Courts Bill, 1977: Second Stage.

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

This is a short Bill to provide for an increase from seven to nine in the statutory maximum number of ordinary judges of the High Court, ignoring for the moment the terms of section 14 of the Law Reform Commission Act, 1975, which provide inter alia that, in certain circumstances, the number shall be one more; an increase from nine to 11 in the statutory maximum number of ordinary judges of the Circuit Court; and an increase in the statutory maximum number of justices of the District Court—in addition to the President—from 34 to 39.

At the moment there are two temporary judges serving in the Circuit Court and five temporary justices serving in the District Court, in addition to the statutory complement of permanent judges and justices. Accordingly, in practical terms, the net increase in the membership of the judiciary which this Bill proposes to effect will be two judges of the High Court.

The Bill also contains certain changes in existing legislative provisions regarding assignments of Circuit Court judges, the principal one being the proposed increase from two to four in the number of judges permanently assigned to the Dublin Circuit. The opportunity has also been taken to consolidate in one Bill existing provisions relating to assignments of Circuit Court judges by the Government. This is being done in section 2. Section 3 of the Bill contains certain consequential provisions, including the necessary substitution of a new paragraph for paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of section 14 of the Law Reform Commission Act. 1975.

High Court business has increased substantially in recent years. Between 1970 and 1976 the number of cases set down for hearing increased by 151 per cent and, although there was an increase of 143 per cent in the same period in the rate of disposal of cases, serious arrears have accumulated. As a result, the position at the end of March was that 1,418 cases awaited hearing. On top of that, Judge Pringle, who had been acting full-time in the Special Criminal Court, following his retirement from the High Court in 1974, was appointed chairman of An Bord Pleanála in January of this year. As a consequence sittings of the Special Criminal Court now absorb the equivalent of the full time of one High Court judge and this will continue while the existence of that court continues to be necessary. To highlight the seriousness of the situation it is sufficient to point out that the average time-lag between the setting down of a jury action and its coming on for trial is now about ten months. The last occasion on which an increase in the number of High Court judges took place was in 1973 when the Courts Act, 1973 increased the number of ordinary judges from six to seven. At that time there was a time-lag of about 12 months between the setting down of a jury action and its coming on for trial. As a consequence of the appointment of the seventh judge this time-lag was reduced by mid-1975 to five months. The deterioration in the position since then is due to a further increase in the volume of business and, in recent months, to the replacement of Judge Pringle by a judge of the High Court on the Special Criminal Court.

I should also mention here that in the past two years there has been a sharp increase in the number of family law cases coming before the High Court and this increase has been given added impetus by the coming into force of the family law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act and the Family Home Protection Act during 1976. The position has already been reached where the hearing of these cases accounts, for all practical purposes, for the full time of one judge. I am sure the House will agree that, having regard to the nature and special urgency of such cases, any undue delay in dealing with them must be avoided.

As Senators will be aware, I have already arranged for the provision of special additional court facilities for the hearing of family law cases in rented accommodation in the immediate vicinity of the Four Courts. These facilities are intended as a temporary measure pending completion of the redevelopment of the Four Courts Hotel site which has been purchased for the purpose of enabling the existing courtroom accommodation within the Four Courts proper to be considerably increased.

The Government are satisfied that the growth in the volume of High Court business generally, which of course is largely of a civil nature, will continue for the foreseeable future and that, accordingly, the proposed increased complement of High Court judges will be fully occupied even after sittings of the Special Criminal Court cease.

This, then, is the background to the proposal to increase by two the statutory maximum number of ordinary judges of the High Court.

The maximum number of permanent judges of the Circuit Court authorised by statute (section 2 of the Courts Act, 1964) is nine. However, section 14 of the Courts of Justice Act, 1936, authorises the Government temporarily to increase that number whenever it appears to the Government that such a step is necessary to prevent the work of the Circuit Court getting into arrears either generally or in any particular circuit or circuits. Successive Governments have over the years found it necessary from time to time to increase temporarily the number of Circuit Court judges to cope with the persistent growth in the business of that court and, in recent years, to contribute judicial time to the sittings of the Special Criminal Court. As I mentioned earlier the full complement of Circuit Court judges at present includes two "temporary" judges. These appointments were necessitated by the continuing growth in the volume of court business and the involvement of Circuit Court judges in sittings of the Special Criminal Court, the membership of which includes three such judges. The business of the Circuit Court has, as I have already indicated, continued to grow over the years and this growth has accelerated in recent years. Between 1970 and 1976 the growth in the overall business of the court has been of the order of 30 per cent.

Business suspended at 5.55 p.m. and resumed at 6.30 p.m.

The Government are satisfied that the business of the Circuit Court will continue to grow for the foreseeable future and that, accordingly, the existing complement of 12 judges, including the President of the Circuit Court, is the minimum number that is now required and that will continue to be required to cope with the business of the Circuit Court even when sittings of the Special Criminal Court cease. The Government are also satisfied— and I am sure the House will agree with them in this—that in such circumstances it is unjustifiable that two judges should continue to hold office on a temporary basis. Accordingly, the Bill provides for an increase of two in the statutory maximum number of ordinary Circuit Court judges. I may add that it is the intention of the Government that the two serving "temporary" judges be made permanent so that the question of new appointments does not arise as a result of this provision.

Section 28 of the Courts (Supplementary Provisions) Act, 1961, provides that the number of justices of the District Court, in addition to the President of the District Court, shall not be more than 34. However, as in the case of the Circuit Court, the Government are authorised to increase that number temporarily whenever it appears to them that such a step is necessary to prevent the work of the District Court getting into arrear. This authority is contained in section 51 of the Courts of Justice Act, 1936. At the present time, in addition to the complement of 34 permanent justices, five "temporary" justices stand appointed. One of the temporary justices is, of course, required to make good the loss of the permanent District Justice who acts as full-time chairman of An Bord Uchtála. The number of such justices was increased from one to five during the years 1973 and 1974 because of the need for more justices to cope with the then rapidly increasing volume of business and the substantially increased demand that sittings of the Special Criminal Court were making on the services of District Justices.

The overall volume of District Court business increased by about 43 per cent between 1970 and 1976 and the Government are satisfied that the volume of business will continue to increase. Another pertinent factor is the growth in the number of maintenance cases following the enactment of the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976. Due to their complexity and delicateness each of these cases can account for a proportionately large amount of court time compared with, for example, parking cases. The position has been reached where the existing complement of 39 justices in addition to the President of the District Court, is the minimum number that is now required and that will continue to be required for the foreseeable future to cope with the business of the District Court even when sittings of the Special Criminal Court cease, and also to continue to provide a full-time Chairman for An Bord Uchtála. As I have already pointed out in relation to the Circuit Court, it is, in the Government's view, unjustifiable that in such circumstances five justices of the District Court should continue to hold office on a temporary basis. Accordingly, the Bill provides for an increase of five in the statutory maximum number of district justices. Here again, it is the Government's intention that the five existing "temporary" justices should be given permanent appointments so that the question of new appointments does not arise.

As far as we are concerned, there is no objection to increasing the efficiency of our courts. Obviously, in view of the figures quoted by the Minister, one of the ways of dealing in practical terms with the lack of efficiency or expedition in dealing with cases is to increase the number of judges, as is suggested in the Bill, from seven to nine in the case of the High Court, nine to eleven in the case of the Circuit Court—although I appreciate two of those are already operating in terms of temporary Circuit Court judges—and five more in the District Court. There is absolutely no objection to this because the figures the Minister has quoted in regard to the increases in the number of cases coming for hearing justify it. As a practitioner I can fully see that the time lag in regard to both criminal and civil cases, particularly on the civil side in the Circuit and High Courts and such applies on the criminal side as well is getting out of hand, unless this practical expedient, as is suggested in this Bill, is adopted to appoint more.

While it is admirable and necessary to increase the number of judges in the three divisions mentioned by the Minister, it is not enough. There is the whole problem of delay in hearings both on the civil and criminal side. Then there is the new division which should be put in neither category, the family law court situation, which is a growing one. The governing legislation is excellent. The only question needing attention is to have more immediate dispatch, as applies in the ordinary civil and criminal cases. The greatest area where the law comes into disrepute at every level at present—unless tackled in a more fundamental way than is being done here—is the delay in hearings, in processing either in prosecutions, civil claims or family cases. This has to be tackled in a far more radical way by the Minister for Justice than has been done as yet.

There are many recommendations available already from the committee hearings presided over by the present Law Commission President, Mr. Justice Walsh, in regard to basic matters such as in the sphere of civil actions, particularly in the High Court, settling issues beforehand, before the Master of the High Court or Registrar of the Circuit Court, getting agreement on technical evidence, in the medical and engineering fields—the two technical areas I mentioned are the more usual ones particularly in negligence actions—getting agreement on matters of that kind so one does not have to produce the whole panoply of technical witnesses and take up the time of an actual hearing. This is a practical way in which the actual period of time per case in civil actions in the Circuit and High Courts could be cut very substantially. There could be, for example, a pre-trial procedure for the hearing of issues, before a Master in the High Court, Registrar in the Circuit Court or some officer of that kind who would have the lawyers on both sides in committee before the hearing, who would agree on the pre-trial issues that are agreed, decide on the pre-trial issues that are not agreed and only have evidence at the actual hearing on the issues on which there is disagreement. There is a specific report recommending that such a procedure be adopted. The present President of the Law Commission, Mr. Justice Walsh, was president of that committee we set up on an ad hoc basis and which the present Government have set up on a permanent statutory basis, in the form of the Law Commission. It is something that could be done fairly quickly and would cut the time of the proceedings as far as the litigant is concerned, certainly in the civil area, very substantially.

The other matter which takes up a substantial proportion of all courts' time is the question of juries in civil actions, particularly in negligence actions. The whole business of panelling juries and having the various speeches in the High Court in regard to juries, the opening address, the closing address, the speech to the jury and so on is, to put it bluntly, a time wasting factor. I appreciate that under the British system with one judge hearing substantial cases of this kind in regard to negligence and damages one is in on a risk situation as between one judge and another. That is one of the reasons why people in Ireland have been reluctant to advocate an adoption holus-bolus of the British system. Surely there could be devised here some tribunal system with three judges sitting which would balance out any prejudices that might appear under the one judge hearing a substantial damages case, three judges sitting as a tribunal of the High Court. This would mean the appointment of extra judges, to which I would not object, and would lead to more expeditious hearing of cases.

In the ordinary course of events at present there is a two to three year lag between the actual accident, in the case of a negligence factor or road accident injury and the actual hearing or settlement in the client's interest. That is not good enough; that is what brings the law into disrepute. Side by side with appointing extra judges, with which I agree, I should like an indication from the Minister—I am sure he is fully aware of the position himself and his officials have the facts— that he would be sympathetic to this view.

Side by side with the appointment of extra judges we should adopt all the methods that are there, which have been contained in committee reports over a period of years and are obvious to most practitioners, to cut down the time lag between the occasion of a cause of action and the resulting decision in that cause of action one way or the other as far as the person alleged to be aggrieved is concerned. From a commonsense point of view, from the lawyer's point of view and a social point of view, that would be the most practical thing that could be done to bring the law into good repute with the ordinary citizen. Every effort should be made— and there is part of it in the Bill—to cut down the two or three year lag in regard to civil cases to a six months lag. Similarly, in criminal cases there is the incessant awarding of bail which results in further crime being perpetrated during the bail period. It delays in bringing people to a final decision on whether or not they are guilty and where they should be put or dealt with as far as their offence is concerned, or found not guilty. There are substantial grounds for belief that the recurrence of bail on easy terms within our criminal courts, at district and circuit level particularly and the ease with which bail can be granted—I appreciate that the Minister has no control over this by reason of judicial independence—gives rise to a situation in which people utilise their bail period to engage in similar type offences. In other words, they profitably utilise their bail period for further criminal effort.

If there was not pressure on courts this would not arise. I know there is a problem of gathering proofs as far as the State is concerned. One of the main reasons is lack of judges, lack of capacity to handle the business of the courts, to ensure that, if a person is apprehended, is charged within the period of one adjournment, that matter can be brought to fruition one way or the other within a month or two months rather than hanging on for six months, nine months or a year.

That is the case in criminal matters. I appreciate the weight of the security situation as far as the gardaí are concerned. It boils down to another question which I know is not strictly within the purview of the Bill—I mention it in passing only—the back up to the courts in the form of Garda personnel. It is all very well for the Minister to state that he has plans for 500 extra gardaí. These plans were announced last July.

I know that recruits are in course of training in Templemore. The Minister in the present situation should not be talking in terms of 500; he should be talking in terms of 2,000. I do not mind the amount of money that is involved either. I appreciate that the money is in the order of £10 million to £12 million for the training of gardaí of that number. Unfortunately in the present situation of Irish society we should be thinking in such terms. Part of the reason that the courts are clogged is that there is inadequate police back-up to bring cases to fruition by way of gathering proofs. Another part of the reason is that the crime rate is increasing and detection rates are falling. Crime is in a situation now where it is beginning to pay. The old popular police and self-protective cliché was that crime did not pay. I do not want to be alarmist about this but crime is beginning to pay because of the lack of police protection on the ground as far as the ordinary citizen is concerned.

Does the Senator not think his glance has now been long enough He said he was only going to glance at this topic.

I take the point. It is a very essential point because it is one of the reasons why we have to have in the Bill an increased number of judges at three levels. There is (a) the increased rate of crime—I am not talking about the civil side—on the criminal side related not just to the Northern situation but to ordinary crime on the ground and (b) the fact that the gardaí, by reason of inadequacy in personnel are unable to process the proofs quickly enough in regard to specific cases. The result is cases are adjourned continually in the District and Circuit Courts, people are out on bail committing more crime, all while the State gathers proofs to present its case properly. I suggest that it is all wrapped up in one package of delay in regard to apprehension on the criminal side and, after apprehension the processing through the courts of offenders. Lastly there are the delays on the civil side by reason of an insufficiency of judges and the fact that the procedures of our courts in the two areas I have mentioned— of settling pre-trial issues and having juries on negligence actions—tend to an over-elaboration and delay in regard to the hearing and settlement of cases.

I am sure the Minister will agree that this is all part of one package. I know there is money involved but I do think, and I say this as a final thought, that it should be realised in Ireland—and we have been near enough to the brink North and South for the past few years—the difficulties the Minister has—I appreciate them fully—in coping with the serious security and criminal situation that is rising. That fact should make everybody in society here realise that the most fundamental thing in society is precisely the knowledge that everybody is reasonably free to go about his business, have privacy and pleasure, free from attack, and that if somebody is attacked or if his property is damaged there will be fairly immediate redress on the criminal side in regard to the offender and also as far as the person is concerned vis-á-vis civil action or claim damages for injury. Unless this is seen to operate, seen to be the case in society. society, democracy and the people who seek to run society, such as we people here in one of the Houses of Parliament, are brought into disrepute and the system is seen to fail. We are very grievously at that situation at present. It makes me sad to say that. Never before, since the formation of the State, were we so near that brink as we are at present. It is a very serious reflection on a Government who talk about law and order. Real law and order come down to the basics of people's person and property.

There is no point in making law and order an issue of politics. Law and order should be the essential duty of any Government, democratic or otherwise. If there is any fall down or inefficiency in that respect it reflects very seriously on the community and society as a whole. That is more important than all the matters we could debate here. I can go through the whole panoply of administration, social, economic and political. Nothing is more fundamental than that about which I have been talking. At present this area is in very serious jeopardy. The Government are not tackling it; they are play-acting with it too much. This Bill which will be supported by us, is at least an attempt to deal with one aspect of it. However, there is no attempt to get down to the totality of what is involved to ensure that we have the personnel, the legislation, the procedures and the capacity, as a Government, through all the elements that go to make for an ordered State in the form of the police, the courts, the procedures of the courts to ensure that we do really have an ordered State; get that working in a reasonably smooth manner so that people have confidence in the whole system. In the last analysis it is the confidence of the people in the system that will ensure that the system works.

The first thought that strikes me with regard to Senator Lenihan's contribution is that when Senator Lenihan resists the temptation to try to score political points he can be very constructive, particularly in dealing with a topic such as this. For approximately three-quarters of his contribution he resisted the temptation and proved to be constructive but he fell in the last quarter; he was not able quite to make the last lap. The concluding portion of his contribution was not particularly helpful. I recognise I am speaking as a supporter of the Government but I hope I would adopt the same attitude if I were speaking as a member of the Opposition. I do not think it is helpful in the circumstances which exist in this country today to attempt to lay at the door of the Government the difficulties in connection with law and order when the responsibility for the present situation—for the fact that sufficient and more gardaí are required and possibly that sufficient are not there—must rest fairly and squarely on the shoulders of of those who are tying-up our security forces in additional national security duty in connection with the Border, banks and so on. In other words it must rest fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Provisional IRA. Responsible politicians do no service by obscuring that picture in order to score political points against their political opponents.

With regard to the Bill before us and not merely the desirability but the necessity in present circumstances to increase the complement of the Judiciary at all three levels, many of the matters to which Senator Lenihan referred were valid and constructive. I know he was talking to some extent with benefit of recommendations which have been made but he had also some ideas of his own worthy of examination. Possibly, either the committee to which he referred or the Minister's Department may examine them.

I do not specialise in litigation as a lawyer, other people in my office do that, but from my memories as a practising lawyer who was involved in the field of litigation I can appreciate the force of the point Senator Lenihan makes, that is, the amount of time which would be saved if a system could be devised where a case would go into court on the basis of issues being known and agreed in advance and, consequently, out of the way so far as the actual court hearing was concerned. The court could well be concerned, in so far as evidence goes, merely with trying the issues being contested. In most cases going before the court, whether it is a running down case where there is a question of medical evidence, or even the simple question of medical fees, if there is agreement as to the amount due for medical fees there is no reason why that should not be agreed in advance and noted. In most cases it is, but as the law stands at the moment, obviously it is open to the defendant, if he should so choose, not to agree to anything. That would put the plaintive on proof as regards the various matters which could have been agreed, such as the amount of the hospital bill or the amount of the doctor's fees and so on. The same applies to damage to vehicles as a result of a collision. Very often it is agreed between assessors what the damage was and what the cost of repairs would be. But if a defendant chooses to do so, he can insist on formal proof of all these matters. There is something in that whole area worth investigating. It is quite possible that a considerable saving in the actual time it takes to hear civil cases could be achieved by some adjustments.

I referred before and should like to refer again to the view, which I still hold—I expressed it fairly strongly in the Lower House when I think Senator Lenihan occupied the position of Minister for Justice and I was spokesman for the Opposition—that our superior courts are, so far as working hours are concerned, living in the coach and buggy days. The courts start at 11 a.m. and break for lunch normally from 1 to 2 p.m. and sit again from 2 to 4 p.m., although, in fairness to members of the Judiciary, it should be said that they are in no way slow to put themselves out if it is a question of accommodating witnesses or counsel or trying to get a case concluded, when they will sit longer hours.

I understand that one argument against varying the time to ordinary office hours is that it is of value both to counsel and solicitors, the legal advisers of the litigants, to have an opportunity, both before the case commences in the morning and when evidence concludes in the afternoon, for consultation with their clients. Possibly, if there were signs of a settlement, the advisers would have an opportunity of negotiating with the legal advisers on the other side. That is true. Nevertheless, some extension of the existing hours could be encouraged. That is the best way I can put it.

The question of whether one should continue juries in civil actions is a very large one which I do not want to go into. I recognise, as Senator Lenihan did, the time consumption element in the jury system but there are definitely pros and cons here, particularly in a small country where, generally speaking——

It would be well if the Senator would confine himself to a passing reference. He is going wide of the Bill.

That is all I am doing. The point I was going to make is that the smaller the country catered for, the less desirable it would be to depart from a system such as we have.

My last point—Senator Lenihan also touched on this—one which is difficult for laymen, particularly, to understand, is the number of pleadings required at present in civil cases. My view—naturally I speak with a certain amount of diffidence because practising members of the Bar would have greater experience and the closest association with the system of pleadings—is that there is room in civil cases for cutting down fairly drastically the number of steps required by way of pleadings from the time of the institution of the proceedings to the ultimate service of the notice of trial and setting down the action for trial.

While saying that, I am conscious that the system of pleadings which exists at present and the necessity for exactness in the pleadings, for each side being tied pretty closely to what they set out in the pleadings so far as proof and so on is concerned, is all in the interest of the litigant; it is all for the purpose of ensuring that each side will get a fair hearing, that one side will not be disadvantaged or taken by surprise by something being sprung on him without giving him an opportunity to call evidence. For those reasons, exactness and precision in the wording of pleadings is necessary. But there could be an examination as to whether some might be cut out and the general length of time be reduced.

Generally speaking, the action the Minister is taking at the moment to increase the number of judges and justices is certainly likely to produce the results required, results which were produced previously when the numbers were increased, such as a reduction in the time-lag between the initiation of proceedings and the final determination of the proceedings.

Briefly, I welcome the Bill in so far as its provisions may help to speed up the work of the courts. There has been the revelation that the length of time between the setting down of a jury action and the coming to trial is about 10 months. Surely that is much too long? It is unfair to those involved in the action. Even though the proposed increase in the number of judges goes some part of the way, I do not think it goes far enough. I should like to see that period drastically reduced.

It seems evident from listening to Senators' contributions that there is great wealth of legal talent available in the Seanad. Would the Minister consider setting up a committee from the Seanad to devise ways and means of shortening the litigation procedure and in general modernising the system? It would be a worth-while use of this excellent resource we have in the Seanad of so many of the top luminaries in the legal world.

This proposed increase in the Judiciary is due to the recent legislation on family law and the protection of the family home. We must provide the necessary resources to have cases arising therefrom dealt with expeditiously.

With the number of district justices being increased to 39, it seems to me there is a lack of uniformity. Is there any mechanism by which there could be some small group to act as a coordinator? There seem to be very glaring differences in sentences meted out for similar offences. There should be some type of advisory committee who would act in that role to the district justices, periodically making reports to the justices on their findings, on how sentences that had been handed down over the period under review corresponded. In this way we might strive towards uniformity. Surely that is part of justice?

I endorse Senator Lenihan's plea on the necessity for an increase in the strength of the Garda Síochána. There is a great increase in the crime rate and consequently the response of the Government should be to recruit more gardaí and give them better facilities to provide the necessary protection. It is scandalous to read of attacks on elderly people living in lonely parts of the country. The Garda Síochána are doing a tremendous job and deserve every help and encouragement we can give them.

As the Minister said, this is a short Bill to achieve the limited purpose of increasing the number of High Court judges by two, and of confirming temporary appointments to the Circuit and District Courts. The Minister made reference to the increase in the work load and in actions being brought before the courts at different levels. I think he understated the increased volume of work and the need for further judges.

I wish to clarify one point in relation to the Circuit Court. As I understand it, the President of the Circuit Court is to retire at the end of this week. Does this mean there will be a new appointment to the Circuit Court apart from the two temporary judges who are being provided for in the Bill? Presuming that there is to be a new appointment following the retirement of Judge Durcan, there is still a very strong case for the two further judges in Dublin, in other words, two additional judges of the Circuit Court as well as the two temporary judges provided for in this Bill.

There is a serious backlog of civil work in the Circuit Court in Dublin. The arrears result to some extent from the increase in criminal work and in tax work which takes up the time of Circuit Court judges. It is very depressing for members of the Bar who practice in the Dublin circuit, trying to get civil work on. It is giving rise to a good deal of comment and frustration by these practitioners. The question of Circuit Court judges in Dublin should be kept under review. There are strong arguments for an increase in judges.

I should like to support the observations made both by Senator Lenihan and Senator O'Higgins about the use of time by judges and time in the courts. Senator O'Higgins made the point about court working hours. I would not totally agree with that. More and more courts are sitting at 10.30 a.m. to take family law matters in camera and the Master's Court sits at 10.30 a.m. The courts often sit beyond 4 p.m. However the whole question of the long vacation is no longer valid. It was introduced to allow judges an opportunity to carry out their part-time activities. This is no longer the case. Indeed, it is prohibited by the Constitution that they have other salaried activities of any sort. We should use the summer months to provide additional court time and in particular to allow the backlog to be cleared. There is no reason why the courts would not sit in a cyclical way right through the summer months. Alternatively the long vacation should be much shorter than it is. A short break might be desirable but not several months without courts except for emergency cases.

It is appropriate when considering the question of increasing the number of judges to raise again the method of appointment of judges. It is extremely important that we promote the values and the objectivity and fairness of our system and that we ensure that the system is not only fair as it operates but is clearly seen through its own structures to be fair. It is wrong that the impression is created in the public arising from the method of appointment that a particular Administration appoint their judges when they are in office and ensures—for example with a Courts Bill like this—that any temporary appointments made are confirmed before there is an election and a possible change of Government.

That is unnecessary and it undermines the objectivity of the administration of justice. I would prefer that we address our minds to the establishment of a fair and objective method of appointing judges. Also there are strong arguments for broadening the pool of those eligible for consideration as judges of our higher courts. It is no longer a significant value in itself to draw the judge solely from the pool of practising barristers. In a country like Ireland that pool is necessarily small. It is little more than 200 people, from whom will be selected Circuit Court, High Court and Supreme Court judges. It would be appropriate to broaden that to include members of the solicitors' profession and also to include academic lawyers or others with a particular expertise and experience. I am well aware that a High Court or Supreme Court judge requires a specialist knowledge of court procedure and a particular expertise. However, other people, apart from practising barristers, would have had in their careers the possibility of that sort of expertise or they could go through a period of training and apprenticeship in a real sense for the position of judge. I would favour both a more objective and fair system of appointment of judges which reinforced the concept of the objectivity of the appointment of judges and separation of powers and also a broader base of people who would be eligible to become judges.

I should like to turn to another matter which I think is very important and which relates to the courts—not to the appointment or indeed even the remuneration of judges but rather to the question of staff in the Four Courts. There is a considerable problem about staffing in the Four Courts giving rise to discontent and frustration among many members of the staff, particularly on the chancery side, on the side of the registrar of chancery, bankruptcy and the examiners. The staff there feel, and there is substance in their feeling, that they have been downgraded and that they do not have promotional opportunity. Consequently there is a very quick turnover of staff in some of these offices. People who have acquired a certain expertise, for example in the bankruptcy office, move on because they do not want to remain there because they have not got a proper promotional structure, because they have not got opportunities and so on. It is very serious, because we depend on the quality of the staff and the back-up service for the proper administration, particularly on the chancery side where there is a considerable amount of important paper work involved.

In that connection, it is my understanding that there was a report on staffing and administration commissioned by the Government and carried out by the firm of Coopers and Librant. I should be grateful if the Minister would give some details of this report and, indeed, if he would indicate whether this report will be published. It is a matter of public interest and concern that the question of proper staffing and proper administration be catered for. This is becoming critical because we have passed, or are in the process of passing, legislation which makes further demands on the staff, legislation like the two Acts that Senator Quinlan referred to, The Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act and the Family Home Protection Act, and indeed the Landlord and Tenant Bill will make very considerable demands on staff. It is important that we ensure that there is adequate staff and that they have adequate promotion and adequate facilities in order to carry out the additional responsibilities which we give them.

I should like to turn to the question of the increase in family law cases which the Minister referred to. He said in his speech:

I should also mention here that in the past two years there has been a sharp increase in the number of family law cases coming before the High Court and this increase has been given added impetus by the coming into force of the Family Law (Maintainance of Spouses and Children) Act and the Family Home Protection Act during 1976. The position has already been reached where the hearing of these cases accounts for all practical purposes for the full time of one judge. I am sure that the House will agree that having regard to the nature and special urgency of such cases any undue delay in dealing with them must be avoided.

It is more important now, when we have brought in necessary reform in areas of family law, that we again address ourselves to the question of establishing family courts or tribunals. As a barrister who carries out some practice in the area of family law, it is my firm belief that the courts at the moment are inadequate for family law matters. The High Court is not an adequate forum to decide complex problems relating to the guardianship of infants or marital breakdown situations. It is not equipped to do it, it does not have the facilities to do it; It leads to delay and frustration which are compounded by the very high costs involved.

This point has been raised by me before and the Minister was not enthusiastic about the idea of establishing family courts or family tribunals. I hope that the experience of the operation of these two Acts passed in 1976 has persuaded him somewhat. They have increased the number of family law cases but they have not improved the quality of administration of family law cases.

I should like to make it clear that I regard our courts and judges as exceptional in a number of areas. I regard the standard of judicial review by our judges as being of extraordinary good quality, of extraordinary concern for protecting the freedoms of the individual, for preventing State encroachment in one way or another, for fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities. I think the courts are adequate in the normal area for determining matters of tort and contract, but there is a basic underlying weakness which imbalances the system, and that is the absence of free civil legal aid and advice. This factor apart, the courts, under the adversary system, with the type of pleadings and the type of evidence which is adduced, constitute a system which I would certainly be prepared to stand over.

In the area of family law, however, this is not an appropriate approach. Time and again family law cases have not centred on the real problem because the court is not equipped to get the expertise it needs, because the judge himself has not the particular skills to assess and resolve the question of family law. It is something which is undermining the credibility of the courts. There are too many frustrated people with serious family problems who are not getting an adequate response from our courts system. This is further compounded by the absence of free legal aid. Somebody can pay more than £1,000 in the course of a Guardianship of Infants Act case which has dragged on for several months and at the end of the day still not feel that they have got a satisfactory solution of the problem —similarly in other areas.

It is time we seriously reviewed this situation and established a court or family law tribunal which would sit separately from the other courts. There could be a number of these family law tribunals which would be informal—without the need for wigs and gowns and other intimidating aspects of our court procedure— where there would be an emphasis on counselling, on the expertise of psychologists and psychiatrists where it is called for; where there would be a possibility of follow-up by the expert staff of the court itself and where this would be integrated with the health services of the State to give a structured response to family breakdown problems; where the matter was not coming before the judge in an adversary way by two people who were in contention, with counsel representing them on either side of a divide, and that that was the way the evidence had come forward. The judge has not got the power or capacity or knowledge to seek other background information. He is dependent on the parties bringing it forward in this contentious and adversary atmosphere. It is a completely unsuitable type of approach to the particular problems which present themselves.

Ironically, the problems which present themselves in Ireland in the area of family law are infinitely more complex than in other countries where there are more remedies—for example, where there is the remedy of civil divorce and remarriage. Because we do not allow civil divorce and remarriage we have more complex family law problems, more complex problems relating to children, relating to the property of spouses where there have been breakdown situations. We need to have adequate courts to deal with that problem.

I have already referred to the question of free civil legal aid and I should like to refer to it again. The Minister established the Pringle Committee to examine the matter more than two years ago—the Minister can correct me on the precise date; it is certainly over two years ago. Some people think that the country cannot afford civil legal aid at the moment.

I should like to intervene because the Senator is returning, for the second time, to the question of legal aid. This is not central to this Bill or dealt with in it. While a passing reference would be in order the Chair would be somewhat perturbed if it was made a central issue.

Could I tie it in?

The Chair would be glad if the Senator can tie it in to what is in the Bill.

I want to tie it in to the volume of work coming before our courts which necessitates the appointment of new judges and the confirming of temporary appointments to the Circuit and District Courts. If it were possible to have a decision, and implement that decision, to establish a system of civil legal aid and advice then the volume of work, certainly in the area of family law, would increase again, perhaps qualitatively. A number of cases are not brought because people cannot afford to bring them and there are a number of cases not brought because the people affected do not regard the courts as protective or as a place they can go and vindicate their rights. There are cultural reasons for this and also the economic reasons that if one wants to have access to the courts one has to be able to afford to pay for the expertise, for the solicitor and counsel. A significant number are deterred from that. In the area of family law a number of cases could have been brought down the years but were not because of the absence of free legal aid.

I only have to look at the rising figures in the FLAC centres to support this argument. Those FLAC centres which operate in the cities only reach a small portion of the possible cases. Mind you we cannot solve all the problems of citizens by encouraging and promoting litigation. That is not the point I am making. Indeed, I can see ways in which we could reduce in certain areas, the need for litigation. One way would be to have a properly integrated system of family courts which included compulsory counselling. It may well be that if people get free advice early enough they could be well advised not to get involved in litigation. That would be better for them, for the whole family situation, for their nerves and, ultimately, for their pocket.

There are two essential reforms in the area of family law which have become more urgent because of certain legislative changes we have made, the establishment of a system of family courts or tribunals and the provision of free civil legal aid and advice.

One point which is relevant to the question of the appointment of judges, and the increase in the number of judges in certain courts is the background from which we draw our judges. I am not making the earlier point about the fact that the judges on the higher courts are drawn from practising barristers in the Law Library, I am talking about the educational background. It is no longer acceptable, if it ever was, that those who study and practise law, and become judges and law teachers, come from a very narrow stream in our society. The stream is narrower than for third level education generally and we know it is much too narrow even for the broad area of third level education. It is narrower for a student reading for the Bar because there is no State aid or grants for that. A student's parents have to pay substantial fees for membership of the Honourable Society of the Kings Inns, fees for the education during the four years and, ultimately, a fee to become a barrister, and a fee for the dinners which must be consumed in the process of becoming a barrister, or alternatively, a person works to support himself, and is therefore carrying a double burden of holding a job while reading for the Bar or, thirdly, as is the case with a significant number of people, they are being paid for by a State agency, the Garda and so on, to get the legal qualification. That person is unlikely to practise and is more likely to use that qualification in work in the Civil Service, Garda and so on.

The majority of practising barristers come from a very narrow stream in society. They are the practitioners before the higher courts and are, ultimately, the judges of the higher courts. It is not acceptable that they do not reflect the whole population. It accentuates a feeling of "them" and "us", the cultural attitude of a significant proportion of the people towards the courts, lawyers and the administration of what they do not regard as being their justice. They regard it as being something from which they are excluded. That is a very serious matter because of the norms decided by the courts and because of the whole structure of the court system. It is vital for the health of our democracy that our court system be open and accessible, that people genuinely feel it is protective of them, that we provide civil legal aid and advice as part of our State service early in people's problems. One way to cut down on litigation is to give people good and adequate advice at an early enough stage to prevent the problems arising.

I am sure the Minister, as a solicitor, will agree that a significant number of legal problems that end up in litigation arise because a person was not advised, or got the wrong advice from a non-lawyer or maybe got wrong advice from a lawyer, did not get adequate advice early enough to prevent the mistakes and the situation from accelerating and ultimately requiring litigation. When we are talking about increasing the number of judges we also have to look seriously at the background from which we draw them and at the way in which our educational system makes the study of law a privilege for a very narrow section of our society. This has very important implications when judgments are handed down, when justice is administered, when law is taught in universities and when there is a new group of law students coming up. It is a very serious matter and something we should try to redress by ensuring that there is access by any student desiring to become a lawyer, and with a sufficient level of educational achievement. They should be encouraged and promoted to take up the study of law and become practitioners and, ultimately, judges.

With those remarks and the hope that the Minister will give some details of this report by Coopers and Librant on the question of staffing and conditions in the Four Courts, I welcome the Bill as a limited measure. For the reasons given I would like to see a more comprehensive measure which would introduce family law courts and a system of civil legal aid.

I should like to thank Senators for their contributions and their welcome for the general principle of the Bill. Senators have glanced at various matters which the Cathaoirleach has reminded are not strictly connected with the main purpose of the Bill and I am sure the Chair will forgive me if I reciprocate some of the glances. The main purpose of the Bill is to overcome delays in the High Court. That is the kernel of the Bill. The Bill seeks power to appoint two extra judges of the High Court. It does not seek power to appoint extra judges of the Circuit or District Courts. In relation to those two courts it seeks to make permanent the present temporary judges and justices serving there.

I was disappointed to hear Senator Robinson make a reference which was similar to one made in the other House to the effect that cynical people might consider that these temporary judges and justices were being made permanent on the eve of a general election as a matter of patronage. I wish to deny that that is the motivation. The motivation is to face the reality of the situation of temporary members of the Judiciary which has pertained for a long number of years. Invariably, when a person is appointed to the Circuit or District Court in a temporary capacity that person, in the fullness of time, becomes a permanent appointee without any break in service. That has been the reality for a number of years.

When temporary appointments were made about ten or 15 years ago they were to deal with particular exigencies and in many cases the appointees returned to practice. For some years now there has been no break in service and it is a bit unreal not to recognise that when the appointment is made it is tantamount to permanency. That should be recognised from the beginning so that the person is not prejudiced in terms of his service with regard to a pension and any other factors that may be involved. It has been the practice of this Administration and previous Administrations to make permanent members in the order of their appointment in a temporary capacity. There is no element of political patronage in this provision, nor is it a pre-election ploy.

I shall deal with the question of delays in the three courts separately and I will take the High Court first. From the time a client instructs his solicitor until the case comes for hearing there are two stages, broadly speaking, the pre-trial procedures and the delay that that involves and the other stage of waiting from the time the case is set down for trial until it comes to hearing. With regard to pre-trial procedures, Senators Lenihan, O'Higgins and Robinson spoke of the need to make the procedures more efficient and, if possible, speedier. I agree that this is something which needs attention and reform. The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure reported a few years ago on this point and made recommendations for large-scale reform in pre-trial procedures in the High Court, reform which would increase the jurisdiction and functions of the Master of the High Court which would enable parties to agree to certain matters in advance—it would enable them to agree to technical reports from doctors, engineers, architects and so on and fees.

I am glad to tell the House that a Bill to implement the recommendation of that committee as regards that point is at an advanced stage of preparation. I doubt if the timetable before the Summer Recess will enable me to have the Bill introduced but, hopefully, it might. That Bill implements the report of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure on this point and I hope when implemented and it becomes law and when the new procedures are in being that they will have the effect of considerably shortening the pre-trial period so that the long delay that now exists from the time of the giving of instructions to a solicitor until the matter is set down for hearing can be considerably reduced. We can only provide mechanisms to ensure that there will be no delay. After that we are in the hands of individual lawyers as to how speedily the procedures are worked. That is not something over which I have or can have any real control. One can have a situation where solicitors may be more or less efficient than others. They may consult barristers who may be more or less efficient or expeditious than others. There are a variety of factors which can influence the length of time involved in pre-trial procedures.

The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure reported in detail on this about four or five years ago. Nothing was done about it but I am glad to say that a Bill to implement that report is at an advanced stage of preparation. I should like to correct Senator Lenihan on a point of accuracy. He stated that that committee had now been superseded by the Law Reform Commission. That is not so. The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure still sits although it is not at the moment examining any particular matter relevant to its terms of reference. The Law Reform Commission was set up to deal with matters of subtantive law as opposed to matters of practice and procedure. The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure did on one occasion deal with a matter of substantive law at a specific request I made to them—and to enable them do it I extended their terms of reference—to advise me on the question of maintenance and protection of the family home. It was their very valuable report which gave me the basis for the Bills which I had the privilege of proposing to this House last year. That Committee have done extremely valuable work in the past and I look forward to its doing work of equal value in the future. It is not to be confused with the Law Reform Commission which deals only with substantive matters and whose programme was recently published. Senators will be aware that the programme they have undertaken contains matters of immense importance and of great interest to us all.

As far as pre-trial procedures are concerned there is reform coming and I hope that reform will have the effect of speeding up the pre-trial procedures. We depend, ultimately, of course on the efficiency of the people involved in the system. As far as the system is concerned we are making it more efficient, practical and less cumbersome. This will have a very beneficial effect in one area of court practice, the necessity for professional witnesses to come for two, three or more successive days to the Four Courts in anticipation of their case coming for hearing. Cases are called for a certain day but there is no certainty that they will be heard on that day. A number of cases are ordered for the same day because very often cases are settled or adjourned or take a shorter time than anticipated so other cases must be ready to step in and fill the court's time but the converse can happen and cases might not be adjourned or might take longer than anticipated. That means that those in the queue will have to wait longer than was originally reckoned. This can lead to a great waste of time on the part of professional witnesses. Understandably, they become irritated and some of them refuse to attend. That makes it difficult for advocates and litigants and very often there is a pressure forcing settlements that possibly should not be effected at all. If these pre-trial procedures for agreed medical reports can be implemented much of this waste of time of professional people can be obviated.

The other area where there are delays is from the time of setting down until the hearing takes place. I am hoping that the provisions in the Bill to appoint extra judges will have a beneficial effect in reducing that time-lag. At the moment, as I indicated when I opened the debate the time-lag is of the order of ten months. When I took office in 1973 that time-lag was of the order of about 12 months. We appointed an extra High Court judge then and that had the effect of reducing that time-lag gradually until by mid-1975 it was down to five months. Five months sounds long but it is not unreasonable because from the time a case is set down for trial until it comes for hearing a lot of work may need to be done by the lawyers involved. They generally want at least two months, and possible more. Five months is possibly a bit long and I would like to see the time-lag reduced even less.

Since mid-1975 the position commenced to deteriorate again and the time-lag has now crept up to ten months but I am hopeful that the appointment of an extra judge will have the same effect now as it had in 1973 of bringing that down. We will keep the position monitored in consultation with the Presidents of the Courts concerned. In so far as administrative procedures or changes can contribute to more expeditious trial these will be effected. Hopefully, there will be speedier litigation in the higher courts as a result of the two proposals, the pre-trial procedures being improved and, secondly the time-lag from the setting down of the action until its hearing being considerably shortened.

The advice I have received is that the extra number of appointments required is two and that is what is provided for in the Bill. It may well be that in 12 months' time or so, if there is a growth in litigation, particularly in family litigation, two judges are not enough. This is something we will keep under review.

It is a simple matter to appoint extra judges but it is not a simple matter to provide the courts for them to sit in. This leads me now to the position in regard to the Circuit Court where the position with regard to arrears and delays is much more serious. I gave the figures in detail in the other House and I do not propose to go through them again. The number of cases that are awaiting trial, in the criminal and civil side, is depressingly large. I should say that in relation to the High Court the arrears are entirely of a civil nature. The bulk of them relate to jury actions. They do not relate to non-jury cases where there is no delay of any consequence between setting down and getting a hearing.

I should like to revert to the High Court and the question of juries. Senator Lenihan suggested that the presence of juries in tort cases is a cause of delay. It may well be but the arguments for retaining juries in this type of case are sufficiently strong to continue with juries, even if they are a contributory factor to delays. We should tackle the delays from some other angle rather than by removing the juries as part of the litigious procedure in tort cases. The arguments for and against juries in these cases were fully gone into when we were debating a Bill dealing with juries last year. It is hard to quantify the contribution of juries as a delaying factor. I do not think it is very large. Certainly, the arguments against removing them are sufficiently strong as to outweigh any arguments in favour of removing them from the point of view of their being a delaying factor.

In the Circuit Court the arrears are almost exclusively in the Dublin area. There is one provincial circuit where, from time to time, there are arrears for reasons that are nobody's fault but they do not represent a serious problem. The arrears essentially are on the Dublin Circuit. If it was only a question of appointing judges to clear these arrears that could be done in the morning and in this Bill and the number of judges could be increased but we are seriously short of court space in Dublin. There are a number of remedies to deal with this on a short term and long term basis. On the long term basis, as the House will know, we have acquired the Four Courts Hotel and it is the intention to turn that into a complex providing five or six additional courtrooms. When they become available it will be almost inevitable that extra Circuit Court judges will have to be appointed. When I say, almost inevitable, the House may wonder why I do not say, it will be inevitable. It may be possible to use the time of Circuit Court judges, who sometimes have spare time, to take up some of the slack on the Dublin Circuit. That will have to be fully investigated before we could go appointing extra Circuit Court judges. It will be inevitable that extra Circuit Court judges will be appointed when the new courts come into operation. In the meantime, and in the shorter term, accommodation has been acquired suitable for housing the Circuit Court office staff presently housed in the Four Courts building. We are engaged in a crash programme to get this new accomodation ready so as to vacate part of the Four Courts with a view to turning that vacated part into a jury court for the Circuit Court. That will certainly give immediate space early, I hope, next year for extra sittings of the Circuit Court to make some inroads on the arrears.

We also have some other plans under consideration but because we are at a very early stage and consultation with a number of interests will be necessary before they can be announced, I would not like to preempt those consultations by indicating what I have in mind. Senator Robinson touched on it when she spoke about the length of vacations and how possibly some portion of the vacations might be used. I will say no more than that at this stage because the long vacation is rather a sacred thing. I am hopeful we can introduce some remedial measures by the extra court space that will be provided when the Circuit Court staff move out. There will also be extra court space available to us by reason of the new procedure of the High Court sitting in provincial centres. This was a very desirable development. The High Court now sits for jury actions in a number of provincial centres, Galway, Limerick, Sligo and Cork. This has had the effect of bringing justice to the litigants rather than making people come from far ends of the country to Dublin and have to spend three or four days on spec waiting for their case to come up. It also has the effect, of course, of leaving court space empty in the Four Courts. I have been endeavouring to come to an arrangement with the various judges of the various courts to make use of this empty court space even on a temporary basis with a view to reducing the arrears in the Circuit Court.

In the District Court the position is much better than in the other two courts. Essentially, there are no delays there. There is some over-crowding in Dublin but we will have a temporary court in the Four Courts Hotel and we will also be able to use some of the space in the High Court complex also. We hope that this will enable the District Court to be brought up to date.

Senator Robinson asked about the question of staff in the Four Courts. This, of course, is a serious matter. It is important that there be an efficient and contented staff so that the courts can be serviced fully. It is essential that this be the case because if courts are not serviced fully and efficiently there will be delays and breakdowns. I should like to pay tribute to the existing staff because there has never been any complaints about the servicing of the courts either from lawyers, from the bench or members of the public. This, of course, is a tribute to the efficiency of the staff. If the courts are going to expand by increasing their numbers and if the amount of business coming in is expanding the staffing arrangements have to be looked at. It is true, as Senator Robinson said, that the Department had a management consultancy study done on the organisation of the staffing in the Four Courts. The report has been received and is presently being analysed. I expect to receive the report and the resulting analysis in the near future. I will then consider any changes that will have to be made or new procedures adopted.

It is proposed to publish the report?

It is not my intention to publish the report. This is normal practice in regard to management reports. It is standard practice that management reports are commissioned for the advice of those charged with management functions. It is not the practice that they be published. The implementation of it, naturally, of course, will be discussed in the greatest detail and completely and fully with the staff concerned. There will be no question of implementing anything over their heads. They will be consulted on the implementation. That is not to say that one will get agreement on every point of implementation but, so far as possible, agreement will be sought. The staff will be fully consulted on the implementation of the report. That is an indication that we are conscious of the need to keep staff and staffing structures under review so that that end of court administration will be able to keep up with increased work and expansion.

On the method of appointment of judges, this is an old chestnut. I do not mean to decry it by using that term but it is a subject that comes up from time to time. It came up in the other House.

Ironically, this came up in the other House when the Opposition criticised the Government for the method of appointment and recalled that when the present Government were in Opposition they too had criticised the Government of the day in precisely the same terms. It was clear that both sides of the House were agreed that it was a bad system of appointment. The irony occurs in the fact that both sides of the House were also agreed that that imperfect system of appointment has produced an excellent corps of judges. That was the conclusion that both sides reached. I think that conclusion has been confirmed here by Senator Robinson's tribute to the members of the Judiciary. We have been very well served by the judges who have sat in our courts since the foundation of the State. The result is what we have to look at. Perhaps, theoretically, the system of appointment could be faulted but in practice it has worked extremely well.

On the question of broadening the pool of persons eligible for appointment, possibly this is something that we could debate in depth on another occasion, As a solicitor, I would receive sympathetically the suggestion that solicitors should be considered eligible for appointment to the higher courts. Again one must consider that the qualification for appointment in the higher courts requires a knowledge and experience greater than that achieved by the average solicitor in the course of his work. It requires an intimate knowledge of the workings of the higher courts and experience in reading law and judicial decisions. It also requires the capacity to write legal judgments. This comes from practise as a barrister more than it would come from practice as a solicitor because the practising barrister has to read much more law than does the practising solicitor. He is also involved in writing legal opinions to a much greater extent than is the practising solicitor. These are arguments in favour of continuing the present system. However, I do not want to go into the matter in any more detail than that.

On the question of the High Court not being a suitable forum for dealing with questions of family law, this is a complex area of sociology and law that I do not propose to go into now. Senator Robinson makes the point that the present system leaves feelings of dissatisfaction in the parties coming before the courts and is not dealing fully and competently with the problems coming before them. These problems are so emotional, sensitive and complex, and they are sociological rather than legal, that it is difficult to see what sort of tribunal could have within itself the reserves of wisdom, experience and intelligence that would give to the parties in that particular type of case a full feeling of satisfaction that the decision is absolutely perfect. That is hoping for something that literally cannot be achieved. As I say, we are moving in that direction in the sense that we have now set up, away from the courts complex proper, two courts, one for the District Court and one for the High Court, which will be reserved for cases of this type. We will get experience from the people practising in those courts and from people sitting in those courts of how the matter is developing and it will be kept under review. It is not something that I am against but it is something that I would be slow to introduce and not until I would be satisfied that I knew exactly what the problem was and satisfied also that the problem was capable of being solved along the lines of what is loosely termed a family court. This definition will have to be hardened up and we will have to know exactly what we mean by a family court, what it is to be composed of, where it is to sit and what part of the judicial system it is to be inserted in. There is a lot of consideration to be given to that particular concept yet.

Senator Quinlan pleaded for uniformity among justices in passing sentences. It is not possible to have absolute uniformity. There must be disparity between sentences for the very good reason that no two cases are the same. There may be two case of dangerous driving but the elements going into making up the offence of dangerous driving will inevitably differ in the two cases. They will be serious or less serious and, consequently, the verdict of the District Court on the two similar offences must vary to take account of the particular case before the court. It is not possible to have absolute uniformity, nor is it possible to have even approximate uniformity. There must be disparity. It may be possible to have uniformity in minor cases where what are called technical absolute offences are concerned. This is a matter that concerns the District Court justices. Meetings between these justices are provided for by statute. I understand that on the agenda at these statutory meetings is consideration of the question of uniformity of decisions.

I think I have covered all the points that were raised in the course of the debate. I conclude by thanking Senators again for the welcome for the Bill. The Bill is designed to do a very necessary thing—to increase the number of judges in the High Court by two with a view to minimising and reducing the delay in trials in that court.

Question put and agreed to.