Courts and Court Officers Bill, 1995: Second Stage.

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

The Courts and Court Officers Bill, 1994, contained measures aimed at improving the courts system. Those measures have been retained in the present Bill with some significant changes and improvements, but the Courts and Court Officers Bill before the House today addresses in a more effective way the problem of the arrears of cases and appeals awaiting hearing before the courts. It also contains many more provisions which will implement much needed administrative and procedural reforms to improve the efficiency of the courts system.

That system is overdue a full reappraisal and a new approach. The courts have been trying to provide a reasonable level of service in recent times in the face of modern day demands and pressures. There has been a significant increase in the amount of business coming before the courts over the past number of years in practically all areas of the law — in civil actions, personal injuries litigation, family law business and criminal cases. Not only is there more business but the trend is that cases and appeals are more complex now and, therefore, more time consuming than in the past. Changes to the limits of the jurisdiction of the courts and developments in the family law area have had a tremendous impact on the amount and complexity of business coming before the courts. The courts system has not been able to keep up with this growth in the number of cases and appeals.

Let us be in no doubt that long delays in having cases resolved means that the system of justice is letting down many litigants, victims of crime and, to some extent, the community as a whole. Delays in the courts can also adversely affect the smooth running of the business and commercial sector. This, I believe, could undermine public confidence in the system of justice. It is the recognition that justice delayed is justice denied that informs the overall approach to tackling the problems in the courts system.

Under the Courts and Court Officers Bill, 1994, a new Court of Appeal was to have tackled the accumulation of appeals awaiting a hearing by the Supreme Court. An advisory commission on the courts was to have been set up. It is a fair indication of the extent of reassessment of the 1994 Bill that the present Bill, together with the proposals for the longer term development of the courts system, differ markedly from what was proposed in these key areas in the 1994 Bill.

The approach to reforming the courts service will be on three levels: first, to tackle immediately the problem of delays in all the courts by providing in this Bill for 18 more judges; second, to implement in this Bill several other changes in courts administration and procedure that will also reduce delays and enhance the efficiency of the courts service and third, to develop a longer term approach to improving our courts system.

On this last point, I will be taking the opportunity to refer in a few moments to the Working Group on the Courts Commission which was recently set up. This Bill addresses the immediate problem of delays in the system but it is vital that we address now the issue of what kind of courts service we will have in five, ten or 15 years time. We cannot lose sight of that.

As I have said, the 1994 Bill proposed the setting up of a Court of Appeal comprised of three additional High Court judges to deal mainly with appeals against decisions of the High Court in personal injuries cases and to relieve the problem of delays in hearing appeals in the Supreme Court. Having reviewed that proposal, it was concluded that the proposed Court of Appeal would fall short of the target of clearing the arrears of appeals before the Supreme Court. An Appeal Court hearing appeals predominantly from decisions in personal injuries cases could not be justified even though it was also to have incorporated the jurisdiction of the Court of Criminal Appeal. This conclusion was reached following consultation with the senior Judiciary and others. The Minister was not convinced that the proportion of personal injury appeals that come to a hearing and the nature of those appeals would have generated enough business to keep the proposed Court of Appeal fully occupied. In addition, the proposed Court of Appeal would possibly have generated a further tier of appeals from that court to the Supreme Court. That would have defeated the purpose of the proposed court. It would also have been highly inefficient as it would have led to further delays in the system and greater costs.

The real pressure on the Supreme Court comes from the very considerable increase in the length and complexity of appeals other than personal injuries appeals. The same applies in relation to civil cases in the High Court. In the Supreme Court, a further factor is that the statutory maximum number of judges of the Supreme Court has remained static at five, including the Chief Justice, for several decades while the number of judges of the High Court increased at various times over the period from six to the current maximum of 17. This means that there has been a great increase in the volume of decisions that can be appealed to the Supreme Court without a corresponding adjustment in the Supreme Court to cope with that increase. Appeals relating to the Constitution or complex appeals against decisions in major commercial law cases often require immediate attention. We have seen many of these in recent years but that necessary prioritising of business results in other appeals, especially personal injury appeals, being put back. It is unfair to the individual litigant to have to wait so long for an outcome to his or her appeal. We must enable the Supreme Court to make inroads on those arrears.

The approach in section 6 is to provide for an increase of three in the number of Supreme Court judges giving seven judges, in addition to the Chief Justice. Section 7 enables the court to sit in two or more divisions at the same time, thus allowing two or more appeals to be heard simultaneously. This will enable the Supreme Court to sit in divisions of three judges for most appeals or in two divisions of three and five judges where a court of at least five judges is required. Section 7 stipulates that a court of not less than five judges would deal with matters arising under Articles 12 to 26 of the Constitution which refer respectively to the President and to the reference of Bills to the Supreme Court, or a question of the validity of any law having regard to the provisions of the Constitution.

Under section 7 of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act, 1961, such matters must be heard by five Supreme Court judges. By virtue of section 7 of the Bill, therefore, the Chief Justice may determine that the full court may sit in such cases. It is envisaged that the full court will sit only on rare occasions. I am convinced that enabling the Supreme Court to hear more than one case at the same time is the most effective way of tackling the arrears of appeals at Supreme Court level and enabling the court to deal with the increasing number and complexity of appeals which must be heard.

A further development affecting the Supreme Court is contained in section 2 (1) of the Bill. This section enables the Government by order, following consultation with the Chief Justice and the President of the High Court, to abolish the Court of Criminal Appeal and to transfer its jurisdiction to the Supreme Court. It is intended that such an order will be made when the arrears of civil appeals in the Supreme Court are brought under control.

Moving on to the other courts, sections 9, 10 and 11 of the Bill increase the statutory maximum number of judges from 16 to 19 in the High Court, from 17 to 24 in the Circuit Court and from 45 to 50 in the District Court, not including the presidents of those courts — an overall increase of 15 judges in these courts. That represents a very considerable commitment on the part of this Government to tackling the backlog of cases and appeals before these courts.

I want to focus in the time available to me on the Circuit Court. The accumulation of civil business, including family law business in the Circuit Court, is a considerable difficulty for many people. The provision for an additional seven judges in the Circuit Court is a considerable investment but I am confident that this will produce a worthwhile return to the public.

There are two important factors that have brought about the current accumulation of cases in the Circuit Court. First, the Courts Act, 1991, increased the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court from £15,000 to £30,000 which resulted in a major increase in the volume of civil business for hearing in the court. It appears this increase in court business is permanent and will probably grow. Civil cases before the Circuit Court are now more numerous, complex and time consuming than before.

The second factor at Circuit Court level is the huge increase in family law business. The Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act, 1989, transferred the majority of family law business in the courts to the Circuit Court. This and the fact that more people are having recourse to the court in these proceedings has led to a marked increase in the volume of family law business in the Circuit Court.

Delays in the hearing of family law business in a number of Circuit Court venues lead to a significant human cost not only to the parties involved but also to their families. Additional judges in the Circuit Court are badly needed to eliminate the present delays there and to deal with the volume of civil and family business in that court. One point that continuously came up in the recent divorce referendum debate was the difficulty experienced by people in separation cases in getting reasonably rapid access to the court and this is a serious problem.

While I have concentrated in my remarks on the Supreme Court and Circuit Court, it must be said that there are also similar problems in the High Court and District Court. The appointment of additional judges to all four courts is an essential step to turn around the business of the courts and to improve matters in the courts system with immediate effect. Government approval has also been obtained for the provision of comprehensive administrative back up for the new judges. I should make it clear, however, that in no way do I see increasing the statutory number of judges as the only solution to deal with the current problems. This approach will work in conjunction with other reforms contained in this Bill to improve efficiency in the courts.

As regards the longer term development of the courts service, the Minister for Justice has decided to institute a full reappraisal of the entire existing courts system. With that in mind Government approval was obtained last summer for the setting up of a working group on a Courts Commission. That group, to be chaired by Mrs. Justice Susan Denham of the Supreme Court, was set up a number of weeks ago. This provides an opportunity for a thorough examination of the courts system to ensure it is meeting the needs of today's society. This development will no doubt make a vital contribution to the modernising of our courts system. The group is broadly representative and that is essential. We must have the views and be in a position to draw on the experience of the Judiciary, the legal professions and the relevant Government Departments as well as other types of experience, such as that of Women's Aid and the rape crisis centres.

The working group will be reviewing the operation and financing of the courts system with particular regard to the quality of service provided to the public. That should be the bottom line for the development of the service. In light of that, the group has been asked to consider the matter of the establishment of a commission on the management of the courts as an independent and permanent body with financial and management autonomy in line with the commitment to that effect in the Government of Renewal programme.

This is a better approach than adopting the advisory model for a courts commission, which was a feature of the 1994 Bill. This Government has taken the view that working towards an independent body responsible to the Government for the management of the courts service would be a more effective and efficient approach. That strategy, however, needs to be carefully developed in the forum of the working group. The working group will be well placed to address all of the many and varied issues that no doubt will arise.

Part IV of the Bill deals with judicial appointments and provides for the setting up of a Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. This will introduce an important new dimension to the procedure for judicial appointment. The 1994 Bill also provided for the setting up of a Judicial Appointments Advisory Board and I will be dealing in a moment with a number of important differences between that board as proposed and the one that will be set up under the terms of the present Bill.

I would like to briefly put these new arrangements in perspective. The procedure for appointing judges is governed by the Constitution. Article 35 provides that the judges of the Supreme Court, the High Court and all other courts shall be appointed by the President. That power is exercisable and performable on the advice of the Government. That fundamental arrangement is, of course, unaffected by this Bill. I need hardly say that our Judiciary is widely respected for its fairness, integrity and independence. The focus of these measures is, however, on the Government's role in the judicial appointments process. Because of the Government's central role in the appointment of judges, there should be guarantees to ensure that procedures to appoint judges are not only appropriate but are seen to be so.

The advisory board's role will be to shortlist and recommend barristers and solicitors to the Government for appointment to judicial office by the President. The scope of the provision as defined in section 12 is similar to that proposed in the 1994 Bill in that the new arrangements will not cover appointments to Chief Justice or as president of the other courts. This is a prudent exclusion because the Government, in considering appointments to these leading judicial posts, will want to promote continuity in the courts system. That is why section 23 provides that the Government, when considering those appointments, shall have to first have regard to the suitability of serving judges of those courts.

Section 17 further defines the scope of the new procedures. That section provides, in effect, that where the Government proposes to advise the President to appoint a serving judge to a higher court, the procedures of the board shall not apply. In other words, the new appointments procedure will apply to the first appointment of a barrister or a solicitor as a judge. It is appropriate that a person whom Government has in the past considered suitable for judicial appointment should be exempt from the board's procedures where the Government is proposing to advise the President on the further judicial appointment of that judge.

The composition of the board provided for in the 1994 Bill was not sufficiently representative. In fact, there was no provision for any representative other than that of the Judiciary or the legal professions. The main change in section 13 is that the Minister will have the right to nominate to the board three persons who have appropriate knowledge or experience. This will allow the Minister to introduce a wide range of experience into the process, such as nominees with commercial, administrative and consumer backgrounds — in other words, those who can represent people who rely on the courts on a daily basis. Representatives of victims of crime, women's groups and perhaps other bodies could bring an invaluable new perspective to the consideration of the suitability of candidates for judicial appointment. Of course, all those interests could not be accommodated in the first round of nominees, but the provision for a three year renewable term of appointment allows the option of introducing a broad range of influence over a longer period of time.

A further change in the composition of the board is that the Attorney General of the day would be a member. The Attorney General of the day would be uniquely suitable, with his or her knowledge of the legal profession, to be a member of the board. Under section 18, the board will be able to recommend the Attorney General for a judicial appointment, However, when the board is considering the Attorney for appointment, he or she will be required to withdraw from the deliberations of the board.

Section 16 provides for the submission by the board of the names of all persons who have been considered by the board for appointment, with the board recommending at least seven persons. Requiring the board to recommend only three to five names, as proposed in the 1994 Bill, would give the Government little discretion in the matter of judicial appointments, which it has by virtue of the constitutional arrangements relating to the matter. For this reason the board should be required to recommend a reasonable number of names.

The Bill provides that where fewer than seven persons wish to be considered for appointment or where the board is unable to recommend seven persons, the board may recommend a lesser number of names for appointment. Where more than one vacancy arises, the board will be required to submit at least seven names for each vacancy or such a lesser number as the Minister may specify after consultation with the board. The intention here is to avoid imposing an obligation on the board to produce a large number of recommendations which could prove to be difficult in the event of a number of vacancies arising in the same court.

The recommendation of the advisory board will not be binding on the Government. That is appropriate, mindful of the constitutional position relating to judicial appointments. It is nevertheless expressly provided in section 16 that the Government shall first have regard to the names recommended by the board in advising the President on the appointment of a judge. This is a significant direction to Government and one that highlights the pivotal role the new board will have. To ensure that the input of the board is on the public record, section 16 also requires that the notice of appointment published in Iris Oifigiúil shall indicate when a judge has been appointed on the recommendation of the board.

Section 48 will enable the Minister to provide funds for judicial courses arranged by the Judiciary. The provision of suitable courses is necessary to enable judges to keep up to date with developments in a range of legal and other areas. The senior Judiciary has already taken initiatives in this area and funding has already been provided for seminars in the past. I understand that the Chief Justice is setting up a judicial studies institute which will have responsibility both for an induction course for newly appointed judges and a continuing course of education and training for members of the Judiciary. Those countries which already have this facility have found it enormously useful, especially in new and developing areas. The clearest example in this country would be family law developments and court cases relating to women, especially with regard to rape cases.

Under section 19, persons wishing to be considered for judicial appointment by the advisory board must agree to take training courses if appointed and if so required by the Chief Justice or president of the court to which they are appointed. This is a better approach than that proposed in the 1994 Bill, whereby the Minister would make regulations requiring training for candidates aspiring to judicial appointment. I am sure this would be unworkable, not least because it would discourage well qualified persons from seeking judicial appointment as they would be required to undertake a course without any guarantee of being appointed.

Apart from increasing the number of judges, the Bill contains several measures to improve efficiency in the interests of users of the court. I wish to explain the most significant of these. Section 25 will increase the jurisdiction of the Master of the High Court to enable the Master to deal with the range of applications that at present must be dealt with by judges of the High Court. This will ensure that the fullest possible use is made of the office of the Master in the judicial area. This section also provides that under the rules of court, additional powers to deal with pre trial procedures may be conferred on the Master. This would mean that the Master of the High Court could, under such rules, have jurisdiction to simplify and narrow in so far as possible all the issues which may arise in an action. When the Master has disposed of pre-trial issues the action would then be submitted to court. This will help to keep the hearing of actions as short as possible and release High Court judges from the time spent on various applications and other matters preliminary to hearing the central arguments in a case.

Section 34 confers new powers on county registrars, as set out in the Second Schedule to the Bill. These additional powers correspond to those which are currently exercised by the Master of the High Court in respect of the High Court. The effect of the proposal is that county registrars will be empowered to deal with many motions that judges of the Circuit Court are at present required to hear, such as motions to remit actions to the High Court, notices for discovery and motions to join a third party. I am satisfied that this will effect considerable savings of court time and will help to reduce delays at Circuit Court level. Section 34 also provides that appeals from decisions of the county registrars shall lie to the Circuit Court.

Section 45 gives the Superior Courts and Circuit Court Rules Committees the power to make rules requiring parties in High and Circuit Court personal injuries actions to disclose, without having to apply to court, the reports of experts, such as doctors, whom it is intended to call to give evidence. Again, this is aimed at speeding up the hearing of actions and should help to reduce legal costs for litigants.

There has been concern about the ease with which criminal trials, often of very serious offences, can be switched from the Circuit Court sitting outside Dublin to the Dublin Circuit Court. This exacerbates the problem of delay in the Dublin Circuit Court and can be a costly exercise from the point of view of bringing gardaí and witnesses to the Dublin Circuit Court. Under the Courts Act, 1981, once the required notice is given, an application to transfer to the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court is automatically granted. I do not accept that transfers in all of these cases can be justified. There may well be legitimate grounds in certain circumstances to grant an accused a trial before a jury from a region other than, say, where the accused lives. Section 32 provides that an application to transfer the trial to Dublin will only be granted by the court if the judge is satisfied that it would be manifestly unjust not to do so. I know that many Members of the House, especially from the Cork area, have raised on the Adjournment on a number of occasions the matter regarding the number of transfers of cases from the Cork area to the Dublin area at great expense and, in practice, at great delay. Various theories have been put forward as to why these transfers may take place. This provision should enable us to deal with the problem, which will be substantially to the benefit of areas and court jurisdictions such as Cork.

The Bill also rationalises the territorial jurisdiction of judges of the District Court. At present an accused before the District Court may only be tried in the District Court district where he or she lives or was arrested, or where the offence was committed. This can give rise to inefficiencies and unnecessary costs. Section 41 will allow for much greater flexibility in the hearing of criminal cases by District Court judges. It will allow for the trial of an offence and the processing of other matters by any District Court judge in any District Court in certain circumstances.

A number of the measures in the Bill, some of which I have already mentioned, should have the effect of reducing legal costs by increasing efficiency and speeding up the business in the court. However, I am acutely conscious of the need for an effective control mechanism with regard to legal costs when costs are in dispute. The settling of disputed legal cost bills is the function of the taxing masters of the High Court, or at Circuit Court level, that of country registrars. Significant deficiencies in the powers of the taxing masters have been identified following a number of court decisions. Section 27 of the Bill will give much needed additional powers to the taxing masters of the High Court and to county registrars in the Circuit Court to evaluate solicitors' and counsels' fees and fees charged by expert witnesses in actions and to allow or disallow such fees. These powers will also be available to the taxing masters with regard to solicitor and client bills of costs. I am confident that this move will help to restore effective control over legal costs where these costs have not been agreed.

Section 50 confers on the Master of the High Court and other court officers the discretion that only judges currently have to order the payment of interest on awards. The Bill will ensure that a plaintiff who seeks an award of interest will not have to apply separately to a judge at additional cost.

I wish to briefly mention some important changes relating to the legal profession and the Judiciary. Under section 30, solicitors will for the first time be made eligible for appointment as Circuit Court judges. At present, only barristers are eligible for appointment to the Circuit Court. This measure widens appreciably the pool of talent form which the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board can draw when making recommendations for appointment to the Circuit Court. Section 28 provides that a judge with four years service on the Circuit Court bench shall be eligible for appointment as a judge of the High or Supreme Court. This is a significant new provision which will qualify a former solicitor who has been appointed a Circuit Court judge for appointment to the Superior Courts after four years service as a judge of the Circuit Court.

Section 28 also provides for an amendment to the law in relation to qualification for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court and the High Court. The Bill addresses an anomaly under the existing law. At present, 12 years practice as a barrister is required to qualify for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court and the High Court. Service as a judge of the Circuit Court counts as practice as a barrister. However, service as a judge of the European Court of Justice, the Court of First Instance attached to that court or as an Advocate-General of the Court of Justice does not make up practice as a barrister. Section 28 deems such service to be practice at the Bar for the purpose of qualifying a person for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court and High Court. A similar provision was included in the 1994 Bill.

Section 47 provides for a retirement age of 70 years for newly appointed judges to the Supreme and High Courts. The current retirement age for judges appointed to these courts is 72 years. Circuit Court judges retire at 70 years of age. In the District Court, a judge can seek extension from 65 to 70 years of age. This new provision for Supreme and High Court judges will, over time, effectively bring about uniformity of retirement ages for judges of all courts. The 70 years retirement age will not apply to judges who hold office at the time the provisions come into effect, including judges who are subsequently appointed from a lower court to the Supreme or High Court.

The legal system can have a profound and lasting effect on the lives of individuals in the community. Central to the success of that system is the delivery of justice and that is why an efficient courts system is so vital. It is how that system performs as a service that is of most importance to me and, indeed, to the individual member of the public who relies on it. I am confident that this Bill will set the courts service on course to provide a greatly improved service for the future.

I look forward to hearing the views of Senators and I commend the Bill to the House.

I thank the Minister for introducing what is, at this stage, a considerably amended Bill. Two matters are obvious given the number of amendments that have been made. One is that the Minister and the Government have shown considerable and positive flexibility during Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil. The other and perhaps the flip side to this is the fact that the number of changes that have been made leave the Bill open to the charge of having been hastily put together.

I am bound to refer back to the ignoble birth of this Bill. The Minister will be aware that the Bill, as originally conceived, was an attempt to assuage the conscience of somebody who felt an honourable compromise was needed in relation to a certain judicial appointment. I wish to put it on record that I do not believe Bills should be initiated in this manner. If there is a need for legislation that need alone should be the basis for what we do.

Having said that, I welcome the majority of the provisions in this Bill. Many of them make good sense. However, in the matter of judicial appointments in particular, there are sensitive areas which must be addressed. In keeping with the positive spirit shown by the Minister for Justice and the Government, I hope the Minister of State will take note of positive suggestions the Seanad might make because further changes could be made in the Bill.

The Minister has correctly said that Ireland has been well served by its Judiciary and court system. Unlike other countries, we have not had scandals involving judges or our courts. The people of this country enjoy a high degree of confidence in the administration of justice. Given that, the question must be asked — if it is not broken, why fix it? There is an onus on anybody proposing an alteration to the system of appointing judges to come before each House of the Oireachtas and explain exactly why a change is needed.

To a certain extent, I am sorry that the Minister for Justice is not present because during her term of office she has appointed a few judges, yet she did not feel the need to rely upon a judicial advisory board. Why create one? What is the problem? There is no problem. The quality of people appointed as judges has been exceptionally high. That brings me back to what I said at the start of my contribution — the birth of this Bill is ignoble. As Deputy O'Donoghue said on Second Stage in the Dáil, there seemed to be an urgent imperative at the time but it has taken a year for that urgent imperative to see its way through the system.

As a practising barrister, I can confirm the Minister's comments about delays in the courts. Justice delayed is justice denied. People are obliged to wait up to two years in the Circuit Court and up to three years in the High Court for their cases to be heard. This is totally unacceptable. There are many other unacceptable matters. One of them is the overcrowding in our courts. The Circuit Family Court in Áras Uí Dhálaigh is a disgrace. Men and women who are separating must have their consultations in the corridor outside the court. There are some consultation rooms but not enough. That one should have to discuss an affair as intimate and personal as one's separation with one's legal adviser in the corridors of a court is a disgrace in this day and age. Any discussion of court facilities which will result in an improvement in that situation is very welcome. The courts committee has been set up although our party would have preferred a courts commission. However, any group which looks at the question of accommodation and so forth in the courts is to be welcomed.

Another major issue is costs. The Minister will agree that litigation is far too expensive. That is not necessarily because any one legal adviser is getting a lot of money out of litigation. It is an accumulation of costs, including Revenue and stamping costs. In fact, a judge in the Supreme Court once said that the constitutionality of stamping costs could well be in issue if it stopped a poor person from litigating. There should be no bar to an ordinary person litigating their case or claim. There have been huge improvements in the civil legal aid system, due in large measure to the recent Civil Legal Aid Act, although that applies mainly to matrimonial cases. Increasingly, however, the ordinary person who is aggrieved should and will be able to litigate.

I intend to propose amendments on Committee Stage with regard to judicial appointments. The Government appears to be anxious to have this Bill passed but I ask the Minister to ensure that it is not rushed. We are approaching Christmas and there appears to be an informal guillotine on the Bill. It would serve all our purposes to take our time on Committee Stage as this is an important Bill.

I have major problems with the proposals regarding judicial appointments. There is no harm, if it is necessary, in having a body to advise on suitable candidates for judicial positions. However, the issue of confidentiality is not properly addressed in the Bill. The Bill provides that the proceedings of the judicial advisory board will be confidential, except for the purposes of the Act. However, the board will communicate with the Cabinet. Will the discussions of the judicial advisory board be discussed at length in Cabinet? If the Government proceeds with its proposed constitutional amendment on Cabinet confidentiality, will we face the prospect of people's reputations being openly discussed at Cabinet and details being subsequently published? I think the Minister would agree that this would be regrettable and that the issue should be addressed in the most careful way.

A major problem is the issue of whether the recommendation aspect of a judge will be published in Iris Oifigiúil. If the names of seven persons are submitted and the Government decides to appoint another person, it will be clear from Iris Oifigiúil that the person appointed was not on the recommended list. Will this be a stigma as far as that judge is concerned? Will people say he or she was not on the recommended list, is not to be relied on and will be more open to appeal? This issue must be seriously addressed.

Last night in the Dáil, during the Report Stage of this Bill, the Minister for Justice stated:

I might add that, even if the three to five continued to obtain, the Government would not be obliged to accept those candidates; it could still make another selection; no matter how many names were presented to it, if it deemed it proper, it could select another candidate for a particular appointment where there might be a specific need within a specific court for a given type of experience.

The Minister said the Government will always retain the right to select a person from outside the recommended list. How would such a person feel when his or her name is published in Iris Oifigiúil but has not been on the recommended list? The Minister and the Government should think most seriously about whether such names should be published in Iris Oifigiúil.

Another serious issue is the membership of the Attorney General on the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. In my opinion this is completely wrong. The Attorney General fills a constitutional position and is legal adviser to the Government, in effect he is part of the Government. The function of the board will be to advise the Government on judicial appointments. It will be more a part of the Judiciary than of the Government; its chairman will be the Chief Justice. Insisting that the Attorney General should be a member of the board is a clear breach of the separation of powers between the Executive and judicial arms of government.

What is even more alarming is that the Minister said yesterday that the Attorney General will communicate the deliberations and recommendations of the board to the Government. This is not provided for in the Bill and is wrong. The Chief Justice, as chairman of the board, or its secretary, should communicate the recommendations to the Government.

If a person wants to put his or her name before the board, it should be confidential and respected. This procedure must be sensitive, discreet, tactful and polite. It is not easy for people to put their names forward and have their professional records and characters bandied about. These may have to be discussed and are discussed when the Minister engages in consultations in the normal course when appointing judges. It is disturbing that a person's name and character might be bandied about and communicated and we should address this issue on Committee Stage.

I wholeheartedly welcome the inclusion of solicitors in eligibility for appointment as judges of the Circuit Court and after four years, if appropriate, of the High Court and the Supreme Court. As a practising barrister I say there is no reason a solicitor should not be a member of any court. The compromise worked out by the Minister, which is that for appointment to the High Court or the Supreme Court a person must have four years service in the Circuit Court, is excellent and if she were in the House I would congratulate her on it.

One of the Minister of State's colleagues, who is a member of one of the Government parties, said that as a solicitor he is in and out of the courts all day but barristers are in court all day. There is a difference between the two professions, not in terms of ability or innate superiority but of experience and working at the coal face of the courts. This provision will make sure that, if a solicitor is appointed a judge of the High Court or the Supreme Court, he or she will have full experience of a court for four years, whereas barristers must have seven or ten years experience in court.

The Bill contains a compromise on ceremonial wigs. The wearing of wigs will not now be required; it will be voluntary. If barristers want to wear wigs in court, they may, if they do not wish to do so, this will not be compulsory.

What will the Senator do?

We will see when the Bill is passed. Like any good barrister, I will listen to the advice of the Bar Council. I believe wigs are good, especially for junior members of the Bar. They are also good for barristers prosecuting in criminal courts because they provide some degree of anonymity. Research and international experience has shown this to be the case.

This is a minor matter. The Bill's most important issue is the welcome increase in the number of judges in the Circuit Court, the High Court and the Supreme Court. I do not see why District Court judges must retire at 65 years of age and then be granted extensions. There should be a uniform retiring age for all judges and an amendment to that effect would make sense.

I welcome the Bill because it provides for necessary and long overdue procedural changes. The Government has not got its thinking right on judicial appointments. I am sure the Minister understands the reference at the beginning of my speech to the ignoble birth of this Bill. If two party leaders are trying to overcome a problem, proposing a Bill as a compromise is not the way to do it.

I welcome this Bill. I urge the Minister to listen to what is said now and on Committee Stage. I hope she will take into account any positive suggestions about amending this Bill.

This Bill is necessary because of the difficulties in the courts as regards delays, efficiency and service to clients. The backlog of cases and appeals before the courts is having a serious effect on people's confidence in the court system. The courts are clogged up with outdated procedural and administrative systems. It is time this was examined and improved. At present the courts are inefficient and they are not customer friendly. They are ill-equipped to handle modern day demands and pressures.

The courts are not in a position to respond to the marked increase in the amount of work over the past number of years. This is true as regards civil actions and personal injury litigation. There is also more family law business and more criminal cases. The courts have failed to respond to the volume and complexity of appeals in recent years and to the growth in the number of cases, especially family law cases. People involved in such sensitive cases should not have to wait a long time to have their cases heard. In some parts of the country people must wait six, 12 or 18 months for civil legal aid for separation cases under the Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act, 1989. That is unacceptable and this Bill should help to correct it. The Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Taylor, has done enormous work in this area over the past two years. He brought the State contribution from £2.2 million to £6.2 million in two years. This Bill will complement that and ensure that the efficiency of the courts will give more value for taxpayers' money.

Another area which has grown enormously is litigation. This is a serious issue which must be examined, although I do not have a solution. I have said in the past that the Law Reform Commission should look at it. It is accepted that Ireland is one of the most litigious countries in Europe. The compensation culture is like a cancer eating away at our society and it almost borders on the immoral. The State must move quickly to halt the slide or all commercial and service facilities will grind to a halt.

The system acts against the best interest of the genuine claimant who may have to wait many years for a resolution of a claim and this causes great distress. The uncertainty of the level of appropriate compensation and the extent to which this seeks to discourage rehabilitation or a return to work is also an issue. People are not encouraged to settle cases and they are discouraged from rehabilitation because of the view that they may get less compensation. This means people wait until their claim is granted. This should be examined to ensure that the genuine claimant is treated fairly. The Bill will facilitate that to some extent but because of the level of compensation which has grown up around this area that should be handled as a separate issue.

Insurance costs as a result of litigation are causing complications for employers, businesses, motorists, public authorities and voluntary and sporting organisations. No area has been spared the paralysis which has accompanied the escalation in litigation. Local councils are concerned that people will send in claims if children have minor accidents in playgrounds. It is unfortunate that many local bodies must remove such facilities which are of benefit to small towns. School teachers can no longer send a student to a shop, and open season as regards claims has been declared in public houses, clubs, hotels and supermarkets. Some 95 per cent of claims are successful. The statistics show that the reward is higher if claims are taken to court rather than being settled outside it. This puts pressure on insurance companies to settle claims. More claims will arise if people think they do not have to present their case in court.

Insurance premia in Ireland are 98 per cent higher than the European Union average. A young male aged between 18 and 21 with a full driving licence pays an average of £1,798 to insure a Ford Fiesta. How can such costs be justified? Personal injury compensation represents 67 per cent of all claims paid by motor insurance companies and almost all claims paid out by employers and those on public liability insurance. Ireland is at a competitive disadvantage because it has the highest personal injury awards of any of the EU countries. The frequency and level of Irish claims are twice those of the UK.

Part of the problem resides with the legal system and the fact that the courts appear to take a lenient view of claims. They often hold employers responsible regardless of the circumstances. Employers who defend an employer's liability claim are almost presumed guilty until proven innocent. Perhaps the Minister could ask the Law Reform Commission to do something in this area. I accept there is no simple solution to this problem. One cannot produce a Bill in two weeks or in six months to control this area because issues such as personal freedom and rights for the claimant and for the defendant must be taken into consideration. This issue should be examined, especially in view of the lack of competitiveness in industry and other areas.

The Bill goes some way towards improving the procedure for claims. The Bill will deal effectively with the serious problem of delays in hearing actions and appeals at all levels of the courts system. The long unacceptable delays in having cases heard to conclusion are letting down many litigants who are victims of crime. The system is letting down the community at large. There is a growing lack of confidence in the system because of this. Delays are inhibiting the smooth management of business, which is creating a competitive disadvantage for industry competing in EU markets.

Public confidence in the operation of the courts is being seriously undermined. As Senator Mulcahy said, justice delayed is justice denied. Cases must be completed quickly to allow all involved to get on with the business of running their affairs without concerning themselves over a period of years with the outcome of a court case. The courts must have an efficient and effective organisational system. They must be able to dispose of cases on an ongoing basis in a quick and effective manner. Appeals must be heard in an efficient fashion.

The length and complexity of appeals, other than those concerning personal injury, has increased and this has increased pressure on the Supreme Court. The situation is similar in the High Court. However, in the latter case the number of judges has been increased over the years from six to 17. There has been no increase in the number of Supreme Court judges, however. I welcome the decision of the Minister to increase the number of judges by 15 — in the High Court from 16 to 19, the Circuit Court from 17 to 24, and the District Court from 45 to 50. This will tackle some of the delays, thus overcoming some of the problems and allowing the Circuit Court to deal more effectively with family law cases. As the Minister said, substantial human costs are involved. You cannot put a money value on the human cost of delays in family law cases.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has announced the setting up of a working group on the courts which will reappraise the existing court system. It is almost like bringing in a firm of consultants to examine how effective the whole operation is. Consultants are not always complimented for their work, but they are often very necessary in taking an objective look at the issues and problems concerned. This is useful because people on the inside, be they the Government or others, cannot look at the system in a detached way to see how it can be improved. It is a welcome development to have people who can look at the court system and report to the Government on how changes can be made to bring about more efficiency and effectiveness.

Senator Mulcahy discussed at length the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. I do not have the same concerns as Senator Mulcahy has. I do not know of many jobs in this country where applicants are not interviewed. In most positions that one applies for — even Government appointments where the Taoiseach brings somebody in to discuss a situation with them — there is an informal or, in 99 per cent of cases, formal interview system to establish the suitability of candidates and to discuss all aspects of the position with them. In many cases this concerns their capacity to do the job but in this case maybe not, because most people who have that length of experience would have the capacity to do the job.

However, it is often a question of attitude and availability that impacts on a person applying for positions, whether it concerns judges, Ministers, chief executives or even the most junior person in a company. It is necessary to explore all aspects of a position with them.

Why was it not necessary until now? What has changed?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Neville must be allowed to proceed without interruption, please.

If we decided that everything was right as it stands there would be no need for the Oireachtas to change things and no need for new Bills. Everything would be the same. We should try to improve situations. Surely, one of our duties as legislators is to strive for excellence. This is what we are doing here. We are striving for excellence in the appointment of judges. The situation might be adequate in Senator Mulcahy's view, but I think that striving for improvement and excellence in this area is a worthy exercise.

When the Minister is selecting the advisory board she might look at some of the senior people from the personnel profession in order to have their advice and assist the board as members of it. As the Minister also said, representatives of victims of crime, women's groups and other bodies could bring an invaluable new perspective to the consideration of the suitability of candidates for judicial appointment. That probably answers Senator Mulcahy's question better than in any other way.

We welcome the area of judicial conferences and training, because one of the concerns people have is the inconsistency in sentencing from one judicial area to another. I fully agree with judges having discretion in sentencing and I do not support mandatory sentencing for all crimes. There are cases when it is correct and we have argued for and supported them here in the past, but the general approach to all mandatory sentencing is not fair.

Judges must judge what is best from the evidence before them and it is their job to make a decision. There are concerns about disparity in sentencing from one area of the country to another where the evidence appears to be the same, I will not highlight such cases but the fact that there will be education and ongoing training for the Judiciary will hopefully overcome some of that. People will meet to discuss the issues. As we know, the formal conference is one thing; but the informal conference where we have an opportunity to discuss issues of concern will improve public confidence in consistency of sentencing between areas for the same crime with the same evidence.

I will not go into detail, but the measures to improve efficiency in the courts with the improvement of facilities and functions of the Master of the High Court and the county registrars are to be welcomed. This a simple but productive way of overcoming delays and improving efficiency in this area.

I never understood why people had an automatic right of transfer to a Dublin court. I can see reasons why it would have to be the case and why it should be the case where, for example, it was felt by the court that a person would not get a fair trial in a community because of the high profile of the case, or for other reasons. There is sometimes a good reason for it, but it is neither correct nor necessary to have a blanket right which has increased the level of costs to the State as well as to witnesses.

For some time there was a long discussion about the opportunity for solicitors to become judges and I welcome the fact that it has happened. It is well overdue. I will not debate with Senator Mulcahy whether four years in and out of court is the same as being in court for that time. However, it is an effective way of doing it.

I question the fact that judges have to retire at 70. Perhaps the Minister might comment on why, like most people, they do not retire at 65 years. People receive retirement pensions at 65 years and old age pensions at 66 years.

Except TDs, Senators and Ministers.

They often retire much earlier.

Senator O'Kennedy is lucky and he would not want to change that.

I have another 20 years to run.

In most occupations in the public service and private sector the retirement age is 65 years. Why is it 70 years for judges?

I acknowledge that, by and large, the elements of this Bill which have been changed since the 1994 one are improvements on the issues addressed in the previous legislation. Having said that, I express strong reservations on the thinking behind this Bill and the consultations, if such we may call them, that brought about the original proposals in the 1994 Bill now being adopted in this legislation. I hope it is very clear that the views I will express are not partisan.

During the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government I expressed views even more cogently on the hasty, ill-considered tête-á-tête in an airport between two people who decided to demonstrate a degree of concern and awareness which did not exist in previous Governments and to bring about a change without considering the implications. My reservations are even stronger than on the previous occasion as a consequence of the amendments which have been made.

The Minister has acknowledged that the Judiciary and its conduct is exemplary. She said:

I need hardly say that our Judiciary is widely respected for its integrity, fairness and independence. The focus of these measures is, however, on the Government's role in the judicial appointments process.

While it is acknowledged that our Bench is regarded not only at home, but internationally as exemplary in relation to its independence, integrity and fairness, for some reason the Government is following through on what was a bad decision when my party was in Government with the Labour Party. It wants to change what it recognises has produced judges of the highest competence and integrity. That is unacceptable. It is even more unacceptable that the confidentiality surrounding the appointment of judges by Government, which was always a fundamental element, is now not only being breached but is being thrown out the window. It will be impossible to maintain a level of confidentiality in the appointment of judges.

When in Government I was privy, perhaps more than any other Member of the Oireachtas, to the consideration of people for appointment to the High Court, the Supreme Court and other courts. Not once during those years did one word eke out much less leak out about those who submitted their names or about the reasons the Government reached certain decisions. That is a vindication of the present system. Are we now being told — this may be a matter the Government wishes to acknowledge — that Government is the problem? Although the capacity and qualifications of judges are not in doubt, are we now being told the Government wants to demonstrate that it is doing its job fairly? If we want to demonstrate things to the public, we should not interfere with the fundamental independent function of the courts which, under our Constitution, must be seen to operate independently, as they have done consistently — many times to the discomfiture of Government, including those in which I served.

On many occasions judges who may have been supportive, active or involved on a consultancy basis with parties before they were appointed by Government, demonstrated on appointment that the only consideration they applied was independence, integrity and fair play. If that has always been the case and if judges from the Supreme Court in the United States comment so favourably on the pattern and quality of our appointments as distinct from the experience in America, where people are elected, will someone tell my why we are changing a system which is efficient, fair and exemplary? I would like to say in deference to the Judiciary, which has served this country and which has been appointed by various Governments, that this is a retrograde step. While I welcome a number of the improvements, some elements in the Bill will do considerable damage to the independence of the Judiciary and will set up an inevitable conflict between the Executive and the Judiciary.

There will be interview procedures for the appointment of judges. Judges will be interviewed by people who have no competence in the judicial or legal area. At least three members of the board will not have particular experience. I agree that we should broaden the net and that the fundamental consideration is service to the public, not the protection of privilege of the Bar, solicitors and so on. I would endorse that at all times. However, if names are to be submitted to the board, whose composition will include people who have no special qualifications or authority but who appear to have experience relevant to the courts — everything in life is relevant to the courts — how can we expect to be able to maintain confidentiality?

Is it reasonable to expect quality lawyers, solicitors or barristers' junior or senior counsel, to submit their names to a panel in the knowledge that they will be rejected as only one will be recommended? We are told that confidentiality is an important part of this. Any self-respecting lawyer would not want it to be know that, having submitted an application to leave his or her practice to be appointed to the Bench, they have been rejected.

The tight constitutional obligation as regards confidentiality which has existed until now will not be available to protect that applicant. This will guarantee that a number of those who would be suitable will not risk having it known that their names were submitted but they were turned down. How can people be expected to submit to that? How could one expect people of standing and experience to submit themselves to an examination as to their character and suitability? These people are just brought together to sit on this board. Is the Government suggesting that they will have the knowledge, capacity or authority to presume on the character and suitability of applicants for these independent constitutional positions? We must always ensure that we vindicate the constitutional organs of State and, as far as the Oireachtas and the Executive are concerned, the Judiciary is one such important element. If a person is turned down, the implication will be that they lacked suitability of character or qualification. That is a terrible stigma.

I give a general welcome to some of the improvements. However, one provision takes a step which is bound to give rise to a serious clash and cause friction in the administration of justice. The Government retains the right to nominate people to the Bench and it can ignore the opinions of the board. If it can do that why are we requiring a statement to the effect that a particular judge was or was not appointed on the recommendation of the board? Is that not a guarantee of undermining the independence and integrity of the judge who was not appointed on the recommendations of the board? Can anyone who understands even the most basic elements of judicial independence tell me what this nonsense is doing in this legislation?

This is not just my opinion, as somebody who has been practising as a counsel since 1961, has been a senior counsel since 1974 and who has never made an application for judicial appointment. I have the authority of a former Taoiseach, the late John A. Costello, who was an eminent member of the Bar and was the father of the Bar by virtue of status and age. I got to know him personally in my early days at the Bar and he told me that in the first inter-party Government in 1948 the then Tánaiste, Mr. McBride who was also a member of the Bar, suggested that the Government set up a procedure similar to that which is now being proposed almost 50 years later. He suggested that it should consult with the Bar Council and the Incorporated Law Society.

The late Jack Costello told me that when the first appointment came up and these consultations were put in train the lobbying was unprecedented. He said it was disgraceful that professional bodies who had no constitutional function — I am not trying to find a role for the Bar Council here — were used as lobby fodder for judicial appointments. The Government decided that it was not going to proceed further with that nonsense. As John A. Costello put it himself "we will make our own mistakes but at least it will be confidential and our responsibility". I would listen to anyone who could tell me why the most exemplary system in the world is being changed. I realise change is needed in the area of training and so on but that can be done without changing the system of appointments.

I want to make one point about personality. I recall when names were being considered for judicial appointment and I was on the inside track because I knew the people concerned. Equally I was at a disadvantage because I would think in terms of personality, suitability and demeanour. Some of those who I thought might have a gruff nature or a short fuse if appointed to the Bench turned out to be most patient, considerate and determined to vindicate the rights of the citizen, which is the most important objective. They were shining examples. I do not want to name people but there was one person in particular who is not now on the Bench but who was held as an example. Everybody used to laugh and say he was not the same person you would meet on the golf course where he had a very short fuse.

We are introducing a subjective element which is to be disclosed publicly. That will be a bad day for the independence of the Judiciary, and that is my main concern. I have no problem with some of the improvements being introduced in other areas. However, I will pose one question to the Government. If it is so necessary to have all of these procedures and interviews in the future to guarantee integrity, why were some significant — in terms of political affiliation — appointments made recently? I do not say this was wrong but at least two of the people involved had close political affiliations. What was the rush to have them appointed before this legislation was enacted? The Government must answer that question for itself. If all these procedures are so necessary and desirable why rush the appointments of people who did not just have political association but more direct political involvement than I ever experienced.

I see no reason for making a distinction between district judges and other judges in terms of age. The practice is that district judges can apply from year to year for an extension between the ages of 65 and 70. I cannot see why we should discriminate between men or women on the District Court Bench and those on the other benches. What consultation did the Minister have with district judges or their representatives about the proposed changes to procedures, sessions and other arrangements?

I want to mention citizens' rights and escalating costs. If one goes down to the Law Library today, one will find insurance companies which cannot do enough to settle cases because they want to clear their books before the end of the year. That is their fundamental concern. There is one huge element in insurance and legal costs. A serious injury may make a person disabled to the extent that he or she will never work again. If this happens to a person in gainful employment at 25 or 30 years of age, one is looking at a huge actuarial calculation, and that is the basis of the awards which people see as excessive — figures that can turn out to be £1 million or more. We should tell the insurance companies — it is up to us to ensure it is done — that the proper way to approach those is to recommend a lump sum for past and future pain and suffering but that an annuity be paid for loss of earnings, so that if the unfortunate person dies as a consequence of the serious injury, that annuity dies with the person.

In some cases the person who was responsible for the accident was the next of kin and the person who was injured dies within two years, as sometimes happens with very serious injuries, having received a huge award. The anomaly now exists that the very person who was responsible for the accident gets the benefit of the award to the injured party. That could be avoided and major costs could be reduced if an annuity system, which for some reason or another the insurance companies do not want to contemplate, was introduced.

We will speak about many things in the course of Committee Stage, but I have a very deep reservation about interference with the independence of the Judiciary. I have seen the consequences of that independence in a way that made life a bit uncomfortable for me as Minister for Finance, Minister for Agriculture and in other Departments. However, that is not their concern. Their concern is to vindicate the right of the citizen, irrespective of how uncomfortable that is for the Government. I am afraid that this Bill, which was cobbled together at some airport chat, will have the consequence of seriously undermining the independence of the Judiciary.

Debate in this House and in the other House has been constructive and timely because the nature of law has changed so dramatically over the last number of years, even since I qualified. It is more complicated than ever. New forms and procedures are being introduced and it is a very difficult, changing area that warrants attention. That is why this Bill is overdue.

There has been an increase in traffic accidents in the last number of years. More people nowadays have access to the courts through the legal aid system, and that is welcome. Irish people are becoming more litigious day by day; more aware of their rights under the law and more willing to take claims before the courts. There has been a huge increase in the nature of family law cases which have taken up increasing amounts of time for individual judges at District and Circuit Court levels, as well as an increase in cases arising from European law. All of that has added to an overburdened judicial system which needed to be rectified in some shape or form. In 1983, 620 applications were made to the Circuit Court, whereas in 1993 that number had jumped to 2,000. That shows the huge increase in numbers coming before our courts and why reform is necessary.

Certain aspects of the courts system are problematic. One is the delay suffered by applicants in bringing their cases before courts. There is overburdening by virtue of the historical rules which apply and the fact that so many minor matters must be brought before High Court judges. There is a seeming lack of co-ordination in terms of policy and administration between individual judges at various levels. These are some of the obvious problems being tackled in an immediate way by this Bill.

At the same time I welcome the long term approach taken by the appointment of the working group chaired by Mrs. Justice Susan Denham. That commission will be given the time to study the more detailed problems of the court system and hopefully come up with further reforms. Meanwhile, this Bill achieves some very worthy reforms.

First, with regard to judicial appointments, Senator O'Kennedy's point seemed to infer generally — I do not wish to misquote him — that if something is not broken, it should not be fixed and that the judicial appointments system should therefore be left alone. I do not necessarily agree with this. While our judicial appointments have in the past on balance served us very well, I listened to the statements of a retired judge during the divorce referendum debate and I felt they were not correct in terms of law, never mind attitude, and that caused me concern; so there could be exceptions to our judicial system having worked so excellently in the past.

We must ensure that there is a proper system for appointment of judges, not a system that happens behind closed doors, which we hear about when somebody has been appointed. It should not be just as simple as that; some system was required and this Bill answers that. The appointment of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board is therefore, in my opinion, a good idea. Article 35 of our Constitution requires the Government to advise the President on appointments. A Government decision or input to the decision is required under our Constitution and that is not to be thrown away. The advisory board, therefore, seems to achieve some balance between the obligations of Government to take part in that decision making process and their obligation at the same time to be transparent and open.

Section 13 proposes that the Minister would nominate three persons to that board. It states in the legislation that they should have appropriate knowledge or experience in the legal areas and it allows for a three year renewable term, which is a good idea. However, I would like to know more about what is intended by those three appointments and who they are to be. The bodies from which they may be chosen should be elaborated more. I am not happy with that.

I also wish to raise a query on section 18, where it says that the Attorney General may be appointed to this board. There is something of a conflict there. I would have thought that he would advise the Government in making their decision and would therefore not advise the advisory board itself in making its nominations. That does not make sense. Furthermore, there is a conflict of interest, because many Attorneys General seek appointment themselves to a judicial post; and while there is a provision that the Attorney General may then step down while that decision is being made, I question whether that is workable. There should be no automatic appointment or entitlement to a judicial post. The fact that the Attorney General is sitting on the board may disrupt that, and I am not happy with this.

Section 16 recommends that at least seven people be nominated by the board and that is acceptable. That gives a choice to the Government that was not available under previous forms of this Bill and it is a fair number. Some people have referred to the fact that judicial appointments should be made on the basis of a seven year term as in the public service. That would of course ensure a turnover of judges, but I have considered the matter and I would not be in favour of it as it would dissuade practising lawyers from applying simply because if they are now 55 or 60, they know that a term of seven years will not give them enough years in gainful employment. Practitioners will be forced to wait until they are 63 years of age before applying to the board. This will place them near the maximum retirement age, if appointments are made on a seven year basis. I am not happy with that.

Reference has been made to interviews, applications and confidentiality. I see no difficulty arising in this regard. Section 20 guarantees confidentiality which, I presume, must apply to all applications before the board. This is a requisite provision and is of paramount importance. It is not politic that someone in the legal profession is known to have applied for a judicial post. Such information, in relation to the numbers and identities of those that have applied for consideration, is not made public under the present system. The Bill adequately covers the possible disclosure of information and requires that the individual members of the board maintain confidentiality in relation to the nature and sources of applications before it. This is adequately enshrined in the Bill.

I welcome the provision in the Bill relating to judicial training. Members will be aware that I have requested such a provision on several occasions. It is long overdue, particularly when the area of family law is considered. Much new legislation has been introduced in this area in recent years with which judges may not be properly familiar. It is imperative that some access to training be provided for judges in general. The Bill deals with this matter in a good way and does not force people to undergo training prior to their submitting an application for appointment. The requirement that they undergo such training on appointment is the best way to tackle the problem. This is a necessary development because people involved in the legal profession will not bring specific cases before particular judges. The attitude of those judges to certain cases is known in advance. Many people withhold on settling cases until it is known whether a particular judge will sit. This must be avoided. I welcome the provision for judicial training if it will help to bring about uniformity of attitude to various types of cases and some kind of parity in relation to sentencing.

Much work is required in relation to the efficiency of our courts. This Bill tackles the problem in several instances. The Master of the High Court has been given increased jurisdiction to deal with applications which go before High Court judges at present. That is an excellent idea because his role has been under-utilised in the past.

There is no reason pre-trial issues cannot be placed before the Master of the High Court for decision. This would save the energy and time of High Court judges to give proper consideration to actual trials and the issues which come before them in this regard. This will result in better judgments because judges will be afforded more time to concentrate on the net issues involved and will not be sidelined by other considerations. It is a good idea that motions for discovery, and other basic motions, can be brought before the Master. In her reply, could the Minster clarify whether the decision of the Master of the High Court can be subsequent to the High Court itself? I also welcome the provision that several matters can now be dealt with by the county registrar at Circuit Court level.

It is also good that criminal proceedings can be dealt with at a local jurisdiction and will not be automatically transferred to Dublin. I come from rural Ireland and I believe that justice is best served at local level. People from rural areas should not be obliged to travel to Dublin to obtain justice. They are obliged to travel enough already. It is necessary to have the essential service of a local court available for the individual as part and parcel of our access to justice and the law.

The increased powers granted to the Taxing Master are also welcome and long overdue. Queries often arise with regard to the amount of fees submitted when a case is finalised. It is most important that this issue be dealt with in a practical way and the Bill does just that. I also welcome the provision that the criminal appeals court will be abolished when the Supreme Court has cleared its backlog of civil cases. In that context the Bill has achieved many practical results in tackling the various inefficiencies which existed in the past.

However, there are several areas which still need attention. The first is the fees paid to professional witnesses. I believe that much abuse takes place in this area. Charges for medical reports are often excessive, in the region of £120 in some cases, and at times I have queried whether the person involved has been effectively examined. This issue troubles me, particularly when subsequent reports are required prior to trial. An individual may require reports from several different experts on the condition of their eyes or heart, for example. This increases costs to a large degree and adds to the total bill. The introduction of a system requiring the sharing of medical evidence at the pre-trial stage would be welcome. I do not know if that matter has been adequately dealt with in the Bill.

There is also an excessive incurrence of costs when expert witnesses are placed on standby for court hearings. When the High Court sits in Dundalk or Monaghan several witnesses are placed on standby. These people are paid to make themselves available to the court while carrying out a normal day's work. A system is needed to determine the dates when a court will come to trial. This would mean that the expert witnesses — the numbers of whom should be limited — will be present when required. The Bill could have done more in this regard. Senator O'Kennedy's remarks regarding an annuity system are welcome. I believe this warrants further consideration by the Government in relation to the Bill.

I welcome section 30 of the Bill which deals with eligibility of solicitors for appointment as court judges. The provision that they will be deemed eligible for appointment to the superior courts following four years of practice as a Circuit Court judge seems fair. I feel very strongly about this issue. There is no logical justification for the exclusion of 80 per cent of the profession from being available for appointment as judges. They need not necessarily be appointed but they should not be excluded from the process by virtue of the fact that they specialise in one branch of the profession. This is a relic of history which should have been abolished before now.

There is a public misconception that it is easier to become a solicitor and then a barrister. That is nonsense and needs to be addressed. When I studied law it was easier to qualify as a barrister, in terms of academic qualifications, at the King's Inns than it was to qualify for entry to the Law Society. Following that, I discovered that solicitors were required to complete three years training while barristers only completed two. That misconception should be knocked on the head. Barristers are not a superior branch of the profession. Their work tends to deal more with the area of advocacy. Other than that no real distinction exists.

I am glad that the bar on the eligibility of solicitors has been removed because such action is long overdue. Some barristers are reluctant to accept the possibility that solicitors may be appointed as judges. From experience, I am aware of several solicitors who are excellent advocates in our local courts; this is not the case with several of our barristers. Therefore, it is not correct to assume that a solicitor cannot do the job as well, if not better, than several barristers because he or she does not spend every hour of the day sitting in court. That misconception needs to be knocked on the head.

On a related point — perhaps I am getting rid of some of my pet hates here — many solicitors spend their time putting the case together and the barrister then appears as the mouthpiece in court on the day. Without doing damage to or slurring the barrister profession — and I do not intend to do that — I often feel solicitors are more au fait with the details, the facts, their client and their client's needs and it is only right that, as they have been involved in the preparation stage, they should follow the case and continue it in court.

The retirement age of judges should be uniform. I do not agree that a district judge must retire at 65 years of age and come back each year to have his compos mentis examined. That is not fair. If that is proper, it should also apply to judges in the superior courts who fall asleep in court. The same rule should apply to all. Perhaps retirement age should be reduced to 65 years of age and 70 years of age for appointments to the Supreme Court, which would allow time for promotion to that court.

The pomp and ceremony of barristers' wigs is an accident of history. The trappings of office only serve the egos of barristers and assist them in acquiring superiority complexes and do not necessarily serve the delivery of justice. I welcome their abolition. In my opinion all barristers should only be required to wear a simple black gown as in the European Court of Justice.

The condition of courthouses warrants a mention and the fact that so many people must work under such dire outmoded conditions warrants some mention. The lack of consultation rooms is a problem daily in my local courthouse in Castleblaney.

The Judiciary is respected and has done a good job in the past and this Bill will facilitate it in doing an excellent job in future.

I welcome the Bill. It is splendid that so many changes are being made in the courts at this time which cannot but be to the advantage of those who work there and those who come before the courts. The maxim that justice delayed is justice denied has been only too true, unfortunately, and it is good to see the lack of judges and proper accommodation being addressed now.

It is always regrettable if there is a delay in any case coming before the courts but I want to address delays in family law cases as these are particularly important. As we know, there are long delays in dealing with judicial separation cases and great distress can be caused to the separating parties. These delays can also affect the children because the completion of any arrangements the parents may be seeking between themselves regarding their children can lead only to a disimprovement in the situation.

During the divorce referendum we spoke at great length about whether it was the breakdown of marriage or divorce which caused problems for children within the family. In general, it was agreed that the breakdown of marriage is the main cause of problems for children and that the more urgently, compassionately and carefully this can be dealt with, while taking the children's views into consideration, the better for the children. I feel the changes being made in the Bill will be particularly important in these cases.

In general, judicial separation cases come before the Circuit Court. Only the more complicated cases, or those which involve a great deal of property or money, come before the High Court. It is good to see such attention being paid to the lower courts because it is there that many of these tragic cases must be heard.

The improvements in the District Court are also important because not many people understand that a large number of extraordinarily important family law cases are heard there. Barring orders, maintenance orders and orders relating to the custody of children can be taken there. It is hard to think of cases which could be more important on a personal basis than such cases. It is regrettable that since the District Court is working at the coalface, they are often dealt with in a summary way so there are no pleadings before the hearing and clients come into court with no real notion of what may be alleged against them.

Facilities are poor and an enormous number of courts have no facilities for any form of consultation outside the courtroom. Any further conciliation or mediation which might be able to take place, even on the steps of the court, are hindered seriously by this. It is important to realise that in most family law cases the parties do not arrive on the steps of the court without some efforts having been made to bring them together through marriage guidance counselling, conciliation or mediation. In fact, in a large number of cases, what gets to the court is the tip of the iceberg. When all else has failed, the court is the remedy. It is extraordinarily important that we try to improve courthouse facilities as quickly as possible because it is ridiculous to see the opposing parties in a separation, barring order, maintenance case or, worse still, a case involving the custody of children, trying to confer with their solicitors on different sides of a door outside the courtroom. I urge the Minister to ensure money is spent on improving courtrooms.

These are serious matters which must be addressed with great speed in the interests, say, of the safety of one of the spouses in the home or, perhaps, of children. This means there is a great pressure of work on those courts. Huge numbers of cases are dealt with and better facilities are required urgently.

The recent divorce referendum may have made us look more closely at the importance of this type of case. I was taken particularly with what Judge Catherine McGuinness, who has such experience in this field, said before the referendum. She thought that everyone who had been in the vicinity of the courts would vote "yes" because they would see there is an irretrieveability in some marriages and nothing can be done except to try to settle them legally as amicably as possible in the best interest of the partners involved, their children and the extended family.

This brought to mind the reporting of family law cases so that the general public could get, at least, some notion of what is going on in the courts. This is important because we have no idea of the huge volume and type of work going through the courts. Sometimes we have a simplistic notion that it is all to do with drink and violence and that if people would just go back home and behave themselves, all would be all right. In Nell McCafferty's article in The Sunday Tribune of 10 December 1995, an unnamed barrister said:

Marital breakdown affects all of society. People on both sides of the debate were presenting it as a simple matter of sticking together or separating amicably. They think it's all to do with violence and drink. That's the least of the problems. You get spouses protesting in court that they've never put a foot wrong, always shared the money and the care of the children, and they cannot understand that their partners longed for a conversation, a night out. There are tensions about elderly parents, about the children themselves.... One session in the Family Law court would teach you all you need to know about the pitfalls of marriage and how to keep one together. Then the next day you learn something new again. If the proceedings were reported, it would frighten the life out of people contemplating marriage and make them take it more seriously.

While I am not recommending that engaged couples should be forced to go to family law courts for a few days, we should take this matter seriously. Somebody not involved in these courts would have no notion of what is happening and of the terrible human tragedies enacted there. I have been involved from a medical point of view, as have Senator Gallagher and Senator Enright from a legal point of view. While I wish the Irish football team well, there will be tensions felt in some homes this Christmas by spending money on travelling to England for the match rather than on presents. There are many underlying matters, even in the most loving relationships between a man and a woman, that have often impacted seriously on marriages and it would be good to know more about this.

It may be a good idea to inform clients, who may not realise they have redress under the law, that they could put their case to the family law courts. For example, we could start a campaign for women trying to get a share of their family income if people realised how many women in the home got little of it. Perhaps we may be able to urge the Minister for Social Welfare to ensure the family income supplement was paid to whoever was caring for the children. These issues would be better addressed if we had any idea of how matters like money, for example, impacted on family law cases. I would very much like to see a better understanding of what is happening. Maybe we feel those coming before the courts are being dealt with in a proper manner.

Ms McCafferty quoted another judge — I am sure it was a long time ago — who advised the couple before him to go home, have a steak dinner, buy a bottle of wine and a bunch of flowers and kiss and make up.

He is still around.

They were standing there in bits with daggers drawn. That was the sort of advice which was being given and it is not satisfactory in many cases.

Restrictions on reporting of family law cases are severe. There are, of course, good reasons for this. Clients do not want to see their names and details of their case in the newspapers. These are emotional and personal cases. Some of these cases have sexual overtones which would give the greatest delight to the tabloids. However, it must be possible for us to somehow get legal reports from these courts which could show us what is happening there. I do not want to hear the details of every case but only to get an idea of their volume and the spheres they cover.

Nell McCafferty used to write reports about a series of cases under the heading "In the Eyes of the Law". She may forgive me for saying that we do not want reports as chatty as that, but I never heard one complaint from anyone about being identified. She compiled these reports with great care and they were useful and influential. Many suburban people who read those reports did not realise that cases such as these were happening in suburbia. Was she restricted in her reporting because the courts were embarrassed at what she was disclosing about the way in which many of these cases were handled? We need to get bone fide journalists who can be relied upon to report these courts in a responsible manner. I do not think a pool system would do; people with a genuine interest in these sort of cases and who can bring these reports before the public should be involved.

We have no idea of the judges' views in family law cases. Are these cases being dealt with properly? In one family law case the judge in question quoted canon law as having been important in his judgment. I am not sure if that is often used in court judgments, but it would be useful to know if it was, or if this was an exceptional case.

The Minister has been wise in insisting that judges who take up positions will agree from now on to go on training courses. Judges may have a background in the family law area as a barrister or a solicitor, but then again they may not. However, they will still have to start by learning on the hoof, which is not a desirable way for anyone to learn about such an important job.

Before the 1980s sexual abuse was hardly spoken about in this country, let alone in the courts, yet a group of elderly men were expected to give judgments on these cases without any previous training and with little backup at the time by way of reports from social workers, etc. We have had to do an enormous amount of work in this area in the last 15 years and the judges have been obliged to do it on their own. They have had to look at new and complicated areas with little training. They had little back up in many cases.

Probation officers working with the courts are saying they cannot deal with the volume of cases coming before the family law courts. They are asking for better facilities and expect to deal with a lesser number of cases so they can do them adequately. The Minister should look at this area carefully, because to see this most committed group of people proposing to take action on limiting the number of cases with which they will deal must be a cause of concern for all of us.

While the lack of facilities are being addressed, I am also concerned with the District Courts. Senator Gallagher said that District Court judges have to retire at 65 years of age and are considered by the Minister as to their suitability on a year by year basis after that. In the history of the State, only one District Court judge was considered unfit to continue in that capacity.

Maybe some of the examination was not too thorough.

I will bow to Senator Manning's knowledge on that matter. There seems to be no reason why District Court judges could not retire at the same age as High Court and Supreme Court judges. The idea that the stress of their work wears them out earlier than their counterparts is the best argument I can think of for allowing this, but otherwise I cannot see where there should be any problems.

Some of the suggested changes regarding District Courts makes me wonder if the Minister intends to change their boundaries. The Minister will be able to appoint further District Court justices to areas other than the metropolitan area, which may allow District Courts to be split between two judges. Is this what is proposed to happen, or will these areas be divided in two?

All judges organise their affairs as they see fit in their own District Court, such as sittings of their courts, etc. If a big area was split, will the boundaries be divided between the two judges or how will alternative arrangements be made so they will still have an independent position to deal with their various facilities?

Senator Gallagher also had harsh words to say about professional witnesses.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

Having been one myself, Senator Gallagher was a little unkind when she spoke of professional witnesses because, generally, if one is offered £200 to attend court one might prefer to give £400 to stay away as one puts one's professional reputation, in addition to everything else, on the line. People in court are entitled to be represented by those who have either seen them professionally or have been asked to comment on their cases in a professional manner.

I wish the courts could better organise the times that professional witnesses are to be seen. This is not for the benefit of the professional witness but because clinics may be cancelled — I am aware of this in my own profession — on a Tuesday and again on a Wednesday or Thursday and this is totally unsatisfactory for those involved. Any procedures in the courts which would improve this would be of great help.

The wearing of wigs appears to be an emotive issue. I am not sure from reading the Bill whether people must remove their wigs or put them on if a judge orders them to do so.

When wigs have not been worn for some time, people will wonder why they ever wore them; I know they are not worn in many courts during the summer. While we cannot expect all future Speakers in the House of Commons to have the same flowing locks as Betty Boothroyd, will they wear wigs? Having looked at Betty Boothroyd they may not, because she appears to be totally in control of the House of Commons, wig or no wig.

I welcome the Bill. The fact that the courts should no longer have such serious delays, that accommodation is to be improved and that judges are to have training, which I am sure they will welcome, are most important factors. I also welcome the fact that solicitors will be allowed to serve as judges.

Will the Minister consider the reporting of family law cases in the media? This should be done without intruding on the rights of those who are before the courts and in great distress and for the benefit of others who may be in such a situation, and to make members of the public realise, first, what serious problems we have regarding the family and second, that all is not as smooth and glowing as some people make it appear. In addition, the public would like to be assured that justice is meted out in family law cases as we would like.

I take it from Senator Henry's remarks that she will not be proposing to change the procedures of this House where you, a Chathaoirligh, will appear wearing a wig and a gown.

You never know what may happen.

I welcome this Bill. It is one of the most important reforming pieces of legislation for many years; it is one of the first attempts at not quite a root and branch reform, but certainly a major and radical reform of the judicial system, and it is long overdue. At present the judicial system is creaking under the weight of the burden it has to carry. There has been an enormous increase in the amount of litigation in recent years, and there has been no commensurate increase in the resources, the numbers and the facilities available to the judicial system. The Bill represents a radical attempt to strengthen the structure of the judicial system. It also addresses a number of issues which have been covered by other speakers and to which I will refer.

It is very important that we recognise that we have, over the 70 years of independence, established beyond any doubt the utter independence and incorruptibility of our judicial system. It is one of the most important parts of a healthy democracy and it is, perhaps, something we take for granted. To my knowledge, there has never been a case where the integrity of any judge was called into question. There has never been a question of a judge being bribed or approached, and anybody who may be thinking in these terms would know at the outset that to attempt to influence or bribe a member of the Judiciary is something which would stop at the first hurdle. It has never happened, but it is important that we state this because there are many other democracies, and good democracies, where the Judiciary does not have this sense of untouchability and integrity.

There is also the question of the independence of the Judiciary. With the growth of judicial review we have seen that the courts have not been afraid to interpret the Constitution as they think it should be interpreted, come what may, whether it is to the discomfort of the Government of the day. This has happened on many occasions, such as when the Supreme Court decided on equal taxation, the contraceptive case, the McGee case and the Single European Act, when the court, wrongly in my view, came to a conclusion that it meant we had to have a referendum to have it clarified and when it decided, during the last referendum, that the Government was not behaving constitutionally.

In all of these cases the courts have shown their utter independence. They have interpreted the law and the Constitution as they believed they should. We should, therefore, recognise that we have something here which is at the foundation of a free, open and democratic system.

We have also seen situations where the courts have not responded over the years, or have not been allowed respond. The most important factor here has been the increase in the amount of litigation which confronts the courts at all sides. They have not been in a position to cope with this. Senator Henry and others spoke of the question of justice delayed and of people who have to wait years to get into court, especially in family law cases where enormous suffering and hurt can continue to be inflicted while the parties wait to have their situation resolved.

To put some facts into the debate, my friend and former Member of the House, David Molony, who is President of the County of Tipperary and Offaly Division of the Bar Association, gave me some figures for the period 1991-95 to illustrate the extent to which the Circuit Court is now groaning under a weight of work with which it cannot cope. In 1991, there were 94 criminal appeals pending in the Circuit Court in County Tipperary; there are 329 criminal appeals pending this year. In 1991 there were 15 civil appeals; today there are 79 such appeals pending. There were ten indictible crimes pending in 1991; there are 16 today. There were 147 civil actions in 1991; there are 692 civil actions pending in County Tipperary today. There were 19 family law matters in 1991; today there are 69. That gives an indication of the amount of work over a four year period for one Circuit Court, and that court is probably typical. In addition, there are other matters dealt with by the Circuit Court, including motions and applications, which are also a multiple of what they were in 1991.

In County Tipperary there is the same number of staff to deal with the work in the Circuit Court office now as there was in 1991 to deal with a smaller load, although even then it was probably a large burden. This means that the situation is near breaking point. Even after this Bill is passed and the number of Circuit Court judges is increased it will still only begin to tackle the problem. The delays will be a feature of our legal system for a long time to come. It now takes several years before a civil action will come to court. That is totally unsatisfactory. In many situations this creates injustice and undermines the judicial system.

That is the situation in the civil courts. I can speak more directly, perhaps, about family law courts, about which Senator Henry spoke so knowledgeably. My wife is a family lawyer so I know from daily conversations about the enormous delays in family law, especially in country areas, where the courts simply are not geared either to hear family law cases frequently or to deal with them expeditiously and where such cases are heard in unsuitable surroundings.

There has been an enormous improvement in the quality of the judges dealing with family law in recent years. A couple of decades ago, perhaps even more recently, family law was an area to which a judge who was regarded as something of a dud elsewhere in the system was shunted. Many of them were not suitable psychologically and in terms of their training and personality to deal with family law cases. They did not have the background, the legal knowledge, the sensitivity or the sociological awareness to deal with such cases.

I have no doubt that the quality of judges hearing family law cases today has increased enormously. Judge Catherine McGuinness was cited as an example by Senator Henry of the extremely high calibre of the judges who now handle family law cases. Nevertheless, however good our judges are — and they are good — the number of judges is far too small and the courtrooms and back-up systems are utterly inadequate. This means that many cases drag on and on. Children suffer and spouses have to exist under threats of various kinds — certainly psychological and sometimes physical — because of the absence of a proper system which should be able to deal expeditiously and humanely with these problems. There is no doubt that when the divorce courts are set up the number of cases will increase, certainly in the short term and probably over the years. However, there is not much point in having a divorce system if the underlying judicial system is not able to cope.

There is a message coming from both the Seanad and the Dáil that the huge improvement in the number of judges which this Bill makes possible is still not enough. There is a need for a further extension of the entire judicial system at all levels. This is not something for which we should have to apologise. The simple fact is that people are voting with their feet by entering into litigation much more easily and freely than they did in the past. That is the nature of our society at present and if that is so there is an obligation on the State to provide the framework within which people can resolve their differences in a speedy and humane way.

Senator O'Kennedy was very critical of what is being proposed and he spoke with authority on the views of great lawyers of the past, such as John A. Costello and others. After much thought on this matter, I find that I disagree profoundly with Senator O'Kennedy. There is nothing wrong with a system of appointing judges which is open and transparent and in which there are acceptable standards and proper procedures and criteria for such appointments. I have no doubt that Attorneys General and Governments over the years have behaved scrupulously and have insisted on certain criteria being followed and so forth in the appointment of judges. However, there is a sense of an almost masonic conspiracy surrounding the appointment of judges. There is a sense of some sort of conspiracy between the Law Library and members of the Law Library who happen to find their way into politics. It is seen as an insiders' world; outsiders are not supposed to ask questions about it or to intrude, whether they be politicians or taxpayers or people who use the courts.

This legislation — and I pay tribute to the integrity and independence of the courts — is simply saying to the legal system: "You must abide by the same standards as any other professional body". Why should positions not be advertised? Why should people not have to provide references? Why should outside views not be taken as to the suitability of a person for judicial office? Why should there not be interviews? Why should the full range of a person's education, background and past experience not be taken into account in a structured way when a person is applying for one of the highest positions in the land, which carries enormous power and responsibility and where the person so appointed is really accountable to nobody once the appointment has been made? A positive and good principle is being established in this legislation whereby these criteria will apply.

I also agree with Senator Henry that once a person is appointed a judge it should not mean the end of the road for that person as far as training, learning and re-equipping themselves to keep up to date with developments in their particular area are concerned. Retraining applies to all professions. Doctors are expected to keep abreast of recent developments and there is nothing wrong with asking judges to do likewise. I am aware that many judges do so; they attend seminars and are interested in the development of the law. However, there is nothing wrong with asking them to do that. In that sense the Bill establishes an important principle.

Senator Henry, in an interesting contribution, referred to the lack of knowledge which most people have of what actually happens in the courts. That is a valid point. Generally, all people are in awe of the court and are scared away. Often the reporting and the business is conducted in an arcane language. However, people are entitled to know exactly what is happening in the courts and about the procedures and the value systems in operation there. They should be open to the same public scrutiny as are this House, Members of the Oireachtas and members of Government.

It is not a function of the Bill, but Senator Henry made the point that the media might look at ways in which the workings of the courts and the business they do can be reported in a way which enlightens the public. She referred in particular to family law. If the public knew, without names being mentioned, about the nature and details of some of the cases which are dealt with daily in the family law courts, it would be much more aware of the nature of our society and the problems which the divorce referendum, for example, and the legislation which has gone through the Oireachtas over the last seven or eight years are trying to cope with. There is no point in fooling ourselves about the nature of our society. It is important that the truth of what happens is known without pandering to any unhealthy instincts.

Senator O'Kennedy referred to the possibility of annuities, or structured settlements, becoming more frequent in court cases. Lump sums awarded to people who suffer horrific injuries and will be invalids for life may be dissipated by relatives and others. I have long felt that structured settlements, or annuities, should take the place of lump sums. These would make it possible to plan for the future and to ensure lifetime care for the people involved. I do not know if this issue is relevant to the Bill, but elements of the Judiciary are sympathetic towards it and it should be studied further.

I welcome the Bill, the principles it represents and the extension of the judicial apparatus for which it provides. It does not go far enough, but it is a step in the right direction. I welcome wholeheartedly the new system of judicial appointments which will remove any sense of political influence or motives which are deemed not to be above board, no matter how unfair this may be, from the appointment of judges. I am not making any disparaging references to judges who have been appointed under the old system. I look forward to the enactment of the Bill in the near future.

In the notice sent to us by the Leader there was a misprint in the title of the Bill. This might be slightly Freudian because the Bill could probably be entitled "The Whelehan Bill" or "The Baldonnel Bill Mark Two".

Senator Manning said the Bill is important and radical. I agree it is important, but I do not know if it is as radical as he believes. This Bill is the result of a fit of pique by the Tánaiste with regard to the appointment of the President of the High Court, the debacle surrounding the appointment, the assertion by the Labour Party, particularly the Tánaiste, that one candidate was unsuitable and his threat to pull out of Government. There has been a great deal of comment about how the Judiciary is respected and Senator Manning referred to its independence. The manner in which this candidate was treated by the Labour Party brought respect for the Judiciary into disrepute and this should not have been allowed to happen.

To add insult to injury, the bandying about of names of nominees for judicial appointment did a great deal of disservice to even one of the people suggested by the Labour Party for the position. This was not the way the Judiciary deserved to be treated and the treatment of the candidate for the post was wrong and grossly unfair to his family. To claim somebody is unsuitable for a job and not to back this up other than by saying that person is too conservative is unacceptable to the general public.

The Bill provides for an increase in the number of judges. This is welcome and nobody in this or the other House would disagree. However, this in itself will not put an end to the problem of waiting lists to which Senator Manning and Senator Henry referred. Senator Manning gave figures for Tipperary which emphasise the increase in the number of cases being brought. There is a minimum waiting list for civil cases of two years in the Circuit Court and three years in the High Court. It has been repeatedly said by Members and by the Minister that justice delayed is justice denied. Unfortunately, there are no facilities in the Four Courts to accommodate the additional appointments. The appointment of 18 or 19 additional judges is welcome and necessary but is only window dressing if there is no bench on which they can sit.

New accommodation can be rented or built.

The Government is refusing to build prisons, but may be it will build courts. I do not think it can do so; my understanding is that it has to wait for the working group on a courts commission to advise it. How can a backlog of cases be tackled without a premises in which the newly appointed judges can work?

The Bill provides for the establishment of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board to advise the Government on the suitability of persons for judicial appointment. In the Dáil on 28 November Deputy O'Donoghue stated:

The composition of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board has been radically altered, under the 1995 Bill, compared with the 1994 Bill. It is no longer deemed appropriate that the Chairman of the Law Reform Commission should serve as a member of the board; instead, the Minister has proposed the appointment of the Attorney General, the first law officer in the land and the law officer to the Government. That does not say much for the Government's impartiality and the Minister owes the House [and this House] and explanation in this respect...

In perusing the proposed membership of the board my scepticism is, to say the least, enhanced by the Minister's proposal to appoint up to three persons whose qualifications are not specified. There is no reason given for their appointment and it must be assumed that the Minister intends to appoint three politically partial or favourable individuals to ensure the Government has a representation of 40 per cent on the board. The original Bill scrupulously avoided any political interference in its proposals.

Senator Manning should not beat his breast about how politically correct he is with regard to the Bill.

The Senator should not apply her own standards to everybody else.

Senator Manning repeatedly stated that there would be no political interference. The proposed composition of the advisory group does not support his assertion.

I never said that, but there will not be political interference.

The Bill provides for the allocation of funding for judicial training and I greatly welcome this. I particularly welcome that a person, prior to being appointed a judge, must agree to undergo training. This is enlightened.

I also welcome the provision to allow for the appointment of solicitors to the Circuit Court. However, I share Senator Gallagher's reservation that at least 80 per cent of solicitors have little hope of ever being appointed to a higher court and I do not see any reason for their exclusion. I concur with her view that solicitors represent their clients extremely well. Clients often feel — perhaps unjustly — that when they go to court their barristers do not fully take on board the cases they make in great detail over a long period to their solicitors. I support extending the right of solicitors to be appointed to higher courts.

I referred to the composition of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. I agree with Senator Manning about the independence and integrity of the Judiciary. We have an extremely good and courageous Judiciary. Mr. Justice Carney made similar comments last week. Shortly after my appointment to the Seanad we had a discussion on the Order of Business about judges who are inconsistent as regards sentencing. We have an independent Judiciary, but it is fallible like other trades and professions which make mistakes.

Senator Manning made a point about politicising appointments, but he said he was not referring to previous appointments. If this legislation is supposed to address impartial appointments, why did the Government not have a problem when the Minister for Justice recently made appointments to the Bench? If it wants to ensure that this independent body looks after such matters, why did it not wait until this legislation was put in place?

There will be no courts commission under this legislation, but the Minister has set up a working group. This reminds me of talks about talks. Government approval was obtained last summer to set up a working group on the courts commission. That group will be chaired by Mrs. Justice Susan Denham of the Supreme Court. This is not the first time her name has been mentioned in relation to this legislation. I am not sure if one can purchase or rent premises without waiting for the working group's recommendations.

A Four Courts committee has been in place for a number of years. I was appointed to it, but I did not have time to participate on a frequent basis. It is composed of a number of distinguished members of the Judiciary and other bodies. I know from the reports I receive that it has been examining the delays in the courts system for over 12 months and it has prepared recommendations for the Minister. If the Minister is aware of the work of this committee, which is directly answerable to her, is it not duplication to set up an additional courts commission? We want action, not additional commissions or committees of inquiry.

Over the years the media's attention was drawn to wigs in court and Deputy O'Dea spoke about this on the airwaves on many occasions. Although this is a minor issue, it is important. I do not agree with Senator Mulcahy's defence of wearing wigs. It is snobbery. I do not know if they ever had a function other than to single out a particular elite group from the common herd. I am delighted they will no longer be allowed in court. I support Senator Gallagher's call for a review of such apparel and her suggestion that barristers should only wear a gown. I am not sure if the legislation should have also addressed wigs for judges.

I welcome judicial training. Section 49 enables the Minister to provide funds for judicial training. Section 19 provides that persons who wish to be considered for judicial appointment by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board must agree to take training courses if appointed. Perhaps we should do more than just allow the Minister to provide funds. We must ensure that funds are readily available and that they are not affected by budgetary constraints.

I welcome the decision about cases being transferred to Dublin. It is an excellent idea not to allow these cases to be transferred. Section 32 provides that an application to transfer the trial to Dublin will only be granted by the court if the judge is satisfied that it would be manifestly unjust not to do so. This has been used as an attempt to slow down the process and to cause additional hardship to the victim of crime.

I will not comment on the extension of additional powers to the Judiciary and the taxing masters because I do not understand them. This legislation is important, but it is not radical. The acid test for this legislation will be if it serves the victims of crime. The 1994 Bill was not perfect; it was rushed because of the Labour Party's insistence that it had to be introduced as a matter of urgency. It has been left aside for 12 months, which suggests it is not as urgent as it was. The Bill could have been law a year ago if the Labour Party had kept its word, which is a moveable feast.

That is a mixed metaphor.

I can cope with that, if the Senator can. I question the sincerity of the Labour Party in this matter. The legislation was left aside for 12 months and appointments were made during that time.

The Senator will never get over what happened 12 months ago in November.

We do not like dishonesty.

The radical legislative reforms the Minister proposed shortly after her appointment, such as reviewing the bail laws, are what the public is looking for. Dealing with delays in the courts system is important to victims of crime, but this is not as radical as Senator Manning suggests.

I do not have a lot to say on this Bill, which I welcome. Most of the main arguments have already been made by other speakers. I am in the happy position as an Independent of not needing to score party political points on this matter. The Bill is useful. The Minister sets out her objectives early on. She lists three, but I list two because the third one, to develop a longer term approach to improving our courts system, is a general catchall. The two fundamentally important ones are to tackle the problem of delays in the courts by providing for more judges and to implement other changes in court administration procedures which will limit delays.

As a frequent litigant myself — I think I must be one of the most litigious persons in the State — I actually enjoy going to court. It is a kind of pastime, a recreation and I find it immensely refreshing. So I speak as a user of these services, and the delays are very aggravating on occasions. I have sometimes had to wait a couple of years to get into court, not just on constitutional matters but on other issues. The delays are quite intolerable as are the conditions in court. Senator McGennis is quite right in making the point about the provision of proper buildings. It is a question of finance. On the one hand you have an Opposition squawking about the Estimates.

You are partisan.

Not at all. I am attacking all parties, which is very non-partisan on my part. You cannot have demands for staying within budgetary lines on the one hand while looking for extra money on the other. In a number of courts the dilapidation is pretty frightful and it does not lend dignity to conducting the business of law.

The delays are problematic. I have suggested that my interest in law is to a certain extent recreational. Though that is a flippant remark there is an element of truth in it, because the court is real living theatre that occurs once and once only. I rather enjoy it, but not everybody takes this approach to the law. People sometimes have severe problems and it can be a very intimidating, unpleasant, costly and painful business. For this reason the Minister was correct when she said that:

Delays in the hearing of family law business in a number of Circuit Court venues lead to a significant human cost not only to the parties involved but also to their families.

That is a very accurate assessment of the human impact of these unacceptable delays.

I welcome the appointment of additional judges to all four courts, which is an important step forward. I also welcome the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, which will help to remove any suggestion or taint of political interference. The administration of justice is an area where we must be assured that there is no political interference whatever. I will resist the temptation to engage in point scoring against my now absent colleague who instanced a number of cases where she felt there had been this kind of interference in the recent past. Certain named persons were held up to obloquy of various kinds.

I put my feelings about that matter on the record at that time, so if anybody is interested they can look up the record of this House. But I do not think it would be appropriate for me to follow in the footsteps of my colleague on this side of the House by opening up that tendentious matter once again.

I am pleased to see judicial training being included. This is something that has existed in the United States for quite a long time. Judges are not infallible and it is good for them to attend refresher courses and judicial training courses. That is something which I welcome.

With regard to criminal proceedings, I am glad that the Minister is taking steps to stop the noxious practice of immediately granting a transfer from a regional court up to Dublin. This was an invidious practice which was calculatedly used to avoid retribution and to delay the system. It was a kind of filibustering using the legal system and it caused considerable difficulty and distress to witnesses, victims, and the gardaí who had to travel. It was enormously expensive for the State.

It is appropriate that this kind of transfer should only be granted if the judge is satisfied that it would be unjust not to grant such an application. Many of these applications have been made, if not frivolously, at least with the clear intention of frustrating or delaying the implementation of justice.

I am dealing with these matters rapidly because they have mostly been dealt with the already by other speakers. However, there is something which has not been dealt with by other Senators and it comes from my long experience as a client of the legal profession. The Minister raised the question of legal costs and said:

The settling of disputed legal cost bills is the function of the Taxing Masters of the High Court or, at Circuit Court level, that of county registrars.

That is true to a certain point, but there is an element of polite fiction about all this. The public has a reasonable and real grievance here because the legal profession does not always deal honourably, appropriately or correctly with its clients. If plaintiffs are awarded costs which are taxed they may frequently have been asked to put money up front. However, if they look for any of this money back after they have been given their costs they are told that there is a difference between client and own party or party and party costs. The legal profession happily pockets the difference. I would like the Minister to make this practice illegal, because it is certainly corrupt, immoral, wrong and unprofessional. It should not be done.

It may well be that the Taxing Master so substantially reduces the costs that it makes it an inappropriate fee for a professional to be asked to accept. I wonder, however, if the Minister will not be in a position to agree with me that it is simply wrong. Awarded costs should cover the expense and one should not have to pay an extra 40 per cent out of one's own pocket because the firm engaged does not feel that the fee they have been awarded by the State is an appropriate one. Either it is appropriate and has been properly adjudged to be so or it is not.

This has happened to me on a number of occasions, and I say this without any grouse against the barristers and solicitors involved in this practice because it is a common one. On every occasion that I have secured legal advice it has been excellent, but the practice is wrong and corrupt and should be stopped.

I experienced another rather laughable thing and am still licking my wounds even though I won in court as always. We had two days in court and I won my case comprehensively. I was then told that because I was an idealist and a campaigner I was not getting any damages. That is fine, but I got only one day's costs out of the two days. It is absolutely mad. If you appear in court for two days what is the point in awarding you costs for only one day? The Minister ought to examine the question of legal costs as they affect the ordinary punter.

I am fortunate that Santa Claus will appear at my house even though I have to pay costs, because I can absorb them. It is a minor irritation. I am not bellyaching on my own behalf, but it could be a serious point for those who are financially disadvantaged. For that reason I urge the Minister to take up these two significant points about legal costs.

Turning to the business of apparel and wigs, I am distressed that I have never won the prize for the best dressed man in Leinster House. Less appropriate persons have been so selected, even though I wear Irish suits of a very cheap nature. My colleague, Senator McGennis, was not quite accurate when she said that the wearing of wigs has been abolished.

There is a choice.

I have been in correspondence with the Bar Council and the Law Society. The Bar Council submission recommended an amendment. I checked and it looks as if the Minister has included it.

That is fine because it does the civilised thing. It says that "they shall not be required". So, people who find the wearing of wigs offensive or ridiculous do not have to wear them. Other people do, however, for a variety of practical reasons which I am sure have been placed on the record of the House. Barristers appear to think that by wearing a wig they will not be recognised. Whether or not this is true I am not in a position to state, but some of them are of such a distinctive physiognomy that it would be difficult not to recognise them no matter what kind of wig they wore.

Wigs give the appearance of equality to barristers and, apparently, court users quite like them. They feel they are really hiring someone of substance when they get somebody in a wig. This is perhaps a human thing. It seems that the Minister has clearly met the requirements of the Bar Council in a very civilised way; it also behaved in a civilised manner because it voted to remove the mandatory wearing of wigs.

I welcome the fact that solicitors have been admitted as being qualified to serve as judges. The point was made that 80 per cent of the practitioners of the law are solicitors. By not allowing them to become judges, we are debarring a huge proportion of practising lawyers from access to the courts. I note the Minister has made some provision for them to become High Court or even Supreme Court judges. This is a very good move.

I have great admiration for barristers who often display a satisfied, theatrical flair and a nimbleness on their feet. These qualities, which are useful in an adversarial legal system, are not necessarily the best qualifications for a judge. A non-flamboyant, careful, quiet and thoughtful person may be useless as a barrister and not the type of person I would secure but could be precisely the type of meticulous personality who would be excellent as a judge.

The point was well made in an article in The Irish Times on 4 December, which the Law Society of Ireland kindly sent to me. Mr. Murphy, the director general of the Law Society of Ireland, said that in society's view the person's knowledge of the law and his or her standing as a lawyer, independence of mind, judgment and decisiveness as well as ability to chair and administrate his or her court are among the qualities which are more desirable than experience as an advocate. Other personal qualities are also important — patience, courtesy and, of course, compassion. On most occasions one meets these qualities in court.

The distinguished journalist, Nell McCafferty, did us an enormous service by exposing the bruising and hurtful manner in which the Dublin District Court operated and the way people, particularly those from a disadvantaged background, were routinely humiliated to provide entertainment for an audience. I would like to think that has stopped.

I thank the Minister for her patience in listening to what I had to say on these matters. I welcome this useful legislation. However, I urge the Minister to look at the question of costs, including taxed costs. If the State decides on an appropriate level of remuneration, then it should remain so. If the level is too low, it should be raised. I do not believe people who have been awarded costs should be expected to make up a supposed or imaginary difference. A judge should not award half an hour's or a half day's costs. If a person wins the principle that they are entitled to recoup costs from their adversary, then it should be for the entire amount.

I am sorry Senator Norris is disappointed that he has not yet been nominated as the best dressed made in the House. From his description of barristers, he would be well qualified to be appointed as a senior counsel.

This Bill has been welcomed by most Members in both Houses. The Minister said the Courts and Court Officers Bill, 1994, contained measures aimed at improving the system which have been retained in the present Bill with some significant changes and improvements. She also said the approach to reforming the courts service will be on three levels: first, to tackle immediately the problem of delays in all the courts by providing in this Bill for 18 more judges, which I welcome; second, to implement in this Bill several other changes in court administration and procedure that will reduce delays and enhance the efficiency of the courts service. Most people have had problems with the courts administration and all Senators spoke about the delays. The reform which is intended in this area is welcome; and third, to develop a longer term approach to improving our courts system.

I welcome the establishment of a working group under the chair of Mrs. Justice Susan Denham to put in place a formal structure to oversee the running of the courts and to carry out necessary reform. However, I am sorry that this will not be on a statutory basis. The Minister gave a strong commitment on Committee Stage in the other House that this would become a reality. I accept that she is committed to this and is interested in reforming the system.

Members have all spoken about overcrowding in the courts system. Lists are long, court buildings are totally inadequate and consulting facilities are poor, particularly for family law cases. We all accept that the situation is critical. Even Senator Manning said the system is finding it difficult to cope with the number of cases coming before it. We see this particularly with family law cases. It is surprising in a country which talks so much about valuing the family to see men, women — who are often the victims of violence — and children — who may have lived with violence — involved in family law cases hanging around unsuitable courthouses waiting for their case to be dealt with and having to discuss intimate family details in corridors or rooms which nobody would consider suitable.

I welcome the commitment to increase the number of judges. I also welcome the fact that funds have been allocated for the training of judges, particularly in family law cases. I would like to see more women judges appointed. Mrs. Justice Susan Denham was the first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court, which was very welcome. Judge Catherine McGuinness was the first woman to be appointed to the Circuit Court. I would like to see an effort being made to increase the number of women appointed. They have a special interest in family law cases and there are many fine women lawyers in the Law Library who I would be in favour of promoting. Most clients of free legal aid are women and they must go before a system which is hostile to them. If there were more women in the systerm, the psychological difficulties which they face when going to court would be eased.

I wish to refer to apparel. Senator Mulcahy spoke about judges being allowed to wear wigs. They have a choice, although I do not see the need for them. For people who are not familiar with courts, they can be intimidating and I would have supported the total removal of wigs. I am sure barristers and judges do not even notice because they are used to them. Anything which may intimidate people, particularly those going to court for the first time, should be removed. My party colleague, Deputy Michael McDowell, proposed an amendment in the other House but I am sure he never had a problem going into court and would never be intimidated by anything like that. However, ordinary individuals who are not frequent visitors to the High Court or any other court can have great difficulty and can be quite frightened.

It is not a question of Deputy McDowell being intimidated but intimidating somebody else, even without the wig.

I was talking about ordinary members of the public; I am not talking about members of the legal profession.

We will leave Members of the other House out of the discussion.

Lest Senator Manning or anybody else mention it, I accept that it was a member of my own party who proposed that amendment but I did not agree with it.

Part IV of this Bill deals with its single most important reform, that is, the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board which seeks to depoliticise judicial appointments. This is important and this Government should be keenly aware of the need for such a board given the circumstances in which it came into office. The 1994 Bill provided for the establishment of a judicial appointments commission which would sit in committee and recommend between three and five nominees to the Minister who would then make the final decision as required under the Constitution.

The composition of this judicial appointments board has been radically altered. One of the complaints against the board, as envisaged by the 1994 Bill, was that it consisted totally of lawyers. Under the provisions of this Bill the Minister will have three appointees and the Attorney General, who everybody accepts is a political animal, will also be a member of the board. The Minister need not require that the additional appointees have any particular knowledge of the legal system. It is totally a gift of the Minister's which politicises the board that will advise on judicial appointments. This board is being established to depoliticise the appointment of the Judiciary and I find it very strange.

The Minister has not given us any convincing argument why this is necessary. She said that the Government must maintain its own discretion in the appointments. If that is the case, why appoint the board in the first place? Why not continue to make appointments as has been the case rather than pretend to depoliticise the process? Under the 1994 Bill the board was to recommend three to five nominees and would obviously have to examine the applications and consider them in much more detail. It was originally proposed in this Bill that the board would submit ten names but this has been reduced to seven. It is still far too many. Seven names will give the Minister plenty of choice for each appointment. Since, at the end of the day, she does not have to accept any of nominees, it is just a pretence that we are depoliticising the appointments.

I welcome the fact that this Bill will allow solicitors to become judges. While many members of the Bar may not accept this, it is only right, as other Members have said, that when 80 per cent of the legal profession is comprised of solicitors, they should be available for appointments to the Judiciary. One of the disappointments of the Bill is that judges are not required to retire at 65. Other public servants are required to retire at that age and we have missed an opportunity in this Bill. People will argue that judges of that age have built up a vast experience but senior civil servants, teachers, nurses and others working in the public service have also built up a wide range of experience by the time they reach 65. However, that is not an argument for allowing them to continue until they are 70. Judges should be treated in the same way as other public servants and be required to retire at 65. At the moment many members of the Judiciary are quite young but they will age. All public servants should retire at the same age, that is, 65.

I welcome the allocation of funding for the training of judges which is very important. It was one of the recommendations of the Commission on the Status of Women, of which I was a member, that judges would have continuous education. It is necessary in any profession to keep abreast of developments and I certainly support this move.

I was interested in Senator Manning's remarks about awards and annuities. The tribunal being established by the Minister for Health to compensate the victims of hepatitis C has a provisional award system which he said was not available in the courts. Such a facility is important for people who do not know how their injury will affect them in 20 or 30 years time or for people who have serious accidents and are unaware of the cost of maintenance or how long they will live. It can be difficult to make an assessment in lump sum terms in such cases. Such a facility would be worthwhile but it is not dealt with in this Bill.

I support Senator Henry's remarks about the details of family law cases. When campaigning in the recent divorce referendum I found that many people are unaware of the number of marital breakdown and family law cases going through the courts and the difficult lives many families have. While it is important to maintain the confidentiality of individual cases, it may be useful, at the end of each law term, to publish a summary detailing the number and types of cases going through the courts. This would go a long way towards educating people as to what is happening in Irish society.

There tends to be a great push for reform when the public becomes aware of an issue as was the situation following the Kilkenny incest case and other child abuse cases. However, family law cases are not reported and many people live in blissful ignorance. They do not know what is happening in our society and it would be helpful if the Minister took heed of my suggestion. I have often heard judges comment that it is a pity details of these cases are not publicised.

Like many other Senators, I believe we have been well served by our judges. As somebody said earlier, we have never had a scandal on the Bench. However, people assume that if one is a barrister and affiliated to a particular political party, one will be looked on favourably when these appointments arise. It is important to depoliticise the process. I am sorry that the Bill does not deal as fully with this issue as did the previous Bill. There are some other small areas with which I have problems but I will deal with them by amendment on Committee Stage.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this Bill. I have a number of questions for the Minister. This review of the courts is welcome but it does not go far enough. Times are changing and tradition plays a major role in this profession. However, the courts and the Judiciary have not kept pace with the development of the State.

While this is an attempt to adjust the courts structure, it does not go far enough. I welcome the Bill although the Minister has a substantial input to the appointment of judges. I would rather have that political involvement and responsibility than have the legal profession regulate themselves, because we can challenge the Minister for Justice very easily whereas it is more difficult to challenge the legal structure.

I wonder why there has not been a review of the type of case the District Court deals with before now. The District Courts in rural Ireland are in county council offices and small courthouses. Some of them are housed in very poor buildings and in some cases, district judges have — rightly — refused to hold courts. There has been negligence toward and disinterest in the public in that the courts — I am talking about the District Courts — have not been maintained. The district judge drives up in his car, puts on his robes, has a cup of tea and goes in. The cases are lined up for him.

The type of cases dealt with in the District Court amuses me because I will never understand why somebody is brought to court for a fishery offence, such as fishing on the River Foyle. They can be fined £200 or £300. These are mostly people who are drawing the dole. If a man with six children is fined £300 or £400 he cannot pay it. I make representations every week to the Minister for Justice to reduce the fines for people who cannot pay them. The family of the person who is caught would have to do without food or go to the supplementary welfare office for a hand out. I do not understand the sense of that. These cases are cluttering up the courts.

Other matters the District Court deals with are television licence offences, sheep dipping offences, dog licence offences and water disconnection. I will never understand why there is not an updated approach to handling those cases. We can have on the spot fines. At least the road traffic legislation has a modern way of approaching this problem. If someone is caught without insurance on their car they should be brought to court and dealt with by the court but the volume of less serious offences dealt with at District Court level makes this impossible.

I look at the type of characters who are in court. Some of them are up before a judge nearly every month. It is a demoralising experience to visit the District Court when in session. Is this modern Ireland? Is this the stage we have reached? Particular defendants are up before the judge so many times the judge does not know what to do with them. If he passes sentence, he gives them a month or three months and local transport is hired to bring the defendant to Loughan House or to the prison. When they get there, the governor says he has no room and sends back the prisoner or other prisoners. If the defendant is locked up the whole neighbourhood sympathises with him because he is in goal. There is a scurry around and a collection is made. If he got three months and does three days in goal he can get himself out for a few pounds.

The State has spent a lot of money convicting that character and bringing him to Loughan House for three nights. It is the biggest farce over which any Government could preside. I hope the Minister of State will say this to the Minister for Justice, because she and everyone else in the House is intelligent enough to understand what I am saying. There is nothing sensational or false about the picture I am presenting. That is how the present District Court structure works. The presiding judge gets case hardened.

I experienced the District Court from the other side once. I parked my car on O'Connell Street in front of the Royal Dublin Hotel and went inside. I may or may not have been legally parked, but I parked for a couple of minutes to speak to a fellow. While my car was parked a young man tried to open my car which was locked. I went out very cunningly and caught him by the arm, which was a foolish thing to do. I took him into the hotel. It transpired that he was carrying a dagger. Luckily I was able to hold on to him. We held him in the hotel until the gardaí came. The garda asked me whether I would attend court on a given day and I said I would. On the day in question I came up from Donegal and attended the District Court. The fellow was well known to the court and judge as he had been in court numerous times for breaking into cars. He said he had the dagger with him to clean his pipe, but he had no pipe.

I am trying to explain the structure of the District Court in Donegal and in the Four Courts in Dublin as I see it. The ritual was observed. This fellow was brought up from the bottom in a cage with a lot of prisoners. The scene was like one from Taiwan or China. This fellow got off and walked out the door. I wasted my day in court in Dublin.

There is a need for radical change in the type of cases coming before District Courts. The present system is wasting district judges' time which they could use to deal with other crimes, such as social welfare fraud. As it is, it has become a procedure with the same actors, characters and the same stories being acted out every month. Has the Minister for Justice and her Department any intention of altering radically the procedure and the type of cases with which district judges deal? I am not telling the House something new. Everybody who is in touch with reality knows that this is the procedure from Cork to Donegal.

People waiting to get cases into the Circuit Court or the High Court have to wait not weeks or months but years. If you go to your solicitor with a fairly serious case about property, he will look at the calendar and say he will get it put down for a session in 1996 or 1997. I refer to people who received injuries and are obliged to bring cases before the courts. I am aware of a case where the doctor who examined an accident victim died six years before the case was heard by the Circuit Court. The doctor was to provide strong medical evidence on behalf of the person injured, but unfortunately he had passed away. Therefore, no one was available to relate the nature of the injuries sustained by the victim. This was due to negligence and poor administrative structures in the Department of Justice.

We do not require a superficial Bill which outwardly gives the impression that it will alter the courts structure. In my opinion this Bill will do very little and is merely a cosmetic exercise. The Judiciary will probably welcome the new structures for appointments, but this is inadequate. More was expected of this Bill. I hope that the current Minister, or her successor, will initiate a review of the administration of the entire judicial system. The current system is light years out of date.

A new Circuit Court office was opened by the former Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, in Letterkenny, County Donegal, a number of years ago. It was intended to provide space on that site for the Circuit Court office, which is now situated at Lifford. However, the area proved to be too small, because the old court house in Letterkenny was rebuilt which limited available space. Adequate facilities do not exist to house the Circuit Court office there. I do not blame the Minister of State or the current Minister for Justice in this regard. I blame the Department of Justice, which cannot be given much credit in relation to its administration of the courts, its own procedures and its examination of the difficulties which pertain within the system.

A staff of 12 people are employed at the Circuit Court office at Lifford, which is within 12 miles of Letterkenny. These people have remained in the old building, which was renovated at a cost in excess £2 million. The old courthouse in Lifford, which predates the State, was renovated and the Circuit Court office retained there. To facilitate the two barristers who attend the Circuit Court in Letterkenny, it was originally intended to transfer those 12 people. Six different reasons were given as to why they should be transferred. The final insult came when they were privately offered £1,000 to do so. As I understand it, this represents a breach of regulations because the facility to pay disturbance money was removed some years ago. However, an offer was made that they each would receive £1,000 privately.

Will the Minister of State consult with the Minister for Justice to examine the possibility of retaining the Circuit Court office in Lifford on the grounds that 12 people are committed to working there? In today's age of technology and the advent of the Internet it is possible for an American insurance company to base its administration in Ireland. No one can convince me that the prospect of retaining an efficient Circuit Court office in Lifford is a difficult one.

The local authority meets twice a month in Lifford. The elected members of all political parties who attend such meetings use the Circuit Court office extensively to examine titles for planning, etc. The Department of Justice is planning to remove this convenience for elected members of Donegal County Council. This is completely unnecessary and will inconvenience the staff, who are part of the structure of the office. The most recent excuse provide by the Department was that the staff of the Circuit Court office were living in terrible conditions. The political parties in County Donegal stated unanimously that they are prepared to raise funds to carry out improvements to the Circuit Court office in Lifford. The Department of Justice is not prepared to do so. I wish to inform the Minister of State that the population of Lifford, which values the employment of those 12 people, will help fund the improvements to the Circuit Court office, without any financial aid from the State. The Circuit Court office stands out like a sore thumb in the middle of an office complex which cost £2 million to renovate.

As an elected member of the local authority and of this House, I have the unanimous support of elected Members of the Lower House to ask that the Circuit Court office remain in Lifford. I ask the Minister of State to request that the Minister for Justice investigate the possibility on the grounds that the State will incur no cost and that the technology is available to provide the Circuit Court in County Donegal with an efficient administration.

I am grateful to have had an opportunity to contribute to this debate. This Bill is a very superficial one in so far as it deals with those involved in the courts. It does not tackle the outdated procedures which pertain in our court system. I call for a Bill in the near future to deal with that matter and how it affects the public.

I thank all the Senators for their thoughtful contributions and want to touch on a number of points raised.

Senator Mulcahy and Senator McGennis saw the Labour Party and, in particular, the Leader of the Labour Party as the catalyst for this Bill. I confess the Labour Party was the catalyst for this reform and it is a good reform. On the fact that it took a year to bring forward the Bill, a similar situation arose with the Refugee Bill, 1995, which Members will remember was before the House when the Labour-Fianna Fáil Government went out of office. The opportunity was then taken to re-examine that Bill and to take on board the points made, both in public debate and in the House, on how it might be reformed or improved. The same process was adopted with this Bill. In fact, it is a good mechanism by which a necessary provision coming before the House can be made the subject of a wide-ranging debate to seek, in a non-party political way, the best mechanisms for the desired reform.

Senator O'Kennedy put it well when he said this was a Bill for the public, and I agree with him. It deals with the reform of the courts system and impacts on the legal profession; but, quite honestly, it is not a Bill for the legal profession. It is a Bill designed to give the public a better quality of service from the courts system. People have spoken eloquently of the delays and other features of the courts system which ordinary people experience in a difficult way and often when they are dealing with traumatic moments in their lives. We owe it to them to try to bring the judicial system up to date in as modern and compassionate a way as possible, taking into account full consultation with the Judiciary, lawyers and also users of the system, which is most important.

On the question of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, some concerns were expressed about both the fact that three additional members might be appointed to it and that the Attorney General is a member of it. I refer concerned Senators to section 13 of the Bill, which states that the board shall consist of the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court, the President of the Circuit Court, the President of the District Court, the Attorney General, a practising barrister who is to nominated by the Bar Council of Ireland——

By its chairman.

——and a practising solicitor who is to be nominated by the Law Society. Can anyone suggest that these eminent people — and they are all eminent, highly qualified people — would be in any way intimidated by the presence in their midst on a board of the Attorney General? I simply refuse to believe that, looking at the legal luminaries from every end of the legal profession on the board. It is correct that these people are on the advisory board because these are the people at the top of the legal and judicial profession. They should be in a position to advise because these are the people with the knowledge and experience. What did we do then? We provided in the Bill for the appointment of three other persons of appropriate knowledge and experience of commerce, finance, administration or persons who have experience as consumers of the services provided by the courts who will be appointed by the Minister. That is a substantial and progressive move forward.

Senator Honan, who was also a little worried about that section, suggested rightly in another part of her contribution that she wished to see more women appointed to various levels of the Bench. One of the points which I would make about this is that none of the eminent persons to which I referred as being members of the advisory board, is at present, as it happens, a woman. I would assume the Minister would take the opportunity in making the three additional appointees to include some women of experience and knowledge of the courts who perhaps have been consumers. I suggest, for instance, women who have worked in the area of family law through Women's Aid perhaps, or women who have had experience of accompanying rape victims to the courts, or women who have been involved in victim support services. All these people have substantial experience of the courts system, even though they may not be qualified lawyers; some of them are and some are not. Bringing that breadth of experience to the context of advising on judicial appointments is a forward-looking and progressive step.

The history of such boards in this country is that their members conduct the board's affairs with great scrupulousness and care, even in a situation where some may have had a previous connection with a particular political party. We are not talking about somebody who is a member of, or connected with, a political party being ever disqualified; but that he or she, once appointed, act impartially in the context of the function which they are asked to perform.

Senator Mulcahy need have no fears about the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. In fact, this will be one of the best innovations of the Bill. It will also shine a light, which again from the public's point of view is important, on the way in which judges are appointed. Many Members of the House who spoke are privileged enough to have had experience of the courts, either as lawyers or as people who have had reason to have contact with the courts; but many ordinary members of the public have no such experience and the Judiciary and the legal profession are somewhat remote as a result. Any reform which brings the courts closer to the people in terms of the understanding of the courts functions and the way they exercise those functions adds to the esteem in which the courts should be properly held by the public. Senator Norris spoke of his experience in going to court. I hope the day would arise when, just as members of the public visit these Houses and learn a little about the work which is done in both the Dáil and Seanad, we might similarly see people availing of the opportunity to visit the courts in order to understand the work there.

Senators raised the question of facilities for family law cases and Senator Henry raised specifically the reporting of family law cases. Again, as somebody who was involved in the recent referendum debate, I spent a great deal of time talking to small groups of people, many of whom were women, and attempting to answer their queries. One of the issues which came up time and again was the extent to which people did not know of the volume and kind of family law cases in our courts. It is important that we give the public the opportunity to know — and not in a peeping Tom manner — the kinds of cases which go through the courts.

I can imagine how this could occur in court jurisdictions in the greater Dublin area or in Cork, for example, where there are large societies and anonymity could be achieved. However, there may be a difficulty with family law cases in rural areas, for instance, where it would be relatively easy for people to identify the parties involved. That would worry me. Whatever system of reporting was devised, whether it be summary or detailed reporting of the case, clear provision would have to be made as far as possible to retain the anonymity of the parties, especially for the sake of their children. It would be dreadful and unfortunate if a couples' children came to know the details of the estrangement of their parents through reporting. However, I accept the point that there should be better reporting of family law cases.

On the issue of accommodation, which is related to the points made about family law cases and delays in the courts, the Government decided in 1990 that the local authorities should be relieved of the financial burden of providing and maintaining courthouses and that the cost should in future be borne by the Exchequer, subject to a limit to be agreed annually between the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Justice.

A sum of £6 million has been provided for capital works and £1.5 million for maintenance work in courthouses for 1995, which represents a substantial increase over previous years' allocations. Maintenance projects have been completed in over 40 venues. The total amount provided in the courthouses subhead of the Courts Vote is £7.59 million. Priorities are being established in my Department between the different premises requiring attention and, as many Senators know, work is underway in a number of locations. Therefore, I am confident the next few years will see substantial improvements in the standard of court accommodation throughout the country.

Major refurbishment work has been completed in Athlone, Letterkenny, Carlow, Phase I of Galway, Donegal and at the Model School in Cork city, whose new District Court complex was opened last month. A new courthouse has been approved for Carrick-on-Shannon and work on that has commenced recently and refurbishment works are nearing completion in Clonmel, Ballina and Ballinasloe. In conjunction with the Office of Public Works, my Department has recently completed Phase II of a three phase refurbishment of the Four Courts, about which Senator McGennis was most concerned. This work will also ensure the Four Courts, which will be celebrating its bicentenary in 1996, will provide an excellent standard of accommodation. All who work and have to go there deserve to be accommodated in the best possible way.

We have made provision for the hearing of family law cases a matter of priority in all courthouse refurbishment projects. We have had refurbishments in Athlone, Galway and Cork, which have the necessary facilities for conducting family law cases. These facilities are being provided in all major capital projects and will be provided in future court accommodation projects in venues where family law business is being transacted. Senator McGowan made an eloquent plea on behalf of Lifford courthouse and I will take that matter up with the Minister.

The working group on the courts commission will institute a full reappraisal of the entire court system. It will be asked to review the operation and financing of the courts with particular regard to the quality of service. It will consider the matter of the establishment of a commission on the management of the courts as an independent and permanent body with financial and management autonomy in line with a commitment to that effect in the programme A Government of Renewal. This is a positive and practical step and is better than the provision in section 29 of the 1994 Bill, which proposed to establish a courts commission with an advisory function on the organisation and management of the courts.

As with our social welfare system, if we can inject up to date modern information technology into our courts system we can take a substantial leap forward. The days when, for instance, people had to wait a considerable period of time to get a judges' written judgment could be removed forever. Why not make it available rapidly through a proper secretarial system on a computerised basis? There is a whole series of simple management improvements that can be exercised for the benefit of plaintiffs, lawyers and the Judiciary. This working group will have an important function to perform in that area.

Senator Mulcahy referred to the publication of the judicial appointments in Iris Oifigiúil. It is important that the input of the advisory board goes on the public record. The new appointments procedure is to open up the judicial appointments process, not to interfere in it, and provide transparency so the public can have a greater understanding of the matter.

In almost any job a person goes for nowadays, they have to present themselves, a record of their qualifications and an argument in favour of their being appointed. Politicians do that when they go before the electorate and people seeking a university appointment have to go before a board. Therefore, there is no reason why the appointment of judges should not be subject to an appointments procedure where the public can, at the end of the day, have the confidence that appropriately qualified persons with the requisite experience etc. will be appointed.

A number of lawyers have spoken on this matter. Members of the legal profession, inevitably because they know each other and they operate in a small world, are confident, and correctly so, about the calibre and quality of the members in that profession. However, one needs to stand outside the profession and look at it from the view of those who are not members and ask what they need to know about it.

There seems to be a dispute in the comments between barristers and solicitors. A song in "Oklahoma" says the farmer and the cowman should be friends; barristers and solicitors should do the same and call a truce. We are working towards a unified legal profession where different functions and expertise are being used by both parties. The possibility of the appointment of solicitors to the courts is long overdue and is extremely welcome. They have a depth of experience to offer which barristers may not have. However, I also accept Senator Mulcahy's point that barristers also have a certain experience to bring. Why not get the best of both worlds? In that way we can improve the quality of our courts.

Senator Henry raised the appointment of additional District Court judges, especially in Cork city. The court system there has to carry a huge amount of work and almost everybody agrees that it should be possible to appoint an additional judge to its District Court. Senator Cregan suggested that it might be appropriate to look at the matter in Cork city in a northside-southside context. Many Senators welcomed the tightening up of the provisions in moving court cases.

Senator Cregan has spoken on many occasions about the frustrations in Cork at court cases being moved to Dublin from Cork city and essentially being used as a delaying tactic to deny justice. It is an extremely expensive delaying tactic, because witnesses and defendants have to be moved to and accommodated in Dublin. As a Dublin representative, I can say that the feeling in Dublin is that our courts have been clogged up by the fact that these people from Cork want to come to Dublin for some unknown reason, although we can guess at it.

It is not for the All Ireland.

Other than for exceptional cases, it should be completely satisfactory that the bulk of cases which arise in Cork be heard in the Cork courts, in the same way as applies to cases originating in Dublin.

There will be an opportunity tomorrow on Committee Stage to consider the various amendments in detail. The Government has taken an open attitude to the Bill. We have accepted amendments and have considered the Bill in conjunction with the original Bill, which was put together by the previous Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn. As with the Refugee Bill, I acknowledge the work which she, as Minister for Justice, did on the Bill. It is interesting to see how it has been possible, given a certain time gap and certain changes, to improve on Bills in an agreed way which first came forward and to be able to accept the improvements in a way which is non-partisan.

Often when Bills come from Government, it is sometimes very difficult for the Government to accept amendments. However, because we have inherited certain Bills from the previous Government, it has been possible to take them in a much more open and non-partisan manner. This Bill has been a very good example of how the Dáil and Seanad can effectively work and improve Bills. I thank Senators for their contributions and for their courtesy to me today.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 14 December 1995.
Sitting suspended at 3.55 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.