Courts and Court Officers (Amendment) Bill 2007: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 have been ruled out of order.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

I know in his wisdom, the Ceann Comhairle ruled out of order the amendments I tabled because they would involve a potential charge on revenue. However, the purpose of the Bill and this section and section 3 in particular will mean a potential charge on revenue. The explanatory memorandum details the salaries of a High Court judge, Circuit Court judge and District Court judge. I will not dispute the figures.

Other potential charges are made on revenue by the fact we will appoint extra judges. Again, I do not have a problem with this. However, it is a bit rich that those of us who try to encourage extra judges to facilitate the lessening of queues and waiting lists for courts cannot make those proposals and have them debated in this House.

In the Minister's summing up on Second Stage, he stated he did not want to have too high a number of judges because a future Minister with responsibility for justice would appoint every one of them. Regarding the number of High Court judges, the Bill states it "shall not be more than 35". I suggested 41. The phrase used in the Bill is "shall not be more than" and "more than" is the important part. It means a future Minister with responsibility for justice would not have to fill every position.

Having spent a number of years here, if the number was 50 I believe a Minister for Finance would prevent a Minister with responsibility for justice from filling all those positions if there was no need to do so because the Courts Service operated fully, the court system had no delays, the courts worked like clockwork and justice was being seen to be done.

One of the questions raised in this section is when we appoint additional judges space must be found for them to sit. Other officials are associated with the appointments. Where will the new buildings be? I heard Kilmainham courthouse will close. I remember the Minister telling us in 2003 about the new court buildings on Parkgate Street to replace the High Court buildings.

A building programme exists throughout the country. Has it been accelerated? Is there enough space for additional ordinary judges of the High Court whom the Minister hopes to appoint? He did not come here to increase the number allowed only. He intends to fill the vacancies. Perhaps he wants to provide an opportunity in case of an eventuality. Will the Minister address these points?

To briefly reply to Deputy Ó Snodaigh it is my intention to fill all of these vacancies as soon as may be. I understand the judicial appointments advisory board will meet shortly and a panel of suitable people will be available for selection.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 3.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 have been ruled out of order.

Amendments No. 3 and 4 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

As I stated in my opening comments it is a pity we are only dealing with the courts and the appointment of court officers, namely, judges. The referendum promised on the five proposals from the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform with special responsibility for children will have implications. It is a pity account was not taken of it in this short Bill. Mandatory provision could have been made for court accompanying services, screening and video linking for children and other vulnerable witnesses. It could also have examined having a commissioner such as in Scotland to take evidence from vulnerable child witnesses.

Some courts cannot physically cope with the level of cases and the number of people going through. We need additional and modern courts and extra facilities. If the number of Circuit Court judges is being increased extra space must be found. A building programme has been in place but it has not gone far enough or fast enough to deal with the level of backlog in the courts system.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 4.

Amendment No. 5 has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 5 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."

The amendment reads: "In page 4, subsection (1), line 10, to delete "and Court Officers"", and I raise this on basis the Bill does not have anything to do with officers of the court. It deals entirely with the appointment of judges.

Arising from that, my instinct was exactly the same as the Deputy's but the draftspeople in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel told me I was wrong. Being humble as I always am I accepted their advice.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 5.
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

Will the Minister explain the changes being brought forward by the amendment to the Sixth Schedule? Is it just a simple change, as there is nothing in the explanatory memorandum on it?

As I stated in my opening speech on Second Stage, the plan is not to have the extra District Court judges assigned to a particular district. The reason for this is to allow them to be effectively deployable at the insistence of the President of the District Court for the sake of flexibility.

The districts and their number are currently the subject matter of a proposal to redraw them. Inevitably, in the District Court with family law cases and the like, there is a significant requirement for flexibility. There was a time when a District Court judge was available in every district and it was only if a judge became seriously ill that someone would substitute. With family law cases and substantial lists of civil cases appearing, etc., it is necessary to have much more flexibility in the approach to the appointment of judges.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 6.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 4, subsection (1), line 10 to delete "and Court Officers".

The Minister has dealt with the concerns raised in amendment No. 6.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 4, subsection (2), line 12, after "2003" to insert the following:

", Part 3 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004".

This is a technical amendment. If the Bill is to be complete, the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 should be mentioned.

With regard to the proposal to include a reference to Part 3 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, I am advised this would be inappropriate. I do not know why. Part 3 of the 2004 Act refers to court funds and a range of miscellaneous matters. Only one of the 23 sections in Part 3 refers to judicial appointments and this is being replaced. Accordingly, I would not accept the amendment.

I thank the Minister who replied with his usual humble attitude.

The Deputy should take her tongue out of her cheek.

Whenever legislation is being put through the Houses, one's instincts can make us wonder why we are not taking a certain action. The Parliamentary Counsel always seems to have an answer. On the odd occasion I try to overrule the advice I am given and on the few occasions I have done it the train has come off the rails. It is better to stick to mother's apron strings on such matters.

I agree. They are a most irritating bunch.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 6 agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I am very grateful to the officials in my Department who worked on the Bill. I am also very grateful to the presidents of the respective courts for their advice given to me about numbers for appointments. I express my gratitude to the Parliamentary Counsel for the hard work done on the Bill to the usual high professional standards.

It sounds like a valedictory speech.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 9.45 p.m. and resumed at 10 p.m.