Sinn Féin has ten minutes remaining in the slot and the time is to be shared between Deputies McLellan and O'Brien.
Restorative Justice (Reparation of Victims) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed) [Private Members]
Sinn Féin has long campaigned for police reform, and we believe, North and South, that the public deserves a policing service that is visible, accessible and accountable. As Irish republicans we campaign for one service in a united Ireland, but between now and then we will continue to campaign for reforms of policing services on this island. A key campaigning point is restorative justice, as justice must be about restoration and not just retribution. Tackling crime, particularly petty crime, cannot simply be left to the Garda, as it cannot tackle this crime on its own. Gardaí would be the first to admit this. It must be about a partnership approach, with gardaí, local authorities, and community and political representatives working together to improve the quality of life of those suffering from crime.
Whole communities have felt abandoned by the Garda and the powers-that-be. Many residents in these communities feel they are being held to ransom by those involved in serious anti-social behaviour but the powers-that-be are unable or unwilling to tackle the problem. This is unacceptable and a new approach must be taken. People have a right to live, work and play in safety in their community, and if a crime is committed, they can expect it to be dealt with through due process and justice restored.
This Bill is a step in the right direction and Sinn Féin will be supporting it, despite our serious concerns about certain aspects, and we intend to amend it accordingly. In an all-Ireland justice system we see restorative justice as being one of the cornerstones. Restorative justice approaches contrast with the traditional punitive or retributive approaches of the current justice system. Restorative justice involves victims and communities directly and ensures that the offender actually confronts his or her behaviour and its causes, taking steps to make up for the harm done. It is an inclusive approach.
This restorative approach leads to much higher levels of victim satisfaction with the process. This is principally because restorative justice, wherever possible, involves all those who have a stake in a specific offence. It aims to collectively identify and address the resulting emotional, physical and financial harm, as well as the associated needs and obligations of all involved, in order to offer the victims more direct redress. Restorative justice actively connects the offender with victim in a safe and controlled context called victim-offender conferencing in order to enable them to create healing. Restorative justice therefore contrasts with traditional punitive or retributive justice. The victim is viewed as central to the process, and it is not about guilt and punishment but about rebuilding and repairing. Typically, restorative justice methods bring victims and offenders together in a safe and structured way, in the presence of a trained mediator, to decide on the most appropriate response to the harm caused by the offence, with the victim playing a major role in the process and often receiving some form of restitution or reparation from the offender. In order for the process to succeed, participation must be voluntary on the part of both victim and offender, and the offender must concede the basic facts of the offence and responsibility for the crime. With consent, family members and the broader community may also be included where appropriate.
Restorative justice was born out of the conflict on this island. In the Six Counties, communities had to look at alternatives to mainstream policing.
This was simply because the then RUC was unacceptable to the Nationalist community. It has since become the norm in many communities across the North, particularly in Belfast and Derry.
Sinn Féin welcomes the fact that restorative justice is being seen as part of the solution in this State. I know it has been piloted in some communities but much more needs to be done to resource and support it. It must become a central tool of justice and policing.
Sinn Féin sees an increasingly important role for restorative justice in the justice system of a future united Ireland, as we believe that in a great many cases it is more socially effective than retributive justice, as it results in higher victim satisfaction, lower instances of repeat offending, and greater chances of offender rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.
This Bill has limitations, particularly where it calls for attachment orders to be imposed. This could well punish innocent family members. Partners and children should not be punished for the crimes of others but this can all be debated on Committee Stage and we are happy to support the Bill.
I congratulate Deputy Halligan on publishing this Bill and welcome the discussion on restorative justice last night and tonight. I am pretty familiar with this area as a former Sinn Féin spokesperson on justice in this Chamber. Prior to that I had a keen interest in it as a process used quite extensively in the Six Counties, particularly at community level.
Deputies MacLochlainn and McLellan outlined some of our concerns about some aspects of the Bill but overall we support its progress to Committee Stage as we would see great merit in developing it. That would give Government and Opposition Members an opportunity to put down amendments that would strengthen the Bill. Restorative justice is recognised in 100 countries. There are various models of restorative justice. In Canada there are 12 distinct models. It is not appropriate in all cases, for instance, cases of domestic violence, murder or aggravated burglary. It has advantages, some of which Deputy McLellan outlined. It does not always involve the repatriation of damages, as set out in Deputy Halligan’s Bill by way of attachment orders. I have some concerns about that. Deputy McLellan touched on them. There is a danger that, where an attachment order is put in place as part of a restorative justice model or process, those who have no connection with a crime, a spouse or children, for example, somebody on a low income or social welfare, could be penalised too. That would go against the spirit of restorative justice.
Restorative justice has benefits for the victim, offender and the wider community and we should consider it. The Department of Justice and Equality is considering publishing its own Bill. The Minister of State might confirm that when she wraps up the debate tonight. In his responses to some parliamentary questions I have tabled on restorative justice, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, is open to developing it.
Community restorative justice offers great benefits. It can be achieved through statutory organisations or community groups. In some countries it is even used within schools. People grow up with the principles and values of a restorative justice process and transfer it from school to adult or criminal settings. There is a great deal of research on those countries.
In other countries, such as Brazil, restorative justice programmes are aimed at adults. All of these points can be debated on Committee Stage and we will support the Bill’s passage to that Stage.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Private Member's Bill on restorative justice and the issues involved. Crime has a heavy impact on victims and we must always remember the profound effect that it can have across all aspects of a victim's life. Whether the victim is a person, a homeowner or a business there can be financial consequences to crime and all victims will suffer some kind of emotional impact. In discussing crime and justice we must always remember the rights of victims.
When we are dealing with our approach to crime we must also think about those who commit it, we must ensure that our justice system provides opportunities for people to put right wrongs that they may have committed. Giving people an opportunity to avoid criminal records, to avoid prison, can provide opportunities to reduce crime rates and, at an early stage, turn people away from criminal activities. We must all strive to ensure that happens. In giving people an opportunity to change their ways we must ensure there are still consequences and that we do not allow people to reoffend multiple times before the justice system kicks in. People must understand that their actions have consequences. I thank Deputy Halligan for proposing this Bill and for making proposals on restorative justice.
In his fine speech Deputy O'Brien spoke about restorative justice but what does it really mean? It ensures that victims, offenders and the community work together in response to crime to prevent it recurring. It is not a question of condoning harmful behaviour but it is aimed at communities and supporting individuals, while holding them to account for their actions. The concept of restorative justice is wider than making monetary payments for losses which arise from criminal events. It is intended to meet the needs of victims and encourage offenders to take responsibility for their actions. The concept should underpin our approach to crime prevention, our approach to investigations and prosecutions and must be the underlying rationale of any punishment administered by the courts.
Last Saturday afternoon in Cork city, where the Minister of State and I live, on one of the city's busiest streets, there was a dreadful assault which occurred in broad daylight: two young people attacked a homeless person. Thankfully gardaí were quickly on the scene; the victim, I am pleased to say, will hopefully make a full recovery, and there have been two arrests.
Incidents like the one last Saturday get much media attention but we must consider the overall rates of crime rather than just one or two high profile incidents. Winthrop Street is one of the busiest streets in Cork and each afternoon and weekend many teenagers hang out in the vicinity of the fast food outlets and shops there. While some people may feel somewhat intimidated by large groups, most of the time there are no unsavoury incidents and we must acknowledge the excellent behaviour of the vast majority of teenagers.
Last Saturday's incident, however, highlights the need to provide alternative places for young people to gather.
There should be engagement between Cork City Council and young people across the city on providing facilities where young people can gather away from busy streets. Gardaí in Cork are proactive in how they deal with crime, responding to community needs and redeploying resources as required. Over a three-year period from 2011 to 2013 there have been 170 incidents on Winthrop Street, an average of just over one incident per week. So far this year there have nine incidents on Winthrop Street, two thirds of which occurred at night. This is in keeping with trends of the last three years which consistently show that most incidents occur on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. I use these figures to reassure people that during the day, and even at night, the streets of Cork are safe and that high profile incidents are a rare exception. At last week's meeting of the Anglesea Street local policing district forum management committee, gardaí presented up to date crime figures which indicated that thefts, assaults and public order offences were down in Cork city centre. This downward trend is welcome and must be attributed to the excellent work of the gardaí in Cork city. The progressive community policing by gardaí in Cork helps create a sense of community and responsibility. I hope this will continue.
All crimes have victims and all crimes instil fear beyond their direct victims. By ensuring that the concept of restorative justice underpins all aspects of the criminal justice system we can deliver a process that respects and prioritises the rights of victims, creates a sense of community and offers those who have committed minor offences an opportunity to change their ways and make amends for their wrongs. I look forward to the Minister's proposals on the criminal justice (community sanctions) Bill, which will provide for a proper system of victim compensation and a system of restorative justice for minor offences at District Court level.
I commend Deputy Halligan on introducing this Bill. I listened carefully to his contribution yesterday evening and I hope all Members share his concern for highlighting the belief among the general public that victims are left out of the picture when severe incidents occur. All of us can participate in strengthening the legislation in that regard. There is some justification for the public's belief that the law as it stands does not fully protect victims of assault and other crimes. It is up to us to strengthen the law in the interest of victims.
The impacts of assaults on people are varied, as has been outlined yesterday evening. I am aware of one incident that occurred three months ago when an individual who happened to be travelling on a bus was physically assaulted to a limited degree after being caught in a brawl that had nothing to do with him. However, his biggest problem was the mental rather than the physical effects of the assault. It is a terrifying experience for a law abiding citizen to be trapped on a bus in the midst of a brawl. The individual has not taken the bus since his experience and has been attending counselling sessions at his own expense. As he does not come from a well heeled part of the city, this is a huge financial burden for him. We should take these aspects of crime into consideration in improving the law. The Criminal Justice Act 1993 provides powers for courts to compensate victims. I agree with speakers who suggested last night that the legislation could be strengthened in that regard.
In regard to the Bill before us, I have strong reservations about sections 13 and 14, which provide for Garda assessments of the cost of retribution to victims. I do not think that is a function which should be given to the Garda. I understand a similar measure was attempted in the United States but it was not successful. There may be a way around the problems but I have reservations about giving that responsibility to the Garda.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Restorative Justice (Reparation of Victims) Bill 2013. I recognise that Deputy Halligan has introduced the Bill in a sincere attempt to deal the perpetrators of certain crimes by keeping them out of our prison system. Particularly in the case of juvenile crime, I think we can all agree that is a direction we need to follow. Restorative justice as an alternative to the prison system should become part of the justice process. There are those who might say that it is trivialising crime but incarceration is too severe a penalty for certain crimes. Far from trivialising crime, restorative justice is a genuine attempt to prevent recidivism while keeping victims and their families at the heart of the process. Of course, it should not proceed unless the victim's consent has been obtained.
This is part of a new policy direction which looks at crime differently by focusing on the needs of victims, offenders and communities instead of simply punishing the offender. Doing time does not necessarily work and it certainly is not the best way for offenders to take responsibility for their actions. It is often far better for the victim to obtain an apology and be recompensed for his or her loss or require the offender to perform community service. In some countries fostering dialogue between the victim and offender has proven to be the most satisfactory for the victim in that the offender must account for his or her actions and the victim can in turn explain the pain and suffering that the crime caused.
Aspects of the Bill before us should be considered carefully and I ask the Department of Justice and Equality, which is currently examining the EU victims' directive with a view to bringing forward legislation to deal with victims' rights, to consider Deputy Halligan's proposals. It is imperative that victims of crime receive appropriate information, advise and protection. The criminal justice (community sanctions) Bill will replace the Probation of Offenders Act 1907, which deals with community sanctions and the role of the Probation Service. The heads of that Bill are being considered by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality in the context of its pre-legislative scrutiny role. I ask Deputy Halligan to make a submission to the joint committee on the Bill. The committee recently completed hearings on the potential that a community court service might offer. It was most interesting to learn about the approaches taken in other countries, most notably including New York, where it has proven a great success.
The Minister, Deputy Shatter, sat in on the consultation with stakeholders which outlined his commitment to addressing and considering this in great detail. At that meeting he committed to establishing a pilot scheme which would be specifically tailored for the city of Dublin. I welcome that interesting direction in which we should be going. It is something that will benefit everybody. Even if one looks at the economics of the situation, it will benefit us in that regard as well.
I also want at this point to acknowledge the excellent work being carried out by An Garda Síochána in its efforts to reduce crime to protect us all, in particular, the work of the community liaison gardaí who work so diligently within the communities. Therefore, it is with regret I would have to say that while there are aspects of this Bill that contain good ideas there are other aspects of it which have been widely outlined by previous speakers. I will not go into them now. As I stated earlier, I would urge the Department to consider the proposals within the Bill when it is looking at the EU victim's directive and that Deputy Halligan would make a submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality when it is considering the pre-legislative scrutiny.
I also welcome the opportunity to speak to this matter and I thank Deputy Halligan for bringing this issue before the House for debate.
It is, as my colleague, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, stated, part of a modern justice system that we consider restorative justice. When we look at the criminal justice system the challenge is to decide on what is the correct reprimand or penalty that somebody convicted of a criminal offence should receive. A good rule of thumb in this regard is to consider how one would feel if something was taken from one's pocket. I refer, in this case, to compensation. It is apt that we should consider that where at all possible whoever is a perpetrator, be it in the form of harm to a person or property, should also pay from his or her pocket and, depending on the severity of the crime, the appropriate other sanction might also be a prison sentence.
There have been issues and difficulties identified with the Bill but I hope that Deputy Halligan can take some comfort from the forthcoming criminal justice (community sanctions) Bill that has been approved by the Government for drafting and will deal with all kinds of issues pertaining to the Probation of Offenders Act 1907, including community sanctions and so on. In particular, what is welcome is a specific item that deals with restorative justice that would operate within the District Court, where, ordinarily, lesser offences are tried and where such compensation could be made by an offender with the agreement of the victim which in turn would in some way allow for a discharge order or a binding-over order. As has been stated, this would suit a one-off type offence or a young offender, or give somebody a second chance, which is fair enough to expect from a criminal justice system.
When we look at the way the criminal justice system operates the other aspect is reparation for society. I have particular issues that I have raised previously in this House which relate to the criminal legal aid system. I wholly subscribe to the idea that persons should have access to the law and to the courts. This is an essential part of the rule of law in any democracy, and we must stand firm with that. One is entitled to have effective legal representation in court. However, there is the reality of a small few offending repeatedly. Sometimes these are minor offences but the fact that there are repeated minor offences makes them become serious offences entitling the accused to legal aid because he or she faces a possible term of imprisonment. In many cases, the accused are on social welfare. They are getting legal aid. I can speak personally on this because I operate in the system as a solicitor. In many cases, those involved are not upholding their familial responsibilities. They will have money for alcohol and for the betting offices. Then they break up somebody's property, get involved in an altercation, injure somebody and are in court the next morning, once again. I refer to repeat offenders who are getting legal aid. For the ordinary citizen, this is galling and upsetting.
This matter has been looked at by a task force which was seeking to reduce criminal legal aid costs and one of the issues cited in claiming payment from this type of offender would be the cost of administration, but it goes back to hitting people in the pocket. They have money for other matters that I would not count as necessities. They should, even in a nominal way, which is how we value matters in this society, face a charge. There is, in parallel, the civil legal aid system where parties in crisis in their lives wait months to see a solicitor, whether in a family law case or a contract case such as having their house repossessed. This is the reason many voluntary organisations have sprung up to advise citizens. It is important we have this well-rounded debate on such offenders.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I will use my time to relate to a previous restorative justice Bill to see how it functioned. I refer to the Children Act 2001, the debate on which I was involved, which was a restorative justice measure. We have no idea how that Act operated because it related to the children's courts. The expectations for it were high. I will give some details of the restorative aspect of that Act.
The Children Bill 1999 was a development of the family conference which was an integral part of the programme on family and children's difficulties. That was greatly expanded to incorporate within its parameters modern restorative justice measures in the 1999 Bill in regard to children who had offended. The primary focus of this conference is on issues of accountability rather than welfare. Previously, the family conference was to do with the welfare of the child, but this incorporated a parameter of restorative justice measures as well. The conference is convened by An Garda Síochána to formulate an action plan for the child in respect of whom it is convened. The action plan includes provision for many matters, including the making of an apology or financial or other reparation to the victim. This also includes provision relating to the child's lifestyle such as his or her attendance at school or participation inappropriate sporting or recreational activities.
In practical terms the range of possibilities to intervene in the child's behaviour was almost limitless, as long as it was agreed to by the persons present at the conference, which would include family. The advantage of involving the child and his or her family in the decision making process and of being a party to the decision would increase the likelihood of compliance.
Since this was introduced we are in the dark as to how it has operated. The provision of some information to the House at some stage would give a significant insight into how something that provided such a level of hope for the family conference in dealing with child offenders has operated.
The victim of the child's offending could be invited to attend the conference. If the victim attends, the child is confronted by the consequences of his or her criminal behaviour. How did this operate in practice abroad? The victims in the pilot programmes welcome the opportunity of being present at such a conference. This was borne out in the pilot project studies. Some victims stressed the value of expressing their feelings to the young offenders and ensuring the offender learned from the experience. It was believed at the time that the victims would want to contribute to the offenders' rehabilitation in certain circumstances or to show their support for the process of rehabilitation of the child. Other victims emphasise their own interests. They may want to make sure things are done properly to get reparation.
Another innovation allows victims to be present at the administration of the formal caution by the Garda Síochána. This is known as restorative cautioning and is a suitable type of mini-conference response in circumstances where a full conference is not warranted. It means the child offender can be confronted with the consequences of his or her offending and can be invited to apologise or make some form of reparation to the victim in a low-key atmosphere. It would be interesting to get a full report on how successful its operation was over the past decade.
I have long been a supporter of restorative justice programmes. It makes perfect sense to me for our legal process to have restoration centred judicial remedies. If a victim feels that he or she would benefit from an apology then, where possible, that should be facilitated. If victims of theft want their goods returned or replaced by the thief, that too should be facilitated if it can be agreed. If victims of assault have had non-compensated financial loss following an injury received and wish to accept voluntary compensation offered by the perpetrator, then that too should be facilitated but there are better ways of doing this than the proposals in the Bill.
Restorative justice needs to be a two-way street. Ideally, it should be restorative for the victim and also restorative for the perpetrator. The victim would receive, in words or gesture, a contribution towards closure of a bad experience. On the other side, restorative justice, if properly implemented, should reduce the chance of a criminal repeating the crime. One problem with the Bill is that it does not look at both sides of the restorative justice equation. Overall, the Bill is not positive for the victim or the criminal. For example, there is nothing in this proposed legislation to protect the victim of a serious assault who does not want the assailant to pay his way into a softer sentence. The courts have already heard from outraged rape victims criticising the decision of judges who, on their behalf but without their request, accepted compensation sums from the attacker in lieu of long prison sentences. Nothing in the Bill distinguishes minor administrative crimes, for example not paying a parking fine, from serious crimes like rape and homicide. If this law was enacted, it could be applied to a rapist as easily as to a petty thief.
Compensation money and sentencing for serious crimes need to be addressed in law. There is no benefit to society if rich rapists and terrorists can buy their way into softer sentences. Equally, the compensation of any victim, even for a minor crime needs to occur within a structure that does not lead to an unhealthy concentration of false accusations for fraudulent purposes. Money and sentencing are two issues that must be handled carefully and separately.
I would welcome a law that facilitates an element of financial compensation to be paid by the guilty party but not in a manner that obstructs justice. Some crimes need harsh sentences to act as a deterrent to others. Some criminals need to be safely behind bars for as long as possible for the protection of society. However, our prisons are overflowing with people against whom society needs no protection. My type of restorative justice would see the parking fine or TV licence evader doing charity work instead of going to prison. My type of restorative justice would allow people guilty of drunken public order offences to serve a positive sentence of weeding the flower beds in a local park for a month or emptying litter bins. This Bill does not provide for that type of scenario.
I also worry that the provisions before us today would encourage those who are accused of a crime but are innocent to plead guilty in order to commence a compensation process and receive a mitigated sentence. That would be an unwelcome development in our laws. I am also unhappy with the aspect of the Bill that requires gardaí to prepare compensation calculations. We currently have healthy air space between the gardaí and the Judiciary in our justice system. For over a month, I have been arguing for the same respectful distance to be created between the gardaí and the Government. I do not think it would be good for the independence of the Garda Síochána, whether as prosecuting agents or as supporter of victims, to become embroiled in the judicial act of sentencing. To legislate for restorative justice is a fine idea and I look forward to upcoming proposals from the Minister for Justice and Equality in that regard. However, the proposal before us is not the answer.
I propose to share time with Deputies Healy, Wallace, Clare Daly, and Ross. I support the Restorative Justice (Reparation of Victims) Bill 2013. I have listened to points raised by people saying that restorative justice should be brought into modern legislation. It has been brought in recently in the North. Restorative justice is not a new thing; rather, it is thousands of years old. Under Brehon laws in Ireland, compensation was the mode of justice in most crimes.
The modern legal system is based on the concept that crime is not an injury to the person but an offence against the State. This was hammered home to me a few years ago when the son of a friend of mine was murdered. The State stepped in to represent the person who was murdered but the barrister had no obligation to deal with the victim's family. In this case, the barrister had the goodwill to speak to the family and explain what was happening in the case but, otherwise, the family would have been excluded. They would have had to go into the courts and listen to what was said about their son. This hammered home the nature of our system, which is not based on victims or dealing with victims' issues. It deals with an offence against the State.
It is a system based on punishment and it does not work. The most recent CSO figures indicate that 50% of people released from prison reoffend within three years. That is a high rate. Certain types of criminals are a danger to people. Should they be in prison? Yes. If someone rapes somebody, he or she should be in prison. Repeat offenders should be in prison if they have no remorse or concern for the impact their actions have on victims. Restorative justice can be effective in confronting young offenders, from 18 years of age up, with the consequences of their actions. They must be confronted with the impact on victims. Making restitution to victims can be part of the process of helping them to go straight and not to reoffend. Offenders who genuinely engage with victims and who genuinely seek to make restitution through payment or otherwise should have this amount to an alternative to prison. It should be taken into account. Restorative justice has been shown to be extremely beneficial to victims of crime, helping them to get over trauma, get on with their lives, overcome the fear of being victimised again and to deal with their anger or desire for revenge. It is a process that should be examined by this Government.
The Government signed up to the European Council directive on compensation for crime victims. It is not contrary to the intention of the Government to sign up to a form of restorative justice. The Bill moves the process on and provides a good basis for the introduction of a system of restorative justice. Children are not involved as the criminal courts only deal with those aged over 18 years. The mentally ill are not involved either as they cannot be tried. All of the issues being thrown into the mix are intended to muddy the waters. The proposals made by Deputy John Halligan are very specific. The Bill provides a good outline of the way to proceed. I am sure he would welcome support from the Government to amend the Bill, but its essence is a positive step forward and should be considered as part of a restorative justice process.
Other speakers have referred to the fact that many countries have had a system of restorative justice in place for some time. The Bill raises various issues and principles of restorative justice – community restorative justice, the rights of victims and support services for them. I am sure Deputy John Halligan would agree that the Bill would benefit from the legislative process in the House. He has not had access to a legal draftsman and the Bill would benefit from going through Committee Stage by way of refinement through amendment and the extension of sections. The Bill could be supported with a view to improving, refining and amending it through the legislative process.
We should never lose sight of the fact that prevention is always better than the cure. Not only is that the case but there are also significant social and financial advantages in the prevention of crime. It is important to ensure every family has an equal opportunity to be socially included, to be part of life in their area and to have a reasonable quality of life. It is important to remember the factors that make for good social conditions. If we were to improve social conditions, crime would also be addressed. I refer to education, in particular for young people. I accept that there is a free preschool year, but it must be extended. Moneys invested in young people at an early age result in a significant payback over time.
Other factors to be considered are the improvement of educational facilities and opportunities for young people, as well as the improvement of housing conditions for families. There are 98,000 families on local authority housing lists. Employment opportunities are a considerable issue. It is hugely advantageous for families to see parents and siblings employed. That is vitally important. The payback is significant, both socially and economically when employment is available.
The provision of community facilities is important. The support of RAPID programmes is crucial in that regard, but, unfortunately, such funding has been withdrawn. We must provide community facilities and support communities. We must also put in place community services, but the funding for such services has been consistently cut back by the Government. Many of the programmes available to deprived communities across the country have lost their funding. The provision of community facilities such as youth services results in a significant payback over time, both socially and economically.
Approximately 1,500 gardaí have left the system in recent years. Community policing services have suffered most. Community gardaí on the beat build trust and confidence and make connections with young people and youth services in deprived areas. The service should, therefore, be reintroduced in communities.
I support the Bill and would like to see it progressing to Committee Stage, at which point it would be amended and refined. We should never lose sight of the fact that prevention is always better than the cure. We should, therefore, provide for investment in services in these areas.
I presume the idea of restorative justice means restoring justice, but it must be very difficult to restore justice in the majority of situations. I am not a big fan of imprisonment; I do not see many benefits in it. There are better ways to deal with offenders than throwing them in prison. Not only do they not learn very much but sometimes they seem to come out with more problems. We have seen figures for the numbers of offenders who have spent time in prison and reoffended. They are frightening and should put us off throwing them into prison in the first place.
The Criminal Justice Alliance in the United Kingdom defines restorative justice as a process in which everyone involved comes together to talk about the impact of a crime and what needs to happen to repair the harm caused. It can take place at any stage in the criminal justice system, and outside it, and has clear benefits, including high victim satisfaction rates, reductions in the levels of reoffending and cost savings for the criminal justice system. I do not agree with the idea that the scheme should be restricted solely to financial reparation. The vast majority of those who commit crimes could probably not afford to pay back financially for the damage they cause because most of them have no money as most of them come from deprived backgrounds. If we seriously want to challenge crime, we must engage more proactively in tackling poverty and inequality.
Sadly, inequality is growing rather than decreasing. The austerity measures certainly have not helped.
No one likes to be robbed. I can remember being robbed 25 times in one 12 month period on my building sites. I do not believe any of the guys who robbed the stuff were very well off and getting money back from them would have been fairly challenging. It would not have given me any satisfaction to see them thrown in prison. I can remember a brand new mini-digger being burned to a cinder one night and a JCB being burned another night. Needless to say, I was not very pleased with the guys who did it even though I did not see them. I had a fair idea that their being thrown in jail would not give me any benefit either. I would have liked to have met and had a chat with them. I would also have liked to have got them to do some work for me free of charge. That would have been good.
I am a great believer in community service. I argued with the right honourable Minister, Deputy Shatter, during the debate on the Fines Bill, that we should be using community service much more. It is a better idea than attaching orders or throwing people in prison.
Another issue that springs to mind is that I had a son thrown out of a secondary school having been accused of doing something he did not do. The Sunday Independent flashed the story all over the front page but it forgot to print the story when his appeal was upheld and he got back into the school. I do not know how that slipped its mind. It was amazing.
The idea of throwing kids out of school for one thing or another is counter-productive. If kids are found guilty of doing something they should not have done, keeping them back at the end of the school and making them do some physical work for a few hours every evening for a considerable length of time, depending on the offence involved, would make much more sense than throwing them out of school. It would also be more productive.
I am certainly in favour of the person who commits the crime engaging with his or her victim. That can be educational for both sides and both can learn from it. It is something we should put energy into and try to make happen more.
It has been a very long day and there were unusual occurrences in the House. Perhaps that is the reason we had to listen to some pretty peculiar contributions from some Deputies. We heard a Deputy say they think legal aid is okay and that they do not have a problem with it but that it is very annoying when people keep using it. They then tried to blame the problems of the legal aid system on those who have the misfortune to be before the courts on multiple occasions. There is no doubt that is annoying but it is much more than that. The idea of penalising people and asking them, as the Deputy put forward, to pay for the legal aid themselves is ridiculous when a huge number of those people come from a background where they would not have the means to pay for it. The issue should be why people are in a process where they repeatedly offend and whether we can do something and put in place measures which avoid that happening. That would be good for the victims of crime and for society. The reality is, and the statistics show, that the majority of those who appear before the courts and end up behind bars come from backgrounds where there is a certain hopelessness, a lack of economic progress, a lack of investment and so on. Encouragement in education and investment in communities is far better for society in the long term.
The concept of restorative justice is a fundamental and important one. It could be summarised as trying to get people to take responsibility for their actions. When people take responsibility, they understand better the consequences of the action and they are likely to modify their behaviour accordingly. I note that all research would say the process should be voluntary and that it always should be. I can appreciate that on one level but I can imagine many situations where it would not be the inclination of the perpetrator of the crime to engage in that process and simply having it on a voluntary basis might not be enough. We need to be proactive in encouraging people to participate in this route because if they see the damage of their crimes, they are less likely to offend because most people are decent, and that is an important principle.
I got an e-mail this afternoon from a person on a matter not linked necessarily to this issue. I want to refer to some of what it states because the woman called the subject matter of the e-mail "Victim of a Crime". She started off by telling me her name. She stated that four years ago in February 2010 she was stabbed outside a primary school in Tralee in Kerry. She also stated that she brought this to the attention of the Garda but nothing was done. She further stated that two years later in February 2012 the same guy attacked her again, this time outside her house and caused injury to her face, and once again the Garda failed to pursue it and continued to fail to do anything about it. She stated that he was supposed to go to court but nothing was done to date. She also stated that she has no confidence in the Garda. She further stated that she cannot go anywhere as she does not feel safe, as this guy may come back and attack her again or, worse, attack her family, as the same guy threatened her youngest son. She stated that she would appreciate if I would bring this matter to the attention of the Dáil.
What does a victim like that want? The woman wants a right to live in her community. She wants the right to know that the person who was guilty of the crimes against her is being dealt with and, critically she does not want to feel endangered any more. The question for us is how that will be achieved. The first thing is that the crimes must be investigated. That is critical. Sadly, myself, Deputy Wallace and Deputy Joan Collins, in particular, have met multiple people over the past period who are the victims of injustice but who have had that injustice compounded by the fact that the justice system, as it currently stands, failed them. Their cases were not investigated. Sometimes they were just tragic instances that life throws up in people's past where they become a victim for no real reason. They just end up in that situation because of accidental factors, but what happens next compounds that and they cannot get closure. The issue of restorative justice is attempting to deal with some of those questions.
I have a problem with the idea of financial compensation. We discussed it during the passage of the fines legislation when the Minister, Deputy Shatter, put forward fines as an alternative to a penal sentence. I am completely opposed to penal sentences in general for most crimes but fines in many instances are ridiculous and community service is a better alternative. We need to take into account people's ability to pay. For example, most crime is committed by people who do not have money. If a junkie breaks into one's house to get money to buy drugs, they are not going to have the money to pay one back if they do that damage. Investing in getting that person off drugs is probably a more sustainable solution. I am really in favour of the idea of people meeting those against whom they carried out a crime. An apology can often mean the closure a person needs. Just being face to face and to have the other person understand the consequences of their actions is hugely important. We need to move away from the idea of penal sentences and to take a much more holistic approach where the victim's interests and the person who carries out the crime are taken into account so there is less re-offending.
On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Shatter, I thank Deputy Halligan for bringing forward this Bill and assure the House that the Minister shares the Deputy's concerns to ensure the interests of victims are at the heart of the criminal justice process.
I would like to address some of the specific points raised by Deputies during the debate. With regard to the policing response to burglaries, the Minister is confident that An Garda Síochána is devoting all resources necessary to confront those who seek to profit from burglary crimes. Robust Garda action in this area is reflected in the most recent official CSO crime statistics, which show the national rate of burglary decreased by 10.4% for the 12 months ending 30 September 2013. This continues a downward trend in the overall number of burglaries which has been evident since the end of 2012. Of course, any statistical improvements are of little comfort to those who have been the victims of burglary crimes. The Minister is very conscious of the deep distress that such crimes can cause householders in urban and rural areas, as well as the broader impact they can have in terms of fear of crime in our communities. In this regard the Minister emphasises the progress being made regarding Operation Fiacla, which is the national Garda operation focused on identifying and targeting gangs involved in burglaries. Operation Fiacla is intelligence-driven and includes specific burglary-related initiatives which have been implemented in each Garda region to target suspect offenders. The Garda authorities have indicated that as of the end of February this year 8,344 persons have been arrested and 4,755 persons have been charged under Operation Fiacla, reflecting the extent and impact of the operation. The implementation of Operation Fiacla and its regional support operations continues alongside ongoing community policing measures.
A number of Deputies expressed concern about Garda station closures. The recent Garda district and station consolidation programme is one of the current strategic development programmes being undertaken by An Garda Síochána. This programme provides for effectiveness and efficiencies through the restructuring and reconfiguration of service delivery methods. The revised structures will continue to support An Garda Síochána's community policing philosophy through the clustering of services at policing hubs. The centralisation of services facilitates the introduction of an enhanced patrolling system and is operational and intelligence-led. This patrol system will ensure that a highly visible and community-oriented policing service will continue to be delivered throughout the country.
Decisions on the provision and allocation of Garda transport, including the type and specification of vehicles, are a matter for the Garda authorities in light of their identified requirements. Operational circumstances are fully taken into account when new vehicles are ordered. The Government's recent investment in the Garda fleet resulted in the purchase of 305 new Garda vehicles towards the end of 2013 at a cost of €5 million. These were in addition to the 133 Garda vehicles that had already been procured during the year. Another €4 million has been made available for the purchase and fit-out of Garda transport in 2014. This is a clear indication of the Minister's commitment to ensure that to the greatest extent possible An Garda Síochána is provided with sufficient resources to enable it to deliver an effective and efficient policing service.
The issue of legal aid for repeat offenders has also been mentioned by Deputies. Under the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962 the courts are responsible for granting legal aid to accused persons whose means are insufficient to pay for legal representation. A person's previous convictions are not a criterion for assessment for legal aid under the Act. Deputies will appreciate that the legal aid scheme operates with due regard to the State's obligations under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights on appropriate legal representation for persons charged with criminal offences.
Deputies may be aware an ongoing review of penal policy is being conducted by a working group established by the Minister in September 2012. This group has been asked to conduct a wide-ranging examination and analysis of penal policy, including sentencing policy and the reintegration and rehabilitation of offenders. Among other matters, this review is also required to take into account the perspective of those who are victims of crime. This group is expected to report shortly after Easter.
I thank Deputy Halligan for bringing the Bill before the House. While the Government shares his concerns with regard to ensuring that the rights and needs of victims of offences are a central consideration in the criminal justice process, in view of the difficulties identified with the provisions of the Bill, the Government cannot agree to its being read a second time. This has been a very worthwhile debate and we thank Deputy Halligan for this opportunity. I am sure that when the Minister brings forward his proposals the Deputy will be quite satisfied with them.
I compliment Deputy Halligan on bringing forward this timely and important Bill. It contains some excellent provisions to deal with the escalating number of intrusions into family homes and properties. The loss of valuables and items of sentimental value and the general destruction that occurs have a huge psychological and stressful impact on the victims of such crime. Victims feel insecure and in many cases they feel powerless to defend themselves and their properties afterwards.
A typical recent example is that of the elderly man living alone in west Clare who, after several events threatening his well-being, fled from his home late at night and cycled a very long journey to a safe haven in a nursing home in Ennis. The result is that he will probably never again return to his homestead. He has been prematurely removed from his environment, his neighbourhood and all his friends. This man has been institutionalised by force. It is a typical example of what is happening, particularly with people living alone who are the victims of criminality.
In 2009 the National Commission on Restorative Justice recommended that a restorative prospective be introduced nationally to the Irish criminal justice system. Unfortunately the report has been left on the shelf gathering dust, although it includes many positive recommendations which could be incorporated into Deputy Halligan's Bill. Perhaps his proposals could act as a catalyst to tie in with the report, which was commissioned by the Government at the time. I am sure a very efficient committee was in place which came up with some very good suggestions. It provided a very good formula for restorative justice and reparation. We should not throw out Deputy Halligan's Bill very easily. Much thought has been put into it and it is very rational and logical. We should give it real consideration and send it to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The least it deserves is for this to happen.
The commission estimated the cost per case of a probation order to be €8,200 and that of a community service order to be €2,000. The supervision of a suspended or deferred sentence was estimated to be €5,500. By comparison, the average annual cost of keeping an offender in prison is approximately €120,000. In the absence of research-based evidence and relevant supporting data, the commission in its report opted to develop the estimates of the potential wider application of restorative justice based on 2007 court and prison data and a cautious assumption of the level of case referrals and case outcomes and the mix of cases which may be diverted from current disposals. The commission offered a tentative projection of a wider application of restorative justice in respect of adults on criminal charges before the courts at between 3,265 and 7,250 per annum.
In the absence of research-based evidence and based on certain assumptions, the commission projects that annually, between 290 and 579 persons due to be sanctioned before the courts could be diverted from being given a custodial sentence where a restorative option is applied. The commission estimates that diversion from custodial sentences of this range could lead to a reduction of between 40 to 125 prison spaces per annum. It estimates this level of reduction could generate potential savings in prison costs of between €4.1 million and €8.3 million. The assumptions applied in making these projections are considered to be modest and do not include savings that would arise from lower rates of reoffending in the future due to restorative interventions. The projections excluded savings from reduced demand for prison spaces due to part-suspended sentences as a restorative option.
First, I thank all those Members, from all sides of the House, who made valuable and quite excellent contributions. I thank the Minister of State for her kind words earlier this evening and I thank my legal team, who helped me to put together the Bill. In addition, I thank members of the Garda Síochána, who were quite excellent in helping me with the Bill, as well as the many groups and in particular, the Support After Crime Services in Cork, Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and Waterford, whose founding member, Ms Sally Hanlon, was quite helpful to me. I also thank many members of victim support groups nationwide.
I am aware that many Deputies from all sides of the House would like to be able to return to their constituencies and tell their constituents they are supporting the Bill. This is because any Deputy who works on the ground knows full well the devastating impact that burglaries have on communities throughout the country. They also know how completely powerless victims can be. I reiterate the point I made last night, which is that a burglary takes place every 19 minutes, according to statistics from the Central Statistics Office. Consequently, by the time this debate concludes this evening, another four or five homes will have been ransacked. Another four or five families will return home or will wake up to scenes of devastation, their security will have been shattered and treasured items will be gone forever. I ask Members to think about such families and not the burglars when they vote on this Bill. This is because the Bill primarily is about victims and not the convicted.
Some Members of my legal team were listening to the Minister's response last night and were quite taken aback by some of the information in that response. I wish to go through some points that were made. First, he spoke about the rights of the accused but this Bill does not mention the rights of the accused. If one is accused, one has not been convicted. This Bill deals specifically with those who have been convicted of the offence. One then must determine whether one should deal with the rights of the victims or the convicted. All those accused have rights and one is not guilty because one is accused. I was shocked, as was my legal team, to hear the Minister mention the rights of the accused last night.
The Minister also referred to section 6 of the 1993 Act. During the debate, much was made by the Minister and some Government Deputies of the compensation clause built into section 6 of the 1993 Act. What was not mentioned by the Minister - again I was taken aback by this - is that section 6 always is at the discretion of the judge. Section 6 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993 provides that where a defendant is convicted of an offence, the court may make an order requiring him or her to pay compensation in respect of personal injury or loss suffered by the victims as a result of the offence. However, the decision on whether a compensation order is made currently is at the discretion of the court. The Minister gave out wrong information here last night, which gave the implication that it already was in being that compensation was a prerequisite for people who went to court but this is not the case.
The Minister spoke about victims' consent and the point was made that this Bill does not take into account a victim's consent. It was suggested that an offer of reparation could be perceived as a means by which a convicted burglar could buy his or her way out of the sentence. This is a ridiculous suggestion. The Bill does not propose the payment of compensation as an alternative to a custodial sentence. Under the terms of the Bill, sentencing would take place irrespective of whether reparation was made voluntarily. I also was deeply shocked by Deputy Ferris when she brought up the horrendous crime of rape. This Bill specifically pertains to burglaries and invasion of the home. I made it quite clear in this Bill that it would be incumbent upon a judge, irrespective of the bestowal of a custodial sentence or a community sentence, that reparation would be paid to the victim. Consequently, it has nothing to do with this. I made a point of not commenting on minimum or maximum sentencing or whatever. During the abortion debate, I had rape victims as guests in the Gallery and they know my views on rape and on how women are treated and violated and on how victims are treated. I wished to be quite clear in that regard and while I like Deputy Ferris, perhaps she had not read part of the Bill.
The rights of the accused also were mentioned at length - far more than the rights of the victim - to not have his or her home violated, from what I could make out. What is clear in the Bill is that the payment of reparation applies to those convicted of a burglary. I must make this point quite clear. The rights of the accused are clear in Irish law and this Bill in no way infringes on due process and a fair trial. The suggestion was made that the Bill could infringe on the rights of juveniles or those suffering from mental health issues. Again, my legal team were shocked to hear the Minister speak about this last night. Everyone is aware that those considered incompetent under the law will not be brought to trial and all of this is taken into consideration already in Irish law. This Bill is addressing cases in which adults of sound mental health are convicted in an Irish court of law. Again, my legal team, when going through the Bill this morning with me, recognised that the Minister mentioned the rights of children. This is a Bill directed at adult defendants, that is, adults who are convicted. Moreover, an adult is someone who is 18 years of age or more, while a child under Irish law is someone who is under 18 years of age.
Someone mentioned the assessment from the Garda. As matters stand, if one's home is broken into and money or precious items or jewellery are taken from one's home, one's first port of call is the Garda to give a report as to what has been taken and one gives such an assessment to the Garda. When one contacts an insurance company, its representatives ask for that. They ask whether one has gone to the Garda, what has been taken and whether one can give an assessment, has receipts and so on. The gardaí would have been the first people to whom one would have gone. Moreover, those who spoke up about the assessment from the Garda appear to be forgetting that if someone is convicted, it will have been because the Garda found the items or will have induced that person to make a statement as to what he or she had taken from the house and the damage he or she had done. I see no problem with a garda appearing before the court to state he or she accepts that this particular house of such a person was broken into and this is what was taken or stolen.
The meeting with victims was mentioned. While I have no problem with a perpetrator meeting the victim under restorative justice, many victims do not want this to happen - one can speak to all victims' groups in this regard. In the first instance, they are too shocked and upset and they are afraid. In the context of restorative justice, had it been amended and included within the Bill, I would not exclude it. However, I wished to make clear that many victims find that as of yet, they are not quite up to meeting someone who has broken into their house, damaged their property or assaulted them.
The Government's plans to introduce new restorative justice measures also were appraised. However, what was not specified is that the Government proposes to give victims of crime the right to accept reparation payment from the offender in question. Members should bear in mind that the right to feel safe and secure in one's own home already has been ripped from the victim and the Government's response is to create a framework within Irish criminal law whereby if the person convicted of breaking into one's home, who possibly may have 100 other convictions under his or her belt, feels sufficiently remorseful to offer compensation, then the victim will have the right to accept such payment. I do not call that justice for the victim. Do Members honestly consider that to be an appropriate response to the rights of the victim? I would be interested to meet the offender, who may have been availing of free legal aid for many years, who will voluntarily make such reparation.
This is the difficulty for victims' groups with whom one speaks. I was quite clear in putting this Bill together and I met approximately 20 families whose homes had been broken into and I spoke to victims' groups throughout the country.
The basic aim of the reparation proposal from the Minister for Justice and Equality is to reduce the overall number of custodial sentences for crimes at District Court level. No thought has been given to the victim. The reparation process, to which the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, alluded, would certainly not be considered a fair and balanced one. Restorative justice is about the idea that because crime hurts, justice must heal. The victim of the home burglary deserves justice in the same way as any other victim and if that justice has to come via deductions from the criminal's means of living, whether his or her wages, pension or social welfare payment, then so be it.
If the Bill had gone to Committee Stage, I would have been prepared to accept amendments. I am deeply disappointed the Government has not agreed to that. As I said, I put a huge effort into this Bill, as did all groups from the legal team to the Garda to victims' rights groups. It is disappointing to think it will not be allowed to progress to Committee Stage.
- Browne, John.
- Collins, Joan.
- Colreavy, Michael.
- Cowen, Barry.
- Crowe, Seán.
- Dooley, Timmy.
- Ferris, Martin.
- Fleming, Tom.
- Halligan, John.
- Healy, Seamus.
- Healy-Rae, Michael.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Lowry, Michael.
- McGrath, Finian.
- McGrath, Michael.
- McLellan, Sandra.
- Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
- Ó Cuív, Éamon.
- Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- O'Brien, Jonathan.
- O'Sullivan, Maureen.
- Pringle, Thomas.
- Smith, Brendan.
- Barry, Tom.
- Breen, Pat.
- Butler, Ray.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Catherine.
- Byrne, Eric.
- Cannon, Ciarán.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Conaghan, Michael.
- Conlan, Seán.
- Connaughton, Paul J.
- Conway, Ciara.
- Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
- Costello, Joe.
- Creed, Michael.
- Daly, Jim.
- Deasy, John.
- Deenihan, Jimmy.
- Deering, Pat.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Dowds, Robert.
- Doyle, Andrew.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- English, Damien.
- Feighan, Frank.
- Fitzpatrick, Peter.
- Griffin, Brendan.
- Harrington, Noel.
- Harris, Simon.
- Humphreys, Heather.
- Kehoe, Paul.
- Kenny, Seán.
- Kyne, Seán.
- Lawlor, Anthony.
- Lynch, Ciarán.
- Lynch, Kathleen.
- Lyons, John.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McEntee, Helen.
- McHugh, Joe.
- McLoughlin, Tony.
- McNamara, Michael.
- Maloney, Eamonn.
- Mitchell, Olivia.
- Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Murphy, Eoghan.
- Nash, Gerald.
- Neville, Dan.
- Nolan, Derek.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Donovan, Patrick.
- O'Dowd, Fergus.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- O'Sullivan, Jan.
- Perry, John.
- Phelan, Ann.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Reilly, James.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Spring, Arthur.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Stanton, David.
- Tuffy, Joanna.
- Twomey, Liam.
- Varadkar, Leo.
- Wall, Jack.
- Walsh, Brian.
- White, Alex.