This Bill represents my permanent proposals bearing on the question of the execution of the decrees and orders of the courts. Senators are probably aware that we have been carrying on for the last two or three years with temporary legislation which is due to expire on the 31st March. This Bill is of a permanent nature and it represents the provisions which I consider necessary for the due and proper execution of the orders of the courts. It has been prepared in consultation with many of the under-sheriffs of the country and after a close observance of the working of the temporary Acts. Many of the provisions are simply the incorporation in permanent legislation of certain features of the temporary Acts. It is not proposed to continue the system of assistant under-sheriffs, the reason being that the position with regard to execution of court orders is now down to what may be regarded as practically the normal figure. The arrears on hands when the temporary legislation was passed were 7,500.
The accumulated arrears of decrees at present in the offices of the under-sheriffs have now dropped to less than one-half of that figure, about 3,600, and as judgments come into the hands of these under-sheriffs at an average rate of about 2,000 per month the figures 3,600 would represent very little more than current work. It is very important that there should be no falling back in the matter of the prompt execution of the orders of the court. The whole credit of the country both internal and external, depends in the last resort on the decree and certainly on the degree of expedition with which the orders of the court are executed. Probably one of the few provisions to which I would direct the special attention of Senators is Section 13. Section 13 has been considered by some, members of the Dáil and others, to be a drastic section. It provides that:
No action shall lie against any under-sheriff for or on account of his having taken in execution under any execution order, any goods, animals, or other chattels found in the house or other place of residence or on the lands of the debtor and claimed or alleged (whether such claim or allegation does or does not prove to have been well-founded), to be the property of the wife or husband of the debtor, or to be the property of any parent or child of the debtor for the time being residing in the house or other place of residence of the debtor, and, in lieu of such action against the under-sheriff, the person to whom such goods, animals, or other chattels so taken in execution in fact belonged shall (if such goods, animals, or other chattels should prove not to have been the property of the debtor) be entitled to recover from the debtor by action the value of such goods, animals, and other chattels, together with such damages as such person shall have suffered by reason of such goods, animals, or other chattels having been so taken in execution.
In less formal language the effect of that section is to give to under-sheriffs in the execution of court orders an administrative discretion when faced with a third party claim which they believed to be a bogus claim. I know of no other effective means of dealing with that situation. The bogus third party claim had become a feature well known to every under-sheriff in the country, and the claim in fact and in practice was impossible to rebut. The under-sheriff is handed a decree against A.B. living in such a street. He goes along and on entering the premises casts his eye on a particular article of furniture. The wife or daughter says: "Hands off that; that belongs to me or to my eldest daughter. It was given to her by her uncle." Senators putting themselves in the position of the under-sheriff confronted with that kind of claim will realise that it is impossible to refute, and the bogus third party claim, if allowed to continue—if we were to stereotype the position in our legislation—means in effect that by the simple process of entering such a field any decree of a court can be reduced to so much waste paper. That is the defence of the section.
I agree that as baldly stated there in legal language, it seems a drastic section. My defence is that it is a necessary section and having given much time, thought and trouble to the question I know of no other effective answer to the device of the bogus third-party claim. This vests discretion in the under-sheriffs. If the party to such a claim is bogus, he should be free without having the menace of personal liabilities hanging over him. Instead of that we propose, if a mistake is made and if a wrong in fact occurs that the remedy shall lie against the debtor as if the monies belong to the third party were paid on his behalf, and an action lies for the recovery of such money. Senators might glance at Section 7. It continues the property exemption from seizure under the decrees of the courts to the money value of £15. That was a new feature introduced into the temporary legislation and it is not unreasonable to continue it. The law as I found it originally enabled goods to be seized leaving only to the judgment debtor property to the amount of £5. In view of the very considerable alteration in the purchasing power of money it is not unreasonable to change that £5 to £15.
Part II. of the Bill, which provides for the examination of debtors, is proposed to be continued as a feature of the temporary legislation as it was universally recognised by solicitors practising throughout the country as a most valuable provision. It enables judgment debtors to be summoned before the District Court and to be examined there on behalf of the judgment creditor as to their means, and if the court, having heard the examination, makes an order for payment either by a full order or by instalments and if the judgment debtor fails to comply with that order, then there is power of infringement. The alternative to some such provision is, in fact, that a person not having property—a person, say, living in a hotel—could successfully evade the decrees of the court by simply pleading that he had no goods, whereas, in fact, there are stocks or shares or things of that kind in respect of which he would be in receipt of a very considerable income. This procedure which enables a judgment debtor to be examined before a court as to his means has been found to be very valuable, and it is proposed to continue that as a permanent feature of our legislation. I am not quite sure if there is anything else in the Bill that I ought to direct special attention to, but if Senators have any difficulty perhaps I could deal with them after they have spoken.