When the debate was interrupted, I was explaining the terms of the United Nations Convention against the illicit traffic of drugs, better known as the Vienna Convention. As the law stands, any state that is party to the convention, can stop and seize another vessel sailing under the flag of another state that is party to the convention, if the authorities of the seizing state suspect the vessel in question is carrying drugs for import or export contrary to the law of another country. A difficulty remains in the law in relation to who has jurisdiction if a vessel is seized. This Bill was proposed primarily to deal with that issue. I will shortly also speak about one other very important amendment.
A requirement of surrender or release would, under the agreement, have to be made within 14 days of the receipt of a summary of evidence from the arresting state. The summary would itself have to be given to the flag state as soon as possible after arrest. If, as is expected to be the norm as I have already indicated, flag states do not exercise their right to preferential jurisdiction under the agreement, the arresting state will be free to initiate a prosecution under its domestic law.
In dealing with this Bill, it is fitting that I should pay tribute to the commitment of the men and women of the Garda Síochána, the Customs National Drugs Team and the Naval Service who are tasked with the continuing fight against drug trafficking at sea. The bravery and dedication, which they bring to their work in dealing with drug trafficking by sea, which is often carried on in extreme and hazardous weather conditions, has continued to yield substantial results in terms of seizures of drugs and arrests for smuggling. Figures available for the past six years show that the Irish Customs Service examined 2,087 vessels. In the five year period ending December 2000, some 970 kilograms of cocaine and 3,280 kilograms of cannabis resin with a total estimated street value of €256.5 million has been seized at sea.
Co-operation between the law enforcement agencies of the member states and beyond is vital in tackling the supply of drugs as drug traffickers recognise no national borders and the drugs trade is truly international. At national level, initiatives to enhance operational co-operation between law enforcement agencies include the development of a memorandum of understanding and a working protocol between the Garda Síochána and the customs service and the establishment of a joint task force incorporating the Garda Síochána, customs and the Naval Service to combat international drug trafficking.
In terms of international co-operation, a number of initiatives have been undertaken including the appointment of drugs liaison officers to Europol and Interpol in London, Paris, Madrid and The Hague to enable the exchange of information and intelligence between Ireland and our EU partners. The Garda national drugs unit continues to maintain close contact with law enforcement agencies within the EU and in non-EU countries. These contacts have borne fruit and a number of significant internationally driven seizures have been made. The drug barons and traffickers must be made to realise that our law enforcement agencies will continue to work together and enhance their co-operation in order to combat the international trade in drugs.
The Bill provides for a convention state which is a party to the agreement – provided for in section 3 – to make a request in accordance with section 7 to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for the surrender to that state in relation to a drug trafficking offence of a person who has been arrested, a vessel which has been detained or anything on the vessel which has been seized or detained, while on the high seas under procedures already provided for in section 35 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994. When a convention state vessel is taken to an Irish port and detained, any person arrested will be brought before the High Court as soon as possible in accordance with section 5. The court will then remand the person pursuant to section 6 pending an order by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for that person's surrender to the convention state on foot of a request by the convention state.
On receipt of the request, the Minister will certify under section 8 that a request for the surrender of the person has been duly made. Where the court is satisfied that a request for the surrender of the person has been made and evidence of an arrest warrant is produced as provided in section 9, the court, subject to certain requirements, will make an order committing the person to prison or, if under 21 years of age, to a remand institution. The person must then await the order of the Minister for his or her surrender.
In compliance with the requirements as set out in section 9 and before committing the person, the court will inform him or her that he or she will not be surrendered except with his or her consent before 15 days have elapsed and also inform him or her of the provisions of Article 40.4.2º of the Constitution relating to the making of a complaint to the High Court that a person is unlawfully detained. A person committed to await surrender may be released as a result of a successful application under Article 40.4.2º of the Constitution or as a result of an appeal on a point of law to the Supreme Court, or if the surrender and conveyance out of the State of the person is unduly delayed, as indicated in section 20. In the absence of any such request for surrender being received within 18 days of the arrest of the person, the Minister, in accordance with section 21, must order his or her release without prejudice, however, to proceedings being taken in the State against the person for the drug trafficking offence in question.
There is always the possibility that the arresting officers might find evidence of offences other than drug trafficking, for example, illegal arms. In such a case, the consent of the flag state will be required for a prosecution in the arresting state. However, the arresting state will be free to prosecute for any offence occurring after the vessel has been taken into its territory, for example, if the vessel's crew assaults an arresting officer. This provision is contained in section 14. A requirement to surrender a person to a flag state will take priority over any domestic proceedings and the High Court is being given power to order the suspension of any such proceedings, without prejudice to their eventual reinstatement as provided in section 15.
Under section 17 the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform may order the surrender of a person to a person duly authorised by the convention state to receive such a person, if satisfied that the request for surrender is in accordance with the agreement. A similar power is granted to the Minister in section 18 in respect of vessels and evidence. Provision is made to ensure that any arrested person is given time, before surrender, to make a complaint to the courts under Article 40.4.2º of the Constitution that his or her detention is unlawful and this is provided for in section 19.
I referred earlier to an unusual requirement of the agreement which under Article 15.5 makes provision for the flag state, instead of seeking surrender of the detained vessel and crew, to request the intervening state to release them forthwith without charge. When such request is made the intervening state is obliged to release them. Provision for this requirement is made in section 21(d) of the Bill. In drawing up the agreement, the experts felt that it would be difficult to foresee all the kinds of situations that might arise in its practical operation. It was therefore agreed to include this provision as an exceptional safety valve in case something went entirely wrong in the procedure. The explanatory report with the agreement makes it clear, however, that this provision would only be relied upon in very exceptional circumstances.
Provision for Ireland, as the flag state, to exercise its right to preferential jurisdiction and seek the return of a person detained by a convention state or the handing over of a vessel or thing seized by that state is included in section 24. On receipt of notification of such detention or seizure for an alleged drug trafficking offence, the Minister will decide, after consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions, whether the State should exercise its preferential jurisdiction for the return of the person, vessel or thing. If such jurisdiction is to be exercised, the Director of Public Prosecutions may then apply to the District Court for a warrant of arrest of the person detained or the handing over of the vessel or thing detained. Provision is included in this section for the issue of warrants and for the alleged offence to be treated as having been committed in any place in the State.
Some changes to the 1994 Act are necessitated by this Bill and I will now give an outline of these along with some other important changes on the scope of offences covered. The agreement, at Article 3, also requires that each party to it shall take such steps as are necessary to establish its jurisdiction over the relevant offences, namely, any of the drug trafficking offences described in Article 3, paragraph 1 of the Vienna Convention, whether committed on board a vessel registered in a convention state or a vessel of no nationality. Section 33 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, is being amended to take account of this requirement so that it will apply to such drug trafficking offences and not, as at present, only the offences of possession of controlled drugs or carrying drugs for import or export. This provision is contained in section 28(b). This amendment will widen the range of drug trafficking offences at sea to include not only those to which I have already referred, but all drug trafficking offences, as comprehended in the 1994 Act, when committed on board an Irish ship, a convention state ship or a ship not registered in any country or territory. While the Council of Europe agreement obliges us to make such provision only for ships of the Council of Europe states, this provision is being extended to also include the ships of all convention states under the United Nations convention. Were this provision not so extended, it would result in the unsatisfactory situation of having a narrower range of offences applying to the ships of United Nations member states than would apply to ships of Council of Europe member states.
In bringing this Bill before the House, the opportunity is being taken to make amendments to sections 35 and 36 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, which relate to enforcement powers, jurisdiction and prosecution provisions for convention state vessels which are outside the landward limits of the territorial seas of the State. At present, the authority of the Minister for Foreign Affairs is sought in relation to such vessels and that authority may not be granted unless the Minister has obtained the consent of the foreign state. In consequence, action may not be taken against convention state vessels in Irish territorial waters, which are suspected of drug smuggling offences, unless the consent of the flag state has been obtained. During the drafting of the legislation, advice received from the Attorney General indicated that where such a vessel is in Irish territorial waters the consent of the foreign state to board the vessel is not necessary and sections 35 and 36 are being amended to take account of this advice. The amendments to give effect to these changes are contained in section 28(c) of the Bill. The question of preferential jurisdiction for flag ship states – the main purpose of the Bill – does not arise where the ship is arrested within territorial waters.
I hope that the proposals contained in this significant and somewhat technical Bill will meet with the approval of all Deputies. This Bill honours an important international obligation and, furthermore, is a positive indication at an international level of both our ongoing determination to tackle transnational organised crime and our continuing commitment to tackle the scourge of drugs in our society. This is one of a number of Bills which will be dealt with over the coming months which will lead to ratification of international agreements. Proposed legislation dealing with terrorist offences will enable Ireland to ratify the UN conventions for suppression of the financing of terrorism and terrorist bombings as well as the UN convention against the taking of hostages and the prevention of attacks on internationally protected persons. Effect will also be given to EU framework decisions on combating terrorism and allowing for the establishment of joint investigation teams.
I believe all Deputies will agree with the general purpose and thrust of the Bill. I hope we can get it enacted quickly so that the process can be put in train to enable us to ratify this important international agreement. Ratification of this agreement will be a further demonstration of our willingness to do all we can, in conjunction with our international partners, to continue to tackle organised crime and particularly to ensure the perpetrators of drug smuggling offences are brought to justice. I will listen carefully to comments and suggestions during the debate and we will have an opportunity to amend the Bill on Committee Stage. I commend the Bill to the House.