Before proceeding with the Bill, I should like to welcome the Minister for Justice to the House on the first occasion on which he has come here of his own volition. I should like to take the opportunity of welcoming him to the Seanad and to express the hope that his period as Minister for Justice will be a fruitful and successful one. The Minister has great experience in the pursuit of law and I hope the bringing to bear of this rich experience will be of great benefit to the country, to the courts and to all associated with the administration of justice.
I want to say that we in Fine Gael support this Bill to increase the salaries of the judiciary. Judges are not in a position where they can themselves advocate increases in their salaries or improvements in their conditions of service. In determining the salaries of judges, we should err on the side of generosity rather than of meanness. There are many things from which the members of the judiciary suffer and very often have to suffer in silence. I am particularly glad to see that the increases which are being given to the district court are going to be of such a nature as will raise the salaries of all district justices and give the same salary to all no matter where they may be employed.
There has been some criticism of the increases to the judiciary but it is well to point out some of the factors involved.The members of the judiciary are precluded by the Constitution from holding any other office or position of emolument. They cannot, unlike many other citizens, be a director of a company or do any of those other things to increase their income which nearly every other member of the community can do. It is right that at all stages we should err on the side of generosity rather than of meanness in seeing to it that in the discharge of their duties they do not want and also to see to it that all members of the judiciary are above temptation.
Sometimes people think that judges are not all that they should be—that they are not fair. The plain truth of the matter is—and all of us who practise in the courts of justice every day know this—that half of us must all the time lose the cases we are engaged in but the view of all of us is, and it is widely accepted by all, that our judges are what judges should be in every respect, impartial and independent and concerned only with the administration of justice according to the law. Very often the law seems unjust. Judges often have to remark that they wished the decision could be different but that they are bound by the law. That happens not infrequently and judges oftentimes make that remark but it sometimes leads to the impression that judges are not being fair. We can thank God that we have a judiciary which is in every respect what everybody would want it to be.
It is also right to point out that the judges are frequently available and made use of for the purpose of discharging important public business. In this country we have not got a wealthy aristocracy but we have an intellectual aristocracy. Only recently we have been discussing the Report of the Commission on Higher Education, a most excellent document. The chairman of that Committee was the Chief Justice and the amount of time he must have spent on that work outside his ordinary working hours must have been very substantial. The amount of day to day work that had to be done in between sittings of the Commission was exacting and time-consuming. One can think also of the Landlord and Tenant Commission which is almost in constant session and which is presided over by Judge Conroy—he has almost made this subject his own; and the Mental Health Commission, which was also presided over by a High Court Judge; and the Itinerants Commission, which was presided over by a Judge of the Supreme Court. The Commission whose Report laid the basis for the establishment of a television service in this country was also headed by an eminent High Court Judge. The Bankruptcy Committee is also headed by a judge. And there are many others.
Because we have not in this country an élite class or an aristocracy with inherited wealth we have to find people who will command the respect and confidence of the public to do these important jobs. When we pay our judiciary the salaries we do we ought to bear in mind that they are all rendering and ready to render public service outside the scope of their judicial duties.
In addition, it is well to remember that judges are not completely bound by rules and regulations where they can avoid them. In recent times, in the last ten years or, perhaps, more but especially in the last five to six years the work of reform in the courts has been progressing at all levels and the amount of time which is now saved, and which is not lost because of this reform, is very considerable. It is quite true to say that the number of actions being disposed of by the High Court now as compared with ten years ago is vastly increased and that is because of a new arrangement made with regard to jury actions. Equally so, it is true to say that the number of actions on the non-jury list and on the Chancery side now being heard has also changed because of arrangements made by the President of the High Court to assign judges on the jury side to deal with non-jury lists and Chancery lists.
In relation to the actual rules of court, the rules which have been recently revised have contributed a great deal to the speeding up of procedures and the elimination of wasteful processes. A great deal of work still requires to be done in that field and it will fall into the domain of the members of the judiciary to spearhead the work of reform in that area together with the members of the two branches of the legal profession and other interests such as the Minister for Justice.
In relation to the district court justices who are now getting a fairer deal under this Bill, it is right and proper to have regard to the great body of law which they are called upon to administer. They are, as always, subject to the supervisory regulation of the High Court by way of cases stated on appeal from their various decisions, certiorari to certiorari and so on. Because of that supervisory power which is exercisable by the High Court, district justices who administer justice in a summary manner have a great responsibility and the number of cases which fall to be taken on appeal to the Circuit Court or to the High Court is very small relative to the very large number of cases that come before the district court.
One of the most valuable reforms that has occurred in recent times in the district court has been the appointment of a President of the District Court. As a result of his appointment the work of the Dublin Metropolitan District Court has improved considerably and instead of having every case listed for 10.30 in the morning a new procedure has been introduced by having cases listed for different hours—10.30, 11.30, 12.30, 2 o'clock and 3 o'clock so that people are not wasting time waiting around for a case to be called. Other district justices might well consider adopting— and be exhorted by the appropriate authorities to adopt—that kind of facility for the public and litigants who attend the courts.
I gather that in the district court at the present time, and I rather think it comes about through the work and energy of the President of the District Court who was appointed for this and many other purposes, that new and revised regulations and rules relating to the District Court together with an appendix of forms used in the District Court will be issued shortly. It will I understand be a substantial volume when completed but it will undoubtedly assist in the speedy and more effective administration of the work of the District Court and will be of the greatest benefit to everyone associated with that Court.
I want to advocate one thing on behalf of our district courts and circuit courts. It is something the Minister for Justice will be well aware of. We have a Factories Act dealing with the conditions of employment, the physical conditions of employment of our factory workers, introduced in 1955. There was, of course, earlier law which this Act replaced. We have an Office Premises Act of 1958 or 1959 to deal with office premises for office workers but there is no law requiring any standard of hygiene, of cleanliness, of heating or of lighting for district and circuit courts in this country. Every Member of the Seanad will know well what I am talking about. The places where District Justices and Circuit Court Judges have to sit and where citizens are obliged to come on witnesses' summons are nothing short of a disgrace. Nobody can justify the condition of these premises for an instant and it all arises because of the old now long-forgotten procedure whereby the old Grand Jury were required to provide courthouses for the Grand Jury and they had such things as Grand Jury cess and a whole lot of terms now obsolete and which we do not understand to raise the money for the building, equipment and maintenance of these buildings. That system taken over by our county councils is completely out of date and the district and circuit courts around the country are in a shocking and disgraceful condition, not alone for the judges but for members of the public as well. It is correct to say that there are many of them which have no kind of sanitary convenience for the justices or for members of the public.
This is a shocking state of affairs. We would not allow a dance hall without sanitary convenience. We would not allow a marquee for dancing without having proper sanitary accommodation.One reads from time to time of district justices sitting in out of the way places administering justice in badly heated, badly lighted and badly ventilated courthouses, and there will be perhaps a paragraph about it in theEvening Herald or the Evening Press. The Minister will probably say that there is a section in his Department which are planning to deal with this state of affairs. Unless and until the provision of courthouses, however they will be provided, by way of letting rooms in some hotel or decent hall, becomes the responsibility of the State and not of the local authority we will not have appropriate places in which to request particularly justices of the district court to sit and members of the public to attend to have their affairs discharged or dealt with.
I would hope that the Minister, knowing full well as he does the kind of courthouse there is in Achill or Belmullet and other places like these will take energetic steps to rectify that position beginning, perhaps, with County Mayo.
Apart from these observations I have only this final matter to say about the Bill. While it is a good thing that the Constitution provides that salaries of judges of all courts shall be a charge on the Central Fund and that they cannot be open to reduction during the term of office of any particular judge, I do not like the provisions of this Bill—I am sure Members of the House will share my dislike—which provides that in the future the salaries of judges will be adjusted by order of the Government. Down to that point I do not mind it, but the order of the Government will be laid in draft only before Dáil Éireann; and Seanad Éireann will no longer come into the picture. I consider that to be a regrettable departure from what has been done up to the present time and I hope that the Minister should consider accepting a recommendation to enable this draft order, like others, to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.
I cannot see, at any time, any difficulties arising from laying such orders before Seanad Éireann. It is right and proper that the Seanad should be given, periodically, the limited opportunity it has of commenting on the administration of justice and the manner in which we treat our judges and, perhaps, the manner in which our judges treat us. After the passing of this Bill, if it is passed in its present form, the Seanad will have said goodbye to everything pertaining to judicial offices for all time. I am sure the Seanad will not be happy if that is to be the position and I hope the Minister will find it possible to accept a recommendation to this Bill, in due course, to enable these orders to be laid in draft not only before the Dáil but before this House as well.