I agree with the motto stating that not only will they not be changed but they are unwilling to be changed.

Deputy O'Malley mentioned also that some matters in the Bill could have been dealt with through regulation. I understand his point of view and this is something we could consider for future legislation. The problem with a Bill such as this is that it is like an acorn; it continues to grow. I note Deputy Barnes's point about the need for a more fundamental look at the way in which our courts operate. The Chief Justice has announced the establishment of a working group to examine the jurisdiction of the courts. Mr. Justice Finlay is the chair of that group and there are representatives of various people who have an interest in the operation of the courts. The first module with deal extensively with criminal law and the second with civil law. The third module, as I stated in my speech will consider such general changes to the court's structure as may be necessary in the light of the conclusions of the first and second modules and any other considerations which the working group considers relevant. It is an ambitious undertaking and will mean a fundamental look at the way in which our courts are organised. The aim is to ensure that access for our citizens is improved and that the mechanisms through which justice is delivered are not only efficient and fair but are seen to be so.

I note what Deputy Howlin said in relation to his Private Members' Bill. It has already been indicated that provision for an additional three circuit judges will be made by way of Committee Stage amendment. I am satisfied that this is the appropriate and efficient way to proceed. I urge Deputies on all sides of the House to co-operate in ensuring that this Bill passes speedily through the House. Deputy Howlin also referred to the need for judicial accountability legislation. The Deputy will be aware that I had proposals in this area, consisting of a constitutional amendment followed by legislation to establish a judicial council and ethics committee, but that I felt compelled to withdraw the proposals because of the failure of the main Opposition parties to support them. However, I remain convinced of the need for action in this area and in particular the need for a judicial ethics and oversight body. In that respect, preliminary work on the proposals has continued in my Department.

I draw the attention of the Deputies to various aspects of the operation of the Courts Service. The Government's commitment to ensuring the success of the service is reflected in the allocation to the courts of a Vote of €84.9 million in 2002. We have also substantially increased the resources of the Courts Service since its establishment, allowing for the development of a new management structure responsible for planning and implementing the necessary organisational changes to ensure that the Courts Service fulfils its mandate. I am also pleased that we have considerably increased the allocation for courthouses during the lifetime of the Government from €11.3 million in 1997 to more than €31 million in 2002. The evidence of this can be seen all over the country in new and refurbished courthouses.

It is important that developments continue to move apace. In this context I have recently been presented with a report which considers the merits of establishing a commercial court in Ireland which would be accessible electronically and which could develop links with arbitration centres.

The report and recommendations prepared by the committee on court practice and procedures, chaired by the Honourable Mrs. Justice Susan Denham of the Supreme Court, proposes that e-courts should be developed throughout the court system and that the development of an e-commercial court would underpin and reinforce Ireland's position as an e-commerce hub, and recommends that a commercial court be developed in the High Court in Dublin. The Government attaches great importance to the provision of e-services as quickly as possible. The effectiveness of the courts is of considerable importance in underpinning the economic success of the country and supporting the continued ability of the Government to attract and retain foreign investment.

Electronic services offer the potential to maximise operational efficiencies, reduce paper logjams, assist in reducing court waiting times and generally provide a much improved level of service for all court users. Internationally, the trend is towards the provision of electronic services in court environments. E-courts offer real potential to place Ireland as a hub for the settlement of commercial and e-commerce disputes, and significantly improve the perception of Ireland as a location for commercial investment. I have asked the Courts Service board to look at the implications of the report.

I recognise fully the potential that IT has to make a major contribution to the future development of the Courts Service. New information and communications technologies will facilitate the provision of a world class model of service delivery. In recognition of this, my Department is providing €9.4 million for IT developments. It can be seen that the benefits of the IT programme within the courts are becoming more exciting. Further progress is being achieved on a day by day basis.

The importance of judicial training and preparation of our judges to deal with the new challenges which confront them cannot be overestimated. Some Deputies referred to the question of judicial training. I have explained that it is not a feature of common law, but more a feature of other jurisdictions which operate on the basis of codes. Judicial training in this jurisdiction is a matter for the Judiciary which under the Constitution is independent in the exercise of its functions. The Courts Service is responsible for the funding of this training and has made significant funds available to the Judicial Studies Institute for that purpose. Funding has been substantially increased in recent years. The Judicial Studies Institute has put in place a comprehensive programme of training for judges, which I am sure everybody will welcome.

It will be clear, through the major investment programme in both information systems and buildings, that we have demonstrated a commitment to ensure the Courts Service has the necessary infrastructure to discharge its responsibilities and at the same time support the judicial system. Enactment of the Bill will also support this commitment and ensure a modern and progressive courts system, Judiciary and Courts Service which will serve the needs of all who use our courts.

Acting Chairman

Is it agreed that the Bill be now read a Second Time?

No, for the reasons I gave the Minister.

Does the Minister accept that there should be adequate time for the preparation of amendments, and the circulation and consideration of ministerial amendments before we commence Committee Stage?

On that point, the Bills Office has a rule that it normally requires all amendments by 11 a.m. on Monday. I suggest that, in the context of amendments, both from the Minister and the Opposition, that they be submitted up to 5 p.m. on Monday. In so far as there are late amendments, the Minister should be open to the Opposition tabling amendments to the Minister's amendments as we deem appropriate.

It is important that this legislation is passed before the recess.

We will work on that.

Subject to this, I will facilitate Deputies as best I can.

I do not mean to be awkward, but the Minister is suggesting that we will see amendments on Monday night and then be expected to take the Bill. I am going to my constituency this evening to try to have things done by Monday evening, and will need a chance to look at the Minister's amendments, which will include a number of technical ones. It is not fair that we can take the Bill on Tuesday without proper notice. If the Minister could circulate his amendments immediately, it would be helpful.

I will be as facilitating as I possibly can and hope Deputies, particularly Opposition spokespersons, will be equally accommodating in terms of ensuring the legislation is passed before the recess.

Question put and agreed to.