Parole Bill 2016: Report Stage (Resumed)

SECTION 19

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 17, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

“(b) any continuing effect whether long-term or otherwise of the offence on the victim of that offence and the likely impact on the victim of a grant of parole,”.”.

This amendment and amendment No. 56 speak to the issue of protecting the rights of victims in this process.

The Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 gives victims a statutory right to certain information. For example, a victim may request information from An Garda Síochána, the Ombudsman Commission, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Irish Prison Service, the director of a children detention school or a clinical director of a designated centre. The victim is entitled to information on, among other things, when a prisoner is expected to be released from prison, any temporary release of the prisoner or prison transfer. My expectation in proposing the amendments is that these criteria would be added to the Bill as ones the parole board would have to take into account.

I am not doing to die in a ditch on the amendments. I merely wanted to speak to the issue. It could be that what I am proposing in the amendments is already provided for in the Bill. If not, I would be grateful if they could be accepted.

I am not inclined to accept amendment No. 48, although I have listened carefully to what the Deputy said. The import of the proposal is that the board take into account the continuing affect of an offence on a victim and the likely impact on a victim of a person being granted parole. I share the Deputy's concern. I also share his sympathy for families of murder victims because of the ongoing upset and trauma they suffer, in particular, when after a period, the offender is being considered for parole. The Bill, as amended, will provide for the board receiving submissions from the victim. We have made reference to and considered the issue of legal representation for the victim and the granting of legal aid to him or her. In reaching a decision the board is obliged to take these submissions into account. There is a really important role for the victim. One of the primary concerns is whether a parole applicant would pose an undue risk to the safety of the public, communities and, of course, the victim. What the Deputy is seeking to do is covered in the new section 41 which provides that the board must be satisfied, among other things, that it is appropriate in all of the circumstances that the prisoner be released. These measures are a step forward for victims in being heard. They will have their views taken into account and considered, but in a way that must be described as balanced. I am not convinced of the nature of amendment No. 48, but I am satisfied that the issues are covered in the new section 41.

What I am trying to do is to have a reference to the impact on the victim inserted more firmly and unambiguously into the legislation. If my interpretation of the legislation thus far is correct, the impact of the granting of parole on a victim is not listed as a criterion that the board must take into account. The Minister says it is provided for in general terms, but there is no specific codicil or line in that respect. Therefore, I am seeking to tighten the legislation in that regard. I expect the Minister to respond by saying he is standing firm, which is fair enough, but it is my intention to press the amendment.

I have listened carefully to what the Deputy has had to say. There is not much between us in ensuring the voice of the victim will be heard. In that regard, there will be clear obligations on the board to satisfy itself that it is appropriate in all of the circumstances that the prisoner be granted parole.

Perhaps the originator of the Bill might a view on this matter?

One of the advantages in not being the Minister is one does not have to respond on every amendment. I will take up what Deputy Sherlock said. Section 27 which is being inserted into the Bill by way of amendment No. 37 takes care of the Deputy's concern. It provides that the board, in deciding whether to grant parole, shall take into account the nature and gravity of the offence to which the sentence of imprisonment relates. This, necessarily, will involve the board considering the impact of the offence that was perpetrated by the applicant for parole on the victim. Subparagraph (l) provides that the board will also take into account any submission made by or on behalf of the relevant victim in accordance with procedures determined under section 14. This means that the victim of a crime or the family of the victim of a crime will be able to make whatever submission they wish to the board. The Deputy is concerned to ensure it will take into account the long-term and continuing impact the crime has had on the victim. I would have thought it would because those making submissions on behalf of the victim of a crime could say the person was still traumatised and badly affected by the consequences of the parole applicant's behaviour.

There has to be some objectivity to the parole process. For example, are family members who are much more vocal or taken the crime much more seriously having been affected by it to be treated more preferably than a victim who does not have a family advocating on his or her behalf? There is a balance to be struck. My own view is that the Deputy's concern is met in the Bill. The Parole board will be able to listen to submissions from the victim of a crime or his or her family on the impact the crime has had on them.

I thank Deputy O'Callaghan. We have to legislate on the basis that there are all types of scenario. Victims come in many shapes and guises, but we have to legislate for reasonable grounds. Victims are referenced in the Parole Bill, but, as I understand it, they are only to be notified when a hearing is scheduled to be held, rather than when an application is made. The Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime ) Act 2017 gives victims a statutory right to certain information. That is the context in which I am proposing the amendments. I have made the argument which has been defeated, which I accept.

It is not an unreasonable point, but there are areas of the Bill where these issues are covered. I regard the proposal as being less than necessary.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 19 deleted.

I have a little bit of housekeeping in a message from the Bills Office. Earlier, it was agreed that section 5 would be deleted from the Bill and subsequently agreed that section 5 stand part of the Bill. Is it agreed that section 5 be deleted from the Bill? Agreed. This will be reflected in the Official Report.

SECTION 20

I move amendment No. 49:

In page 18, line 16, to delete “twelve” and substitute “eight”.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 20 deleted.
Amendment No. 50 not moved.
Section 21 deleted.
Sections 22 to 27, inclusive, deleted.
NEW SECTION

Amendments Nos. 51 to 55, inclusive, may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 24, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

“PART 4

MISCELLANEOUS

Amendment of Criminal Justice Act 2007

37. Section 25(8) of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 is amended—

(a) in paragraph (b), by the substitution of “in prison,” for “in prison, or”,

(b) in paragraph (c), by the substitution of “Criminal Justice Act 1960, or” for “Criminal Justice Act 1960.”, and

(c) by the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (c):

“(d) released on parole within the meaning of the Parole Act 2019.”.”.

Members will see that, in amendments Nos. 51 and 55, we are making consequential amendments in respect of other legislation. Many of these amendments are technical. I draw the attention of Deputies to amendment No. 53, which amends the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, providing that the victim should be informed, if he or she has requested this, in respect of any application for parole or the release of a person on parole.

These are all necessary consequential amendments and I support them.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 28 deleted.
NEW SECTIONS

I move amendment No. 52:

In page 24, after line 14, to insert the following:

“Amendment of Defamation Act 2009

38. Section 17 of the Defamation Act 2009 is amended—

(a) in subsection (2)—

(i) in paragraph (w), by the substitution of “State, or ” for “State.”, and

(ii) by the insertion of the following paragraphs after paragraph (w):

“(x) made in the course of the consideration by the Parole Board of —

(i) an application for parole, or

(ii) the variation or revocation of a parole order,

where the statement is connected with that consideration, or

(y) contained in a decision of the Parole Board, or a notification of such a decision, pursuant to the Parole Act 2019 or a parole order.”,

and

(b) by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (3):

“(4) In this section, ‘application for parole’ and ‘parole order’ have the meanings they have in the Parole Act 2019.”.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 53:

In page 24, after line 14, to insert the following:

“Amendment of Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014

39. Section 31(1)(a) of the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014 is amended—

(a) in subparagraph (ii), by the substitution of “Criminal Justice Act 1960,” for “Criminal Justice Act 1960, or”, and

(b) by the insertion of the following subparagraph after subparagraph (ii):

“(iia) the offender is released on parole within the meaning of the Parole Act 2019, or”.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 54:

In page 24, after line 14, to insert the following:

“Amendment of Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017

40. Section 58(7) of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 is amended—

(a) in paragraph (b), by the substitution of “in prison,” for “in prison, or”,

(b) in paragraph (c), by the substitution of “Criminal Justice Act 1960, or” for “Criminal Justice Act 1960.”, and

(c) by the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (c):

“(d) released on parole within the meaning of the Parole Act 2019.”.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 55:

In page 24, after line 14, to insert the following:

“Amendment of Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017

41. Section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 is amended—

(a) in subsection (2)(m)—

(i) by the insertion of the following subparagraphs after subparagraph (iv):

“(iva) any application for parole by the person,

(ivb) any release of the person on parole and any conditions attaching to such release which relate to the victim, and”,

and

(ii) in subparagraph (v), by the substitution of “in custody, on temporary release from prison under section 2 or 3 of the Act of 1960 or on parole” for “in custody or on temporary release from prison under section 2 or 3 of the Act of 1960”,

and

(b) by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (8):

“(9) In this section, ‘application for parole’ and ‘parole’ have the meanings they have in the Parole Act 2019.”.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 56:

In page 24, after line 14, to insert the following:

“Victims of crime: right to information

29. (1) Section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 is amended by inserting the following as subsection (2A):

“(2A) A victim of an offence may request from the Parole Board information regarding any application to the Board to be considered for parole by a person serving a sentence of imprisonment for that offence and the Board shall provide the information, or arrange for the information concerned to be provided, to the victim as soon as practicable.”.”.

I am back to the same issue again. The amendment is self-explanatory. I ask the Minister for a response to this. It is a tightening up of the wording in respect of the rights of the victim. The key phrase here is "the Board shall provide the information, or arrange for the information concerned to be provided, to the victim as soon as practicable".

I am not inclined to accept the amendment on the basis that it has already been provided for in amendments. While the Deputy makes an important point with which I agree, I do not believe it is necessary to make his amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 57:

In page 24, after line 14, to insert the following:

“Report of Minister

29. The Minister for Justice and Equality shall, not later than 2 years after the commencement of this Act, cause a report to be prepared on the operation of the Act and shall cause copies of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.”.

This amendment is non-contentious and simply asks for a review not later than two years after the commencement of the Act. This is important. It is the first time that we have put parole on a statutory footing. It is now a fairly comprehensive Bill with a number of issues that are not clear. Deputy Ó Laoghaire raised one earlier relating to minor offences and whether somebody is guilty of an offence simply because of something minor such as a lack of sobriety. There are other issues related to the input of victims, which are very important and which almost every organisation has called for. It is not clear what the guidelines around that input are or how that will work out. It is not clear how it will work out with the move back to eight years instead of 12 years and all of the other practical problems. This is a minimal amendment which should be included and I hope that the Minister will consent to have it in the Bill.

I support this amendment. It is the kind of section that is frequently seen in legislation. It makes sense. We are putting this on a statutory basis. It had an institutional basis without having a statutory basis. It is important that we see the patterns that emerge, the experience of the board with the new procedures, and the organisation that is involved. It would be a useful exercise if, within two years, we had a substantial report or at least a detailed report that gave us the opportunity to reflect on this legislation and to identify any shortcomings that exist or additions that need to be made. This amendment is useful and non-contentious.

This is a sensible amendment. I do not think there should be any cause to oppose this amendment. Is there?

It is unnecessary. I already indicated that there were issues with the workings of the legislation that we would not only monitor closely but which we would review. Deputy Connolly suggests that this be expressly stated in the statute. However, as well as referring to what I said earlier in the course of the debate, I point to Standing Orders, which indicate that there is a requirement of this nature under Standing Order 164A for a review after 12 months.

I suggest to the Deputies that in the circumstances that is sufficient.

I am not sure why the Minister is reluctant to accept the amendment but I thank him for telling me about Standing Order 164A. That is helpful but I am not convinced. It is brand new legislation and there are so many issues concerning its operation on the ground. It makes sense to put in a review clause. It is good if the Minister is committed to reviewing and examining the legislation. Let us copper-fasten that because of all of the issues raised. In a spirit of co-operation we did not push some amendments and because of the importance to the legislation in putting the Parole Board on a statutory footing. I cannot see where the difficulty is in committing to a review. It is in other legislation.

For the purposes of clarity, Standing Order 164A provides: "Twelve months following the enactment of a Bill, save in the case of the Finance Bill and the Appropriation Bill, the member of the Government or Minister of State who is officially responsible for implementation of the Act shall provide a report which shall review the functioning of the Act and which shall be laid in the Parliamentary Library." I contend that the provision is very clear.

How many times has Standing Order 164A been complied with? How many reviews have been carried out under it?

I do not know if the Minister is responsible for that.

No, but the Minister has helpfully pointed out the standing order to me. It is being put forward as a solution. How often has it been used? The word "shall" is there. How many reviews have been carried out?

I cannot tell the Deputy but the word "shall" is worth noting.

Is the Deputy pressing the amendment?

Amendment put and declared lost.
TITLE

I move amendment No. 58:

In page 5, to delete lines 5 to 7 and substitute the following:

“An Act to provide for the establishment of a body to be known as An Bord Parúil or, in the English language, the Parole Board; to provide for its functions; to amend certain enactments; and to provide for related matters.”.

Amendment No. 58 is a simple, straightforward amendment which replaces the Long Title of the Bill. It states that the purpose of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of a parole board and to provide for its functions.

Amendment agreed to.
Title, as amended, agreed to.

Pursuant to Standing 154(3), it is reported specially to the Dáil that the Committee has amended the Title.

Bill, as amended on recommittal, reported.

When is it proposed to take Fifth Stage?