I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I thank the House for agreeing to consider this legislation. Since the Courts Service was established in 1999, it has energetically and systematically pursued a programme of transforming the physical infrastructure of the courts. Not so long ago, many courthouses provided their users with a pretty dismal experience. In a relatively short space of time, with unprecedented support from the Government, the service has undone much of the legacy of decades of neglect of the courts infrastructure throughout the country. Forty-one courthouses have been refurbished and ten newly-built courthouses have been completed.
The development and construction of the Criminal Courts of Justice complex, however, is of a far different magnitude and it marks the advent of a new era for the courts in Dublin. It is the largest court building project since Gandon's Four Courts was completed in the late 18th century and is one of the most significant developments in the history of the courts in Ireland. Building commenced in May 2007 with a construction programme of 34 months and a target date for completion of March 2010. However, the building is being completed three months ahead of schedule and is on target to be delivered by the end of November next.
The complex will provide vastly improved conditions for the public, jurors, victims and their families. This is only right. People who come into contact with the criminal justice system, whether as jurors, victims or witnesses in a case, are nervous and intimidated even without enduring the poor facilities and extremely close contact with the accused that unfortunately had become the norm in the Four Courts, which was not designed for the volume or demands of the modern criminal justice system. The new building provides secure segregated accommodation and routes for the public, jurors, persons in custody and staff. The reception area for jurors can accommodate up to 400 people and there also are jury dining facilities and retiring rooms within a segregated area for jurors. Rooms for victims, witnesses and vulnerable witnesses also are provided within a secure and segregated area. I understand that representatives of victims and jurors are delighted with the facilities planned for them.
The new building will concentrate all central Dublin criminal business in one serviced location. This means transferring courts and administrative offices from three jurisdictions, namely, the District, Circuit and High Courts, as well as the Special Criminal Court, to a single new centralised facility. The facility will have a major impact on the criminal justice system, resulting in more efficient logistical management of criminal trials. It also will allow the Four Courts to be freed up exclusively for civil business, which has been a major demand in recent years. Although the Courts Service has met this challenge by making full use of refurbished courthouses nationwide for non-jury High Court lists, on foot of the opening of the new complex the Four Courts once again will be the main High Court venue in the country.
As I noted, the Courts Service has since its establishment set about changing the physical infrastructure of our courts. Change, however, is not only about buildings; it also is about how the courts do business. In this regard, the courts have transformed the way they do their business by embracing new technologies and work practices. One example is the introduction of digital audio recording, which has been installed in 41 courts nationwide over the last year. These courts include all Central Criminal, High Court family law and Circuit Criminal courts. This technology replaces stenography and transcripts can be produced overnight where necessary, thus speeding up the court process considerably. It also provides great assistance in dealing with appeals. The service has also created a unified staff structure that brought together three distinct staffing streams from the Circuit and District Courts, the High and Supreme Courts and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Prior to the establishment of the service, the three streams had separate career structures, promotional opportunities and methods of promotion. The unification provided for a transparent merit-based promotion system, allowing for greater flexibility and expertise for the Courts Service in the management of resources and supporting the courts.
The Bill before the House has enabling provisions to underpin streamlined management procedures in the new complex, which are especially necessary given its scale and which can in future apply to other court venues as appropriate. Part 2 of the Bill has a number of provisions to allow the Irish Prison Service, IPS, to manage the central holding facility for people in custody and have control over all persons held, including those who have not been committed by the courts to prison. The main objective here is to avoid duplication of effort by the Irish Prison Service and the Garda Síochána, as well as to free up gardaí for operational duties.
The Bill allows for the temporary transfer of custody to a holding area officer only for the purposes of facilitating a court appearance by that person or the holding of a court hearing involving him or her. It is necessary to make legislative provision for this change in order that the IPS may be responsible for the custody of persons in holding cells in the courts who have up until now remained in Garda custody. The Bill will not affect the current arrangements for persons detained in the Central Mental Hospital who are required to attend court.
Part 3 makes provision to further improve staff management and flexibility by designating a single administrative office rather than an office for each court jurisdiction. This builds on other changes introduced by the Courts Service over the past few years. It will integrate fully the courts' staffing structures and allows for efficient procedures for the deployment of staff. Part 4 will allow a District Court clerk to take bail recognisance in certain instances without the need for the applicant to return to court and will allow an expansion of the range of persons who can take a recognisance in the case of an appeal from the District Court. Again, given the size of the building, considerable efficiency will be gained from this small change.
I now wish to outline the provisions to the House. Sections 1 to 4 form Part 1 of the Bill and are standard drafting provisions. Moving on to Part 2, section 5 contains a number of definitions. At present, a person may be in custody for a number of reasons, namely, he or she may be charged with a criminal offence by the Garda or may be held by the Irish Prison Service on foot of a court order either on remand or on conviction. Up to now both agencies have shared access to cell areas. However, in the new complex the Irish Prison Service will manage the custody area, thus freeing gardaí for other duties. The main feature of this Part of the Bill is to provide a legislative basis for a person who is in custody to be placed in temporary custody of either the Garda Síochána or the Irish Prison Service. For the main part, this will facilitate the management by the Irish Prison Service of the new custody area. The reverse provision, whereby prisoners of the Irish Prison Service may be held in the temporary custody of gardaí, will be less frequently required but is included to ensure that every possibility is covered.
Section 6 explains that a prisoner or person may be placed in the temporary custody of the Garda Síochána or a prison governor in a place in or adjacent to a court building for a purpose referred to in section 7 of the Bill. Section 7 provides that people can be held either to facilitate a court appearance by that person or for the holding of a court hearing involving him or her. An example of the type of situation this second provision is intended to cover is when persons who are already in custody may be required as witnesses in another case.
Section 8 indicates at what point temporary custody under section 6 commences and ceases. Section 8(1) provides that the temporary custody commences when the prisoner is placed in the custody of the holding area officer and ceases either when the prisoner is returned to the person in whose custody they were prior to the temporary custody or is released by order of the court. Under section 8(2), a person lawfully in the custody of the Garda Síochána may be placed in temporary custody of a governor for the purposes of a court appearance. This temporary custody commences from the moment the person is placed in the custody of the holding area officer and ceases either when the person is returned to the previous person of custody or released by order of the court.
Section 9 provides that a person placed in temporary custody shall be regarded as remaining in the custody of the person in whose custody he or she was before being so placed. The next section requires the prison authorities or the Garda Síochána to hand over to the holding area officer any medication, prescriptions for medication, health information etc. when placing a person in temporary custody. The reverse applies when the holding area officer is returning the person to custody.
Section 11 sets out the duties, functions and powers of a holding area officer in respect of a person who has been placed in his or her temporary custody. Section 11(1) imposes certain obligations on the holding area officer. He or she must prevent a person in temporary custody from escape, prevent the commission of an offence, ensure orderly and disciplined behaviour, bring him or her to a court or court office, ensure his or her appearance before court, and comply with any court order relating to his or her custody, treatment or transfer. Section 11(2) confers on a holding area officer a power of search in accordance with the prison rules in respect of the person in temporary custody if of the opinion that it is necessary to the performance of the officer's functions to do so. This is to ensure that standards of safety are consistent regardless of the origin of the person in custody. Section 11(3) outlines that the holding area officer may use all reasonable force, where necessary, in the performance of his or her functions. Section 11(4) applies the same obligations and duties on a member of the Garda Síochána for the purposes of temporary custody. Section 11(5) is included to avoid any misapprehension. It retains all existing powers of search under the prison rules exercisable by a holding area officer who is a prison officer. Section 12 empowers the Minister to make a number of regulations, for example, governing standards, record-keeping etc.
Moving on to Part 3, section 13 is a standard provision containing definitions. Section 14 sets out the steps for the establishment of combined court offices. Sections 14(1) and 14(2) enable the Courts Service, having undertaken the necessary consultations, to establish a combined court office. As part of this process it will designate two or more court offices to comprise the combined office and set out the business to be transacted in the office. Section 14(3) requires the Courts Service to publish notice of establishment in Iris Oifigiúil. In another standard provision, it notes that if, for some reason, publication is not achieved, this will not affect the validity of the office’s establishment.
Section 15 allows the Courts Service, subject to consultation, to change or remove functions of any constituent office of a combined court office, other than any business relating to the Special Criminal Court. Section 16 provides that the Courts Service must consult with the Chief Justice or president of the relevant court before establishing a combined court office. Section 17 provides a power for the Government to make an order applying these sections to the business of the Special Criminal Court, obviously excluding the judicial business of that court. Section 18 provides for certain legal consequences to follow where business of a court office is transacted in a combined court office.
Sections 19 to 22 provide for the staffing arrangements that may apply in a combined office. For example, section 20 confers on a combined court office manager the management and control, in regard to all matters of general administration, of the combined court office, subject to the general directions of the Courts Service. In the case of the new complex this manager has already been appointed and has been overseeing preparations for some time.
Section 22(2) enables any member of Courts Service staff to act as registrar to the Central Criminal Court, the Court of Criminal Appeal, the Courts-Martial Appeal Court, or the Circuit Court, where those courts form part of a combined court office. This provision will allow for flexibility and maximise use of available staff and accommodation.
Section 23 makes provision to ensure that the continuity of the administration of justice or of the business of a court office affected is not interrupted by the establishment, variation of the functions or disestablishment of a combined court office. Section 24 amends the Courts Service Act 1998 to incorporate in the powers conferred on the Courts Service under the 1998 Act the powers given to it under the Bill to establish, vary the functions of or disestablish a combined court office.
Section 25 is the first section in the fourth part of the Act which covers a number of provisions relating to bail. It amends section 22 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1967 and will have the effect of conferring on a District Court clerk power to take bail recognisances, where the District Court has admitted a person to bail with immediate effect when remanding that person or sending him forward for trial or sentence. This brings the provision into line with existing procedure where a person is availing of bail with delayed effect.
Section 26 amends section 24 of Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851. The effect of this section is to extend the categories of persons who may take bail recognisance, where bail has been fixed by the District Court pending an appeal. The section adds a District Court clerk to the existing categories of persons who may do so, that is, a prison governor and a prison officer.
I am conscious that these provisions are technical and thank Deputies for their patience. The Courts Acts generally are procedural. They comprise over 100 statutes, many dating from before independence. However, in co-operation with my Department, the Law Reform Commission is working on a valuable item of legislation to codify the provisions. This will be of great assistance both to practitioners and anyone wishing to access the courts.
The provisions set out in the Bill will, once enacted, make their own small but important contribution to greater efficiency. I hope Deputies can support the measures proposed. The Bill was initiated because of the establishment of the new criminal court complex near Heuston Station, which hopefully will open before the end of the year.