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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 13 May 1964

Vol. 57 No. 11

Courts Bill, 1963—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill contains a number of provisions to improve the present arrangements relating to the circuit and district courts.

Section 2 of the Bill provides that the number of ordinary judges of the circuit court shall not be more than nine. As the President of the circuit court carries out the full normal duties of a circuit judge, in addition to his other functions, the maximum number of circuit court judges will, in fact, be ten.

In providing accordingly, the Bill does no more than restore the permanent strength of the circuit court bench to what it was up to August last when, under the existing law, the maximum number of judges fell to be reduced by one on the occurrence of a vacancy. After full consideration of the matter I am satisfied that, for the present at any rate, and at least for a few years to come, it will be necessary to have ten judges, including the President, in the circuit court.

Following the reduction in the number of permanent judges in August last consequent on the retirement of Judge Binchy, the Government, in order to avoid the accumulation of arrears to an excessive extent, found it necessary to appoint a temporary circuit judge at the commencement of term last October and this appointment has been renewed periodically. In view of the objection in principle to having temporary judges for other than short periods, the Government decided that the appropriate course is to seek legislative approval to restore the number of permanent judges to that which obtained for many years up to last August. It is the intention that when the strength of the circuit court Bench has been restored to ten, one of the judges will remain unassigned to a particular circuit. The unassigned judge will be required mainly in the Dublin Circuit where there has been a sustained increase in the volume of work in recent years to such an extent as to require practically the whole-time services of three judges.

The next provision is concerned with the reorganisation of the circuits of the circuit court. Before I deal with that, I may mention that I am satisfied that no form of reorganisation would enable us to provide an efficient service without the tenth judge. It may be that in some years time, the circumstances then prevailing will enable a reduction to be made; if so, the position can be reviewed and adjusted on the retirement of one of the judges.

In the matter of reorganisation, it is proposed to give the Government power to alter the composition of the circuit court circuits, other than the Dublin circuit and the Cork circuit, by transferring counties from one circuit to another. The immediate need for this provision is that experience has proved that the Northern Circuit, which was formed in 1960 by the amalgamation of the North Western with the North Eastern Circuit, is too heavy for one judge. It will, accordingly, be necessary to transfer some of the work from the present Northern Circuits to adjoining circuits. Senators will note that the provision is confined to alterations in the composition of the circuits, and does not extend to any alteration in the total number of Circuits which will remain at eight. In view of the limited scope of the provision, it is considered reasonable that the Government should be empowered to make alterations of this kind without having to seek specific statutory authority on each occasion. The section provides for prior consultation between the Government on the one hand, and the President of the circuit court and any judge concerned on the other hand, in relation to any proposed alterations. On general grounds, alterations will be confined to those required to provide an efficient service and a fair distribution of work.

In relation to the district court, the Bill provides that the times at which justices of the district court may take vacations shall be at such times as may be approved of by the Minister for Justice. This provision does no more than confirm the position which has obtained for the last 40 years. From 1924 until last year the vacation periods were subject to the prior approval of the Minister for Justice and this approval was given either in particular or general terms as circumstances made appropriate. In 1963, however, it was contended on behalf of district justices that they had a right to take vacation at periods chosen by themselves without the approval of, or even consultation with, the Minister for Justice. It is obvious that such a contention, if accepted, would make it impossible to arrange for the smooth running of the district court service, and could readily lead to chaos. The provision in section 5 of the present Bill is designed to maintain the longstanding practice which has been operated in the public interest, and with due regard to the convenience of district justices.

The next provision in the Bill relates to the transfer of trials in criminal cases by judges of the circuit court. Since 1924, the position has been that either the accused or the Attorney General is entitled to apply, without notice, to the circuit judge to have the trial transferred to the Central Criminal Court which has always sat in Dublin; and such applications must be granted. The change proposed in the Bill preserves the existing absolute right to have a trial transferred from the circuit court to the Central Criminal Court, provided the accused or the Attorney General, as the case may be, gives at least seven days' notice before the trial of his intention to apply for the transfer. If either of the parties for any reason fails or neglects to give seven days' notice, the application for transfer may still be made and it will be in the discretion of the judge to grant or refuse it. Up to now cases have in some instances been transferred without notice to the Central Criminal Court for no better reason than to secure an adjournment which had been properly refused, or to suit counsel or because the accused wanted to postpone the evil day. There have, in fact, been some recent cases in which the grave inconvenience for many parties which arose from transfers without notice gave rise to justifiable criticism of the existing law. The limited modification now proposed will not only obviate much of the present inconvenience and expense to witnesses, jurors and the police in respect of unnecessary attendances at the Central Criminal Court but will also facilitate generally the administration of justice.

The last provision relates to the service of circuit and district court documents by post. These documents have normally to be served by summons servers appointed under section 44 of the Court Officers Act, 1926. While this arrangement has worked fairly well for very many years, the position is that in recent years, notwithstanding progressive increases in the annual salary paid to summons servers from the Exchequer and also in the fees payable direct to summons servers by parties requiring service, it has become increasingly difficult to attract suitable persons for appointment to the post of summons server.

Indications are that unless the Exchequer is to be called upon to bear very much heavier charges for the service, together with substantial increases in service fees, it will be impossible to maintain this service.

I am satisfied that service of court documents by registered post is an arrangement which should now be introduced. Registered post service has been operating in England for very many years, is an accepted idea on the Continent and is being provided in the Uniform Law on Arbitration now being drafted at Strasbourg, which it is hoped to have adopted in this country. Service by this means is also provided for in some of our own Acts, namely, the Arbitration Act of 1954, the Solicitors (Amendment) Act, 1960, and the Charities Act, 1961. It is also frequently allowed by judges in the circuit court, in areas in which no summons servers have been appointed. The provision in the Bill introduces registered post as the normal method of service for district and circuit court documents in areas in which there is no summons server. The change-over, which will depend on vacancies for summons servers, will be a gradual one. The various provisions I have mentioned are designed to improve the efficiency of our legal system, and I trust that the Bill will meet with the approval of the Seanad.

This Bill has been introduced to deal with a number of matters. First of all, it is to make provision for the appointment of an extra judge to the circuit court bench; secondly, to rearrange the circuits of the circuit court with particular reference to the northern circuit; thirdly, to deal with the vacation of district justices; fourthly, to impose conditions on the right of an accused person or the Attorney General to have a trial transferred from a circuit court to the Central Criminal Court, and lastly it is to make provision for the serving of circuit court documents and district court documents by post. I do not think this is an opportune time to appoint an extra judge to the circuit court. Changes have been promised in the circuit court jurisdiction; we understand that workmen's compensation will be removed from the jurisdiction of the circuit court and handed over to the Minister for Social Welfare. If that comes about it will mean that the circuit court will be relieved of quite an amount of work. There is also a rumour that the malicious injury code as we understand it will be abolished. If that happens it would also relieve the circuit court of a lot of work. It is, therefore, possible that in the near future there will not be as much business to be done in the circuit court as there is at present.

While dealing with this aspect, I should like to say that the jurisdiction of the circuit court should be increased and increased considerably. It is several years since the jurisdiction was increased from £300 to £600 but since that increase took place there has been a big change in the value of money and £600 now is really a very inadequate jurisdiction for the circuit court. It means that any claim for damages involving any matter of any seriousness must be decided upon in the High Court with consequent inconvenience, delay and considerable expense, particularly to country litigants. I am expressing a personal view when I say that I consider that the time has come for a considerable increase in the jurisdiction of the circuit court. It would lead to the provision of cheaper administration of justice and more convenience for litigants. If that happens, as it inevitably must, there will then perhaps be reason to revise the position in the circuit court with particular regard to the number of judges, but it is time enough to do that when the occasion arises.

Another point which I should like to make is that if there has been a considerable increase in the amount of work in the circuit courts in recent years it is due to the introduction of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, which created new indictable offences. That Act provided that where a person was guilty of dangerous driving, causing death or serious bodily injury, he must be returned for trial to the circuit court on indictment.

I have always held that that section was unwise and unnecessary. In the first place, it created a new type of offence, an offence which depended not on the act of the accused but on the consequences of that act. A person could be guilty of frightfully dangerous driving yet might only damage a gatepost. If he were unfortunate enough to injure somebody, which, of course, he never intended, he is guilty of a much more serious offence and is sent for trial on indictment. How many days of circuit court time have been taken up with the trial of such indictable offences under the 1961 Road Traffic Act? I should like the Minister to tell us also the number of people returned for trial since the coming into operation of that Act and the number of cases in which convictions were procured.

These cases could, in my opinion, quite properly be dealt with in the district court where the accused person has the right of appeal to the circuit judge. If that were attended to, it would mean there would not be as much work in the circuit court. Regarding the rearrangement of circuits, I understand from the Minister that this can only be done by the Oireachtas and that a section in this Bill is necessary to give him power to rearrange the circuits.

I entirely agree that the Northern Circuit, which this provision is primarily introduced to deal with, is much too large at the moment. For many years there were two circuits. One comprised Sligo and Donegal and the other was made up of Monaghan, Cavan and Leitrim. Some years ago the five counties were constituted one circuit and it is a fact that the circuit is much too large for one judge to deal with. That has been recognised in this Bill and with that provision I am in entire agreement. I understand, however, that two of these counties can be allocated to adjoining circuits without apparently over-burdening them.

It is a general rearrangement.

Therefore, I do not think this alone can make the case for the appointment of another circuit judge at this stage. The provision regarding the times at which district justices may take holidays is a minor matter. I agree with the Minister that perhaps the Department or the President of the district court should have a say in the matter of holidays for district justices, because otherwise you might have chaos: you might have the district court left without an adequate number of justices.

I noticed the matter was raised in the Dáil as it seemed this might be regarded as a change in the terms of appointment of justices. The Minister does not seem to think it is, but I venture to suggest that the 1960 Act or some statutory instrument of that date created a doubt in the matter and since then justices have felt themselves at liberty to take holidays when they like without referring to the Department or to the President. If for some years they have been entitled to do that——

Only last year. It was only contended last year.

It arose out of an Act of a couple of years earlier. Justices who have been appointed since the change took place or since the Act was passed which made it possible for them to take holidays when they liked, would have grounds for saying their terms of appointment have been altered. I should like to say I am in agreement with the provision in the Bill which seeks to make it a condition of the right of either the Attorney General or an accused person to have a trial transferred from the circuit court to the Central Criminal Court that either should give seven days' notice. If either the accused or the Attorney General gives seven days' notice, then he is entitled as of right to have the trial transferred to the Central Criminal Court. He is at the moment entitled as of right to have the trial transferred without any notice.

Either is entitled at the moment to come into court on the morning of the trial and ask to have it transferred, and that request must be granted. That has led to abuses and to absurd situations. In one instance, it worked out to the advantage of the Attorney General who found himself without a witness in a case where an accused person had come back from another country to stand trial. The Attorney General availed of this provision to get an adjournment there and then. The Bill as it stands gives the presiding judge the right to make the transfer notwithstanding that notice has not been given, but then it becomes a matter for the discretion of the judge and there is no absolute right in either the accused or the Attorney General.

The provision about the service of circuit court and district court documents is also reasonable. Where the position of a summons server is vacant, the Bill provides that court documents may be served by registered post. On the question of the number of judges, when I dealt with that earlier I overlooked the fact that for two years the President of the circuit court was absent in Cyprus and the work seemed to go on with the judges available, without any additional appointment.

To summarise I am in agreement with all the provisions in this Bill with the exception of that relating to the appointment of an extra judge. I would say that is unnecessary at the moment, that it is inopportune, and I suggest to the Minister he should consider the situation which will arise if and when workmen's compensation and malicious injury cases are taken away from the jurisdiction of the circuit court. I invite the Minister to take steps to increase the jurisdiction of the circuit court specifically. When all these things have been done the position will then be clear and he can come back to the Oireachtas with proposals dealing with the number of judges he considers necessary in the circuit court.

I consider this Bill in all its terms can commend itself to the House. It is one of many steps that have been taken by the Minister to bring our courts and court procedure up to date. A few years ago it was found that circuit judges in certain circuits had far too much work to do and in other circuits they had not perhaps enough. At that time the circuit areas were rearranged and it was considered that possibly there could have been one circuit judge less. Experience, however, has proved that this was not possible. The situation in certain areas got almost chaotic. Most of us have had experience from time to time of attending circuit courts throughout an entire week and finding then that our cases have not been reached, and have had to come back again three months later to another circuit, or alternatively the judge is good enough—and most of them are very obliging—to try to get time some day in some subsequent week so as to suit everybody.

The net result is that for some months past there has been a temporary circuit judge. A judge should at all times be completely independent of the executive. It is very wrong in principle to have a temporary appointment if it is at all possible to avoid, and certainly it is very wrong to have an extended temporary appointment which could or should be avoided. I do not think that there is any reasonable possibility at the moment that the work of the circuit court could be done effectively without having the number of circuit judges for which provision is made in the present legislation. Further, I do not feel that even if malicious injury claims or workmen's compensation be taken out of the jurisdiction of the circuit court it will make all that difference, because by then in all probability, with legislation growing as it is, with life and business relationships getting more complex as they are, there will be so many other matters to occupy the circuit court.

Supposing it was then found there were too many circuit judges surely the converse of Senator Fitzpatrick's point would be more appropriate, that when a circuit judge resigns or dies legislation could then be introduced so that it would not be necessary to fill the vacancy.

As regards the other matters in the Bill, each and every one of them is necessary to provide for the smooth working of our courts. The provision for the rearranging of circuits is not so remarkable. A few years ago they were rearranged and again today they have to be rearranged. It seems completely inappropriate that on every occasion when circuits have to be rearranged the matter must come before the Houses of the Oireachtas for power to do so. A general power is given here.

Regarding vacations of the district justices, if district justices simply take vacations any time that suits themselves it is practically impossible. Many solicitors must arrange their own vacations when the local district justice is on vacation because in the country very many offices have only one solicitor in charge—they are not partnerships as a rule. The same thing happens with many civic guards. They are giving evidence in a case and the accused does not wish to have his case adjourned. The whole situation could become completely chaotic if district justices could take their holidays any time they wished without prior arrangement with anybody or without consulting anybody's convenience other than their own.

With regard to the transfer of trial from the circuit court to the Central Criminal Court, it is very appropriate that certain notice should be given in both instances, because most of us have had experience of perhaps only one or two days' notice and, on very rare occasions, of being told on the evening before the court that it is intended to transfer the trial to the Central Criminal Court. Likewise, I fear that many of us possibly have been unfair to the Attorney General by not giving him adequate notice, perhaps through no fault of our own. Where it is obligatory on everybody to give seven or eight days' notice then all witnesses can be notified in time not to attend the court, and it will lead to less expense and more smooth running courts and a better arrangement of the rest of the list in the circuit court.

The service of documents by registered post is a very normal and sensible procedure to adopt. As matters are at the moment, one writes to the summons server to call; he calls; one hands him a document and asks him to serve it. He serves it, having had perhaps to travel three, four or five miles, and comes back and arrangements are made to have him make a statutory declaration and he hands back the document. That is all very cumbersome and unnecessary. It could be done so simply by service of these documents by registered post.

I personally feel that this Bill in all its terms should commend itself to the House and I should like to congratulate the Minister on introducing it.

The purpose of this Bill, as the Minister said in his opening sentence, is to improve the present arrangements relating to the circuit and district courts. This being so, we all welcome it, but I should like to ask two questions in connection with it. Is the Minister satisfied that much of the hold up in the law courts is not due to the cumbersome methods of reporting adopted at present? Many people have said to me that a good deal of the delay in lawsuits is due to the method of simply taking down the evidence and to the various procedures. Some people call those procedures antiquated; others have called them mediaeval. I should like to ask the Ministerif he can give us some notion of whether his mind is moving in the direction of speeding up the administration of the courts on those lines.

I shall not develop the theme—he knows very well what I am talking about—but a good many people in the country would be hoping that he could say to us that he would take effective steps to make the courts efficient in the business aspects of their work. I should like him to call in some of those consultants in efficiency to consider the Irish courts as they work on the mechanical side of their procedures, and to give a report and to implement that report. Perhaps the Minister has something of this kind in mind. I personally, and many others, too, would be grateful if he could give us an assurance that these mediaeval procedures, as they are sometimes justly called, will be brought up to date.

The other point I want to raise is a matter of detail. I am not entirely satisfied that the provisions in section 7, subsections (3) and (4), for the service of documents by registered post are entirely satisfactory. Perhaps, I do not see the full implications of these subsections and I would ask the Minister for clarification. The documents are addressed, registered and posted. The postman is given the registered letter to deliver. Am I right in thinking he cannot deliver the letter unless he gets a signed receipt from the householder at that address? If that is so, I am quite satisfied with the provisions. I am not satisfied with the provisions, if he can simply drop the registered letter into the letter box and walk away. I should like the Minister to clarify that point.

I should like, if I may, to take advantage of the Bill to make a plea for more uniformity in the administration of the law, particularly in the district courts. I shall quote two cases which took place within the last week in support of that. In one case a farmer was fined £10 and his driving licence was suspended for two years for driving at 40 miles an hour within the 30 mile speed limit. In another court——

I am afraid these matters are not appropriate on this Bill.

I thought they might be but if they are not I shall not proceed.

I am afraid they are not.

In relation to the point raised by Senator Stanford, I would also appeal for a speeding up of the hearing of cases. I refer especially to cases in the circuit court, particularly murder cases. I saw cases where the accused has been walked around from one circuit court to another. Recently, in this House, we considered a Bill in relation to the protection of animals and I am making an appeal here for the protection of accused persons, particularly in cases of murder. The cumbersome methods of dealing with these particular cases should be examined with a view to speeding up the procedures. In most of those cases the accused person is brought to the local district court. The following week he is brought to a district court 10 or 20 miles away and the week after that he is brought to a district court 22 or 23 miles away.

I would appeal to the Minister to have a more speedy way of dealing, not alone with murder cases, but with other cases. It must be disconcerting for people to read that a person is being brought from one court to another or returned to a further court when the superintendent states he is not in a position to indicate when depositions will be taken in the case. I should like to see a provision in the Bill for the speeding up of those particular matters.

It would appear that the Minister considers there is a need for an additional judge. We have nine judges and the President; that would make ten in all. What is the reason for any extra judges? Is crime on the increase? I do not think it is. Are the judges overworked? I do not think so. If they are overworked, it would be well to explain how they are overworked in carrying out their duties.

We certainly need a sufficient number of judges to administer the law but it would appear that they have not been putting in that extra time as compared with other workers in the State. Perhaps the Minister would be able to explain more fully the justification for another judge.

The other point I want to refer to is the transfer of trials. I thought it was the judge who decided that. I think, where a defendant is concerned, whatever his advisers consider advisable should be allowed to stand. We have seen, from time to time, a first hearing may be in a court in the local area and suddenly it is transferred to another court. I think trials should only be transferred for some very good reason. I should like to hear the Minister's views on that point also.

There is just one point I should like to refer to, which was dealt with by some of the previous speakers. I refer to the expedition of the work of the courts. I do not know if that is a wise suggestion. We should all like to see the work of the courts speeded up provided it was not done at the expense of justice. I, for one, would prefer to see cases in courts given full consideration, long drawn out, if necessary, rather than see cases disposed of in a rapid manner with the people involved suffering as a result.

I am not too sure about the suggestion that experts should be brought in to examine our judicial system. I do not think that is at all necessary. Our judicial system is as good as it is anywhere in the world. We have judges and legal practitioners who I consider are second to none.

On a point of clarification, I was not referring to actual judges and lawyers. I simply referred to reporting and the procedure adopted for taking evidence and that kind of thing. I made no reflection whatever on justices of the district court.

I think that would be a matter of administration by the judges in the courts. The procedure in the courts would be a matter which could be dealt with by the judiciary itself, in conjunction with the Minister and the Department of Justice.

There seems to be some misunderstanding about the number of judges envisaged in this measure. As I understand it, we are just restoring the status quo by a provision for ten circuit court judges. I am entirely in agreement with having one of these unassigned to any particular circuit court. It could happen that there would be a very heavy volume of litigation in a certain part of the country and this unassigned judge would be able to deal with the extra volume of work. That would be particularly the case in the city of Dublin where the population is increasing rapidly as the years go by. I detected a note of inconsistency in the remarks passed by Senator Fitzpatrick.

The Senator should have listened closely.

Senator Fitzpatrick deplored the idea of increasing the number of circuit court judges at the present time, when, of course, we are not increasing the number at all. If the Senator is so concerned about not increasing the number of judges, then his suggestion that the jurisdiction of the circuit court should be increased from £300 to £600, or £1,000 or whatever figure he had in mind, would create more work for the circuit court. The natural consequence would be that more circuit court judges would be appointed.

As far as I can see, the provisions of this Bill are sensible, and should commend themselves to the members of this House. There is one point to which I should like to refer before I sit down—the adjournment of sittings of courts down the country. That should be avoided as much as possible. Such adjournments create very great inconvenience for the litigants, the lawyers and the general public. Adjournments create inconvenience and extra expense and I think it would be a good idea if the Minister and his Department would consider it advisable to issue a directive to the effect that postponement of sittings of courts, especially the district courts, should not take place except in exceptional circumstances.

First of all, I am happy the Seanad as a whole welcomes the provisions in the Bill, with the possible exception, of course, of the provision that would enable us to make the present temporary judge permanent. I wish to emphasise what Senator Ó Ciosáin said and to demur in relation to the suggestion of Senator Fitzpatrick on the question of whether or not the Bill proposes to appoint an extra circuit court judge. We are merely seeking to preserve the status quo, to maintain the number of judges in the circuit court at ten, the level it has been at for many years.

A decision was taken in 1953 to reduce the number to nine, and that reduction was to take place on the first retirement. The first retirement was that of Judge Binchy and, if the decision of 1953 had been adhered to, Judge Binchy would not have been replaced and the number of judges would have been reduced from 10 to nine. It became obvious to everybody, even before Judge Binchy retired, that this was an important concept and that, far from there being any possibility of carrying on with nine judges, the question which practitioners and others were asking was whether or not the circuit court would be able to carry on even with the full complement of 10 judges.

We had no option, when the time came for Judge Binchy to retire, but to appoint a temporary judge to carry on in his place. I have no hesitation in saying that no Senator in the House likes the idea of a temporary judge, particularly in the circuit court. We now have to decide whether or not we are to continue keeping this judge in a temporary capacity or whether we shall make him permanent. There is no doubt he is fully occupied at the moment, and the circuit court could not carry on without his services. The only question to be decided is whether or not we shall make him a permanent judge of the circuit court and provide the legislation to enable us to do that, or whether we shall continue to retain him in a temporary capacity.

If that is the issue, as I think it is, the answer is clear. We are duty bound as a Legislature to get rid of the idea of a temporary appointment to the judiciary at any level, and provide the necessary basis for appointment in a full-time capacity. It is all very well to say changes in contemplation will bring about a reduction in the volume of work in the circuit court one, two or three years from now. That may or may not be. Certain changes are contemplated. Whether or not they will result in any significant reduction in the volume of work in the circuit court is problematical because in both years mentioned by Senator Fitzpatrick, the number of sitting days taken up by this type of case is limited and provides a small fraction of the total number of sitting days. Even if the Senator is right in suggesting that this particular type of case will be removed altogether from the ambit of the circuit court, it is doubtful, if it is removed at some time in the future, that we will even then be able to do with a lesser number of judges.

No matter what happens about these matters, it is unlikely that anything concrete can emerge with regard to them for two or possibly three years. I must deal with the situation as I find it now. I shall deal with it in support of and in sympathy with Senator Fitzpatrick's profession in this matter. I get many complaints from professionals in the courts about delays in the circuit courts, accumulation of work, and so on. I must deal with that situation as I find it now. If in the light of certain developments it transpires that in a year or two, or three, we can do with a lesser number of judges in the circuit court, the situation can be reviewed and dealt with in the normal way by retirements from the Bench. One thing is crystal clear, and that is we need ten judges to do the work. I am simply asking the Seanad to enable me to have ten permanent judges and not nine permanent and one temporary.

Senator Stanford asked me more specific questions. One was about practice and procedure in the courts and the other was about procedure in relation to the serving of notices by registered post. First of all, with regard to the question of practice and procedure, I wish to tell the Senator we are doing something about this matter. We established a Committee under a judge of the Supreme Court to examine the whole practice and procedure in our courts and make recommendations with regard to their improvement. The Senator will probably be glad to know in regard to one aspect of this matter about which one hears most complaints—the taking of depositions—that the Committee have submitted a report and that report will be published and laid on the Table of the Oireachtas in the next day or two. I do not know what action the Government may decide to take in relation to the recommendations in that report, but I think it is clear we will be able to do something with a view to expediting the procedure in the preliminary hearing of indictable offences.

I agree that the whole system of law reporting at present is not very satisfactory and I hope, when time and resources permit, to get something done about it. With regard to the specific question of whether or not the signature must be procured for a letter sent by registered post, the position is a letter which has been proved to have been addresesd, registered and posted shall be deemed to have been served unless it is proved that it was not delivered. Of course, the proof of addressing, registering and posting, would be by statutory declaration stating, among other things, that the letter was undelivered, and was returned to the sender, so the position of the recipient will be fully protected in that regard.

Supposing the postman simply walks up to the letter box, drops it in, and walks away. Is that sufficient?

You cannot do that with a registered letter.

I wanted to make sure of that. Can the postman do that with a registered letter? If he cannot, I am satisfied, but if he can, I am not satisfied.

That is a matter for the postal regulations but, so far as the law is concerned, the position will be that if a person can prove, and substantiate by statutory declaration, that the letter has been addressed, registered and posted, it shall be deemed to have been delivered unless the recipient can prove he did not, in fact, get it.

I am glad the Senator supports me on the question of transfer of trials because the situation had become unsatisfactory. I think we have struck a nice balance between the necessity to have practical working of the system and, at the same time, the rights of accused persons. We are providing that, provided seven days' notice is given, the accused shall have the absolute right to have his trial transferred and even if he does not give seven days' notice he will still be able, at the discretion of the judge, to procure a transfer. So I think his rights are reasonably protected.

I am sure the Seanad will notice that we are imposing the same obligation on the Attorney General as on the accused so that the new order will apply to the accused and to the Attorney General equally. Another aspect of the matter is that the necessity to grant the accused the right of transfer to the Central Criminal Court has become a little less important since it is now possible for the criminal court judge to transfer the trial from one part of his circuit to another. As Senators know, the idea behind that originally was that the accused might feel it was impossible for him to get a fair trial in his own particular area. That gave rise to the provision that the trial could be transferred to the Central Criminal Court in Dublin. That necessity was weakened a little by the provision introduced some time ago whereby the circuit court judge could transfer the trial from one area within his circuit to another area within his circuit.

May I ask the Minister if, in fact, it has been his experience that over some years past this provision was availed of more for transferring an action from the Dublin circuit court to the Central Criminal Court, than from what I shall call the country circuits to the Central Criminal Court?

I have not the exact figures but it is true to say it was availed of to a large extent by people in Dublin transferring from the Dublin circuit court to the Central Criminal Court. That was an absurd position because the only justification for a transfer of that nature is to get a different jury, and in Dublin the same jury panel applies to the Dublin circuit court as to the Central Criminal Court. What I said originally in my opening remarks is largely true, that this provision was availed of irresponsibly from time to time, mainly in Dublin and also elsewhere in an effort, shall we say, to postpone the evil day, or to get an adjournment which the judge in question had very properly refused.

Senator Fitzpatrick asked me specifically about the number of dangerous driving cases under the Road Traffic Act, 1961, since the commencement of the Act. I gave this information recently in the Dáil in reply to a Parliamentary question. The total number of cases to 30th September, 1963, was 455. The number of convictions was 38, and 41 cases are still pending and undisposed of. As the various other provisions of the Bill recommend themselves generally to the Seanad, I do not think it is necessary for me to comment any further on them.

Before the Minister leaves that, am I to take it that 455 persons were returned for trial and 38 were convicted?

I am not sure. The 455 may not necessarily have been returned for trial, but were cases taken.

That is what I thought. If 455 persons were returned for trial and only 38 convicted, the Minister would agree that would be a very small percentage.

As the Senator knows, a fair amount of discussion about this section is going on at the moment. Indeed, the Minister for Local Government, whose primary responsibility road traffic legislation is, has this whole question under consideration and is actively considering the question of amending legislation.

He should be urged to amend it because obviously it is imposing unnecessary expense on accused persons, and unnecessary work on the circuit courts.

I do not like to comment on the merits. Suffice it to say that at this stage there is a necessity for something to be done. I can tell the Seanad that the Minister for Local Government is actively considering an amendment of the Road Traffic Act in this respect and, indeed, in some other respects also.

Finally, the main provision of this Bill is necessary, that is, the provision that enables us to continue to have ten judges in the circuit courts, and not to reduce the number to nine. I ask the Seanad to accept that proposal.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Next stage?

Is there any objection to taking the remaining stages today?

I think we should leave them over.

Committee Stage ordered for next sitting day.