Courts Bill, 1996: Second Stage.

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

I am very glad to move this legislation in the Seanad. It is important that the role of the Seanad should be recognised and that, where possible, Bills should be initiated here to give Members the first go at expressing their views on legislation. Since coming into office this Government has moved a number of Bills here, thus enhancing the role of the Seanad, which is a good thing.

The Court and Court Officers Act, 1995, enacted at the end of last year contained wide ranging reforms of the courts and judicial system. Through the provision of extra judges in the courts and other measures, it was aimed in particular at tackling the main problem facing the court system, the arrears of cases and appeals awaiting hearing. That Act also contained many other much needed administrative and procedural reforms of the courts and judicial system.

In the past week, for the first time, serious criminal court cases were held in Cork. Until I made the changes in the 1995 Act that required the judge to agree to the transfer of cases, alleged criminals were using a mechanism to move their cases to the Dublin courts, thereby necessitating delays of up to three years and, in the meantime, they were out on bail and free to continue to commit crime. This week I had a call from a person in Cork who told me there was a sense of achievement among barristers, solicitors and the people involved in the judicial process in Cork at being in a position to present their cases in the city in which the crimes were committed and get sentences passed speedily against serious drug criminals. During the week two people were imprisoned for eight and ten years, respectively, for drug offences; they were sentenced by a court in Cork as opposed to having to wait another two years to have the cases taken. That was as a direct result of a section I put into the Court and Court Officers Act, 1995, having taken over the Bill which had been drafted before I came into office which fell with the fall of the Government in 1994.

The court system has been under immense pressure over a number of years and, frankly, has struggled at times to provide an unacceptable level of service. That is in no way to imply criticism of those charged with the responsibility of making that system work. The fact is that up to the enactment of the Court and Court Officers Act, 1995, it was clear that the level of resources made available to the courts and the reform of the system that was needed had not kept pace with the increasing demands on it.

The courts are a key element of our criminal justice system, with the Garda Síochána and the prisons. The measures I have put in place to reform the courts are central to my overall proposals to improve the criminal justice system which I announced last week. I established a working group on a courts commission last year, and I will refer to this in a few moments. I want to take the opportunity to refer briefly to some other legislative proposals for reform of the criminal justice system.

I am proceeding with my proposals for a combination of constitutional and legislative changes to the existing bail laws, details of which were given last week, including plans for a constitutional referendum next November. I also brought forward an amendment to the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill to restrict the right to silence in drug trafficking cases. That Bill was debated yesterday in this House. A Private Members' Bill on freezing criminal assets, which is currently before the Dáil and which I will substantially amend and redraft, should be passed into law later this month. I intend to publish a Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill in the next week or two which will contain measures to improve the efficiency of court procedures and reduce the amount of time spent by gardaí in courts. It will also provide for issuing search warrants in connection with the investigation of serious crimes. At another time in this House I pointed out the inadequacies in some of our laws where, for example, a garda has the right to go in and search for a gun, if a gun was used in a crime, but does not have the power, has not had and will not have those powers, until my legislation is brought in, to search for an axe or a knife or some other weapon that might have been used to kill or injure people. Such anomalies have existed in our laws for many years. The criticism against me as Minister, and against this Government, begs the question why previous Ministers for Justice of another party did not make these changes before. It was not today or yesterday that the Garda Síochána looked for these changes. I am glad that I and this Government agree to make those changes in our Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The Criminal Law Bill which passed Second Stage in the Dáil last month creates a new category of arrestable offences in respect of which the Garda will be able to arrest without a warrant. An arrestable offence will be any offence carrying a potential penalty of five years' imprisonment or more. That Bill also provides a clear statutory basis for powers of the Garda to enter premises to effect an arrest without warrant. This has been needed for many years and is now being done by this Government.

In recent years there has been a significant increase in both criminal and civil business in the Circuit Court. I do not intend to explore the background to the increased volume of legal business coming before the courts. What I will say is that not only has the workload been expanding but the trend is towards more complex and, therefore, more time-consuming cases.

The Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995, will make a very substantial contribution to alleviating the pressure on the court system, in particular, by the provision therein for the appointment of an additional three judges of the Supreme Court, three judges of the High Court, seven judges of the Circuit Court and five judges of the District Court. Yesterday the extra seven judges of the Circuit Court were appointed. Senators will be aware that the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board which was set up under the Act went to work early this year on the considerable task of assessing the candidature of applicants for some of these judicial posts. To date, the three additional Supreme Court judges have been appointed; two additional High Court judges have also been appointed and a third person was nominated for appointment by the President yesterday.

Yesterday, the Government also announced the nomination of nine Circuit Court judges, including the seven additional Circuit Court judges, one of whom is to replace a judge who was sent to the High Court and another of whom is to replace a judge who will be retiring in about a month's time. The District Court appointments will be made shortly. There were extensive lists of candidates for the positions which are being handled by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. There seems to be a great deal of interest among solicitors and barristers in becoming a judge of the District Court, which is very good. There was a time when barristers did not want to be District Court judges but the number of applicants clearly indicates that many experienced lawyers would like to be judges.

In the relatively short period since the enactment of the Courts and Court Officers Act, I have had calls to look again at the arrears of cases, in particular in criminal cases and appeals before the Circuit Court. In light of this, the Government approved my proposal, contained in this Bill, to amend the courts Acts to increase the maximum statutory limit on the number of Circuit Court judges by three to 28 judges, including the President of the Circuit Court. This is an important part of my proposals to deal with crime. It is intended that these three additional appointments will be made as soon as possible. Obviously these positions will have to be advertised when the legislation is enacted so that the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board can consider applications and this should be done as soon as possible.

The Law Reform Commission in its report last year on the law of bail pointed out that one way the number of offences committed on bail could be reduced is by reducing the length of time persons are at liberty before trial. In this context the Law Reform Commission recommended that a real attempt should be made to address the root cause of delay. The commission concluded that the appointment of more judges with the appropriate courts staff and back up services would address the current situation where cases which are ready to proceed have to wait their turn because there is not a judge to deal with the case. I am satisfied that the appointment of more judges in the Circuit Court will help to address the problems associated with the length of time at the disposal of those persons remanded on bail who commit offences while on bail and waiting for their cases to be heard. To that extent this Bill forms part of the Government's constitutional and legislative response to the problem of offending on bail.

It has to be recognised that there are more ways than one of dealing with the issue of persons reoffending while on bail. We have a composite package comprising the referendum, legislation and the speeding up of the time between arrest and trial and in turn the delay between conviction in one court and appeal to a superior court. If we speed up the time between the different stages, there will not be much time for the accused to be out on the street committing more crime.

Developments in the family law area and changes to the limits of the jurisdictions of the courts have had a major impact on the amount and complexity of business coming before the courts system as a whole. The growth in the number of cases and appeals arising from these factors has been particularly acute at Circuit Court level. There are unacceptably long family law lists, as has been pointed out by the Law Reform Commission in its recent report on family courts, to which I will refer later. Those awaiting the hearing of personal injuries actions in the Circuit Court face long delays. Inevitably, there is pressure too on the disposal of criminal business in the Circuit Court. The personal injury action tends to be put to one side if there is a serious criminal case to be taken.

Two other factors have heightened the demands on the Circuit Court. First, the Courts (No. 2) Act, 1991, increased the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court from £15,000 to £30,000. This brought about a very substantial increase in the volume of civil business for hearing in the court. The indications are that this increase in civil business will be sustained in the immediate future, at least. Civil cases before the Circuit Court are now more numerous, more complex and more time consuming that before.

Second, there has been a huge increase in family law business at Circuit Court level. The Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act, 1989, transferred the majority of family law business in the courts to the Circuit Court. The Family Law Act, 1995, which comes into effect next month also confers a substantial additional jurisdiction on the Circuit Court. The breakdown of family relationships gives rise to great trauma for those involved. Delays in the hearing of family law business in Circuit Court venues can contribute to the trauma and serve to exacerbate an already very difficult situation. The heavy volume of family law business in the Circuit Court seems set to continue and may grow still further with the introduction of divorce. Prior to the Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995, these legal reforms and social developments had not been met by corresponding commitments to extra judges. Those lists have been growing steadily over the past five to six years. No action was taken to increase the number of judges to handle the extra cases. That has led to the logjam in our courts. If we had been steadily increasing the number of judges during the early 1990s we would have kept pace with the increase in the number of cases. We now have a backlog and the extra judges will have to work doubly hard to clear it and get back to a reasonable length of time for a case to be heard.

This Bill, following the appointment of additional judges to the courts under the 1995 Act, is in my view an essential further step to turn around the business of the Circuit Court and to improve matters in that court with immediate effect. It would be wrong, however, to adopt this approach as the only response available to deal with the problem of delays. Other measures can play an important part in alleviating delays. The 1995 Act, for example, conferred additional powers on county registrars. A county registrar is assigned to each Circuit Court office and his or her function is the control and management of the business of that Circuit Court office. County registrars now have new and much wider powers which will have the effect of saving a considerable amount of Circuit Court time as they are empowered to deal with many motions that formerly only judges could handle. The 1995 Act also gave the Superior Courts and Circuit Court Rules Committee 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. I understand this matter is under consideration by the Superior Courts Rules Committee. This measure is aimed at speeding up the hearing of actions in the High Court and in the Circuit Court.

On the criminal law side, the 1995 Act addressed the problem of additional delays in the Dublin Circuit Court caused by the switching of criminal trials for hearing from Circuit Court sittings outside Dublin to the Dublin Circuit Court. The Act 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. That is working. There is not much public recognition of the effects of these measures such as expanding the role of the county registrar and the Circuit Court Rules Committee so that it can amend its rules to change how business is done. People slip into bad habits. Barristers, solicitors and their clients have slipped into bad habits. We all know the syndrome of settling on the steps of the court. I do not know whether people realise — Senator Mulcahy is a solicitor so he will know——

He is a barrister.

I beg your pardon Senator, but you are so good at the law I thought you were a solicitor as well.

It is great to get a compliment.

Waiting to settle the case on the steps of the court has a certain adrenaline flow but it means that as these cases were listed and will not now be heard, the court will adjourn early. I understand they have tried to create a sense of the court steps in the Round Room of the Four Courts to try to get barristers, solicitors and clients to reach agreement on cases. It has not worked very well because we all know cases are settled on the court steps. If 20 cases are listed, if the courts hear them and if ten are settled it means the list is reduced by ten cases that might otherwise have been taken. It is time all the people involved in these cases take a hold of how they do their business and speed up their own processes. When I delve into most of the complaints I receive as Minister I find the delays are not because a court is not available but because clients or the insurance company will not reach agreement or that barristers or solicitors advise their clients not to reach agreement. It is important there is a recognition that it is not just a case of new judges or new laws being required, all of us involved in the judicial system have to play a part.

I have already announced I have obtained the agreement of the President of the High Court in relation to the Central Criminal Court, and the President of the Circuit Court for sittings of both courts in September this year for an extra three weeks. This is the first time that that kind of innovative step has been taken by the courts to bring judges back three weeks early in an effort to clear serious criminal cases.

I am confident that this combination of allocating resources in key areas and practical legislative and administrative reform will quickly equip the courts system with the means to make inroads in delays in hearing cases and appeals.

I made the point in this House last December that, apart from appointing more judges and introducing various administrative and procedural reforms, the courts system needed a strategy for its longer term development. I had in mind a comprehensive examination and review of the courts structure and its management, courts accommodation and facilities, use of technology in the courts — in other words, a root and branch look at the existing courts system. For that reason I set up a working group on a courts commission at the end of last year, chaired by Mrs. Justice Susan Denham. I asked the working group to review the operation and financing of the courts system with particular regard to the quality of service provided to the public. I also asked the group 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's programme of renewal.

Last spring the working group submitted its first report to me on management and financing the courts. Serious defects in the administration of the courts are identified in the report which also urges a radical reappraisal of the administrative structures of the courts system. The Government has approved in principle the primary recommendation of the report that an independent and permanent body to be known as the Courts Service be established on a statutory basis to manage a unified courts system. I have asked the working group to submit a further report on how the establishment of a new courts service can be progressed. The working group will also continue its work on the review of the day to day operation of the courts system and will submit further reports to me as appropriate. I hope while we await the setting up of the courts service we can begin to make fundamental changes in the day-to-day operation of the system which will result in a better delivery of service.

The establishment of the court's working group clearly demonstrates how this initiative is already beginning to have a significant input to the longer term, more strategic development of the courts system. I avail of this opportunity to thank Mrs. Justice Denham and all the other members of the working group for the very important work they have undertaken in this area. That working group is made up of people from a cross section of experiences of the courts — barristers, solicitors, trade unions — but also the consumers of the court service, people such as Róisin McDermott who chairs Women's Aid, who have been on the receiving end with clients who are seeking service from the courts and are able at a personal level to share that experience in devising how the courts should be changed.

The Law Reform Commission in its recent report on family courts examined the type of judicial and courts structure that would be most suitable for dealing with family law cases. The commission recommended a combination of structural and legal reforms, with a major injection of resources. The report is being actively considered. These recommendations straddle the responsibilities of my Department and the Department of Equality and Law Reform. The report is also being examined by the working group on a courts commission as part of its examination of the courts system in general.

I have put much emphasis on reform of the courts system since taking office — tackling immediate problems and implementing a longer-term development strategy. The benefits of these reforms, with other initiatives I am taking in relation to our system of criminal justice, will ensure that the courts and other key elements of that system will have the capacity to respond effectively to changing circumstances generally and developments with regard to crime in particular. The concentration of resources and longer term planning is crucial to the operation of an efficient system of justice, criminal and civil, which after all is the hallmark of a truly democratic society. I look forward to hearing the views of Senators.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I thank the Minister for deciding to introduce the Bill in this House. It adds to its importance and relevance when it has the opportunity of taking such Bills first. I wish the Minister a speedy recovery from her little mishap. We would like all the Ministers of the Government to be in full health and I hope she will recover fully.

We take all the brickbats thrown at us.

We never throw anything. Anything that increases the efficiency of the courts, reduces waiting lists and helps to speed up the administration of justice is warmly welcomed by the Fianna Fáil Party. From our perspective the sooner criminals, drug barons and so on are put behind bars the better. If there are more criminals behind bars quicker as a result of this Bill then it will have played a significant part.

The delays in the courts are unacceptable and I want to address some of the reasons for them. The Minister accepted that the increase in judges by itself will not eradicate the delays but we need increased court facilities, improved procedures and so on to reduce these delays.

I welcome the appointment of the nine Circuit Court judges and one High Court judge announced today. I do not know all of them but I believe they are people of the highest standing and ability and I wish them well in their job in the future.

I was shocked by the Minister's outburst against the legal profession when she said members of the solicitors' and barristers' profession had fallen into bad habits. I do not know of any bad habits that I or my colleagues have fallen into. I hope the Minister will consider withdrawing that remark at the conclusion of this debate. From my perspective as one who has been practising in that area I flatly contradict what the Minister said as both professions, by and large, have helped to expedite our criminal justice system and are professions of which we should be very proud.

The Minister referred to a list system before the courts but she did not show a clear understanding of how it works. In any of the Circuit Courts in Dublin in any one day five, six, seven, eight, nine or ten cases may be listed before any one judge. If several of those cases were not settled on the steps of the court only half the list could be dealt with on that day and, accordingly, would become more log-jammed. It is not correct to suggest, as the Minister has done, that settling cases before they are heard results in a logjam in the system, it is actually of assistance to it. The position is much worse in the country where up to 20 cases or more can be before any one circuit judge on any one day. If they were not settled——

If they could be settled, they should have been settled before they were put on the list.

That is not the way life works. The Minister's attempts to besmirch the legal profession for trying to assist——

Nonsense. About ten members of my family are in the profession.

We will not enter into that type of debate now. Senator Mulcahy, without interruption.

The Minister's attempt to besmirch members of the legal profession by saying they have fallen into bad habits is out of order and her remarks should be withdrawn.

The Senator has been an expert at this since the day he was elected to the House.

I wish to raise a point of order. I am nervous that Senator Mulcahy's interpretation of what I said would reflect in the way he is trying to imply. I was talking about the way people discuss cases and so on. By saying that solicitors and barristers have fallen into bad habits, I did not mean to criticise the way they do their legal business. I was talking about the way they tend to say to clients that they will not deal with certain matters until the following week, which could be considered a bad habit.

The Minister's remarks were valid.

The Senator is wrong to imply that I said those people were unprofessional or doing something wrong when practising law. That is a deliberate misinterpretation of what I said.

Is that a point of order?

Because I have such respect for the legal profession, the Senator should not try to misrepresent what I said.

Was that a point of order?

Acting Chairman

It does not have to be a point of order. The Minister has the right to speak at all times.

I am glad she withdrew her comments. Her words were clear and unambiguous. She stated that members of the legal profession had fallen into bad habits.

I said that in a particular context and the Senator should not take it out of that context.

We can check the record to note the context in which it was said, but those were the Minister's words and she is responsible for them.

If the Senator wishes to misrepresent the Minister, let him do so.

Senator Manning will have an opportunity to speak.

Acting Chairman

Senators should concentrate on the Bill before us.

One of the main reasons for the delays in our courts system is the lack of proper organisation in the courts, but we hope the working group studying the system will come up with proposals in that regard. Will the Minister address herself to one of the most pressing problems in the administration of the courts system in Dublin city, the lack of space and organisation of existing space? The courts are divided between the building in the Four Courts, Dolphin House, Green Street and other locations. The Minister missed a golden opportunity to obtain a perfect site adjacent to the Four Courts for the development of a courts complex. If she wishes to present herself as someone who wants to take action, she should avail of other sites available in the vicinity of the Four Courts. The Bill does not refer to the need for temporary judges. As the present logjam will not exist forever, the Minister should consider the appointment of temporary judges. This may require the introduction of new legislation, but I am sure the House would facilitate a debate on it.

We are delighted to welcome the Bill. Anything that will serve to expedite the administration of justice will be welcomed by the House. I take issue at the Minister presenting herself as a person who has taken fast and radical action. Until the recent crisis the Government had an appalling record on a series of issues, some of which she referred to in her speech. Why did the Minister not make a decision on the bail laws until this month? The Law Reform Commission report was published in August 1995? Why has she only now made a decision on prison places when they were cancelled in June 1995? The Minister referred to her record in legislation, but the only significant legislation to be brought before the Oireachtas in her tenure of office was the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill, 1996.

What about the Courts and Court Officers Bill?

That is not significant criminal justice legislation, it deals with the courts.

Of course it is. I am sorry I praised the Senator.

I am being interrupted again. The Minister should not present herself or the Government as having anything other than an abysmal record on crime and law and order matters.

I would not like to have to rely on the Senator.

Litigants have been well represented by Senator Mulcahy.

Acting Chairman

Senator Mulcahy, without interruption, please.

This is terribly stimulating. What will the Senator do when he grows up?

It is regrettable that the Minister debases herself by hurling personal abuse at me.

What does he think he has been doing?

Is that the way she wants to conduct herself in the House? She referred to her recent package on crime which can be described only as a Pauline conversion because up to then lethargy reigned in the Government. All the Minister did was announce measures which had been cancelled previously. The Labour Party came up with a hastily arranged policy document——

It was not hastily arranged.

——when it had been silent on the topic since February 1995. I will not even refer to the Democratic Left because everybody knows that its input to this issue has been nil.

This is rubbish.

The leaders of the Labour Party and Democratic Left should explain why they did nothing in 1995 or for most of 1996 on this matter. That is what the people concerned with the courts and the administration of justice would like to know. Why have the Labour Party and Democratic Left been so pathetically feeble on the question of law and order since February 1995?

We welcome the Bill as another small measure, but it may be too little too late to deal with the crime crisis, which the Minister has not yet admitted is a crisis.

I will refrain from reacting to Senator Mulcahy's contribution. As a lawyer practising in Dublin, I am surprised he does not know that five new District Courts will be opened shortly in the Richmond Hospital complex. That is progress.

I welcome the introduction of the Bill in the Seanad. It is part of the package the Minister has been preparing for some time. It tackles the main problem in the courts system, the arrears of cases and appeals awaiting hearing.

I congratulate the Minister on her decision to appoint Pat Byrne as Commissioner designate of the Garda Síochána. He is an excellent policeman and will do an excellent job. I also welcome her decision to appoint ten additional judges which is significant in the context of this debate. Criminal cases will no longer be transferred from Cork to Dublin. This abuse has stopped and judges must be satisfied that it is manifestly unjust not to transfer them. In recent months the Minister has made the most dramatic increase in the number of judges and, therefore, in the level of court activity since the foundation of the State.

The strongest feature of the Irish system of Government is the respect for and independence of the Judiciary, which is important. There is, however, no agency capable of bringing about urgently needed changes. The Minister for Justice stated previously that the courts system is creaking under the weight of cases and that county courts open when the trains arrive and close for the September harvest. It is against that background that the proposal was made to overhaul the system for the first time in more than 70 years.

I congratulate Mrs. Justice Denham and her committee for the work they have done in this area. The report of that committee, which is welcome, is in urgent need of implementation. In terms of efficiency and proper co-ordination, it is important that the proposed courts service be established as soon as possible. The present position where the Department of Justice, the Office of Public Works and county councils share the day to day running of the courts is unsatisfactory. There will be more coordination under the proposed courts service.

The involvement of county councils in maintaining courthouses must be questioned. Councils were never given the resources to properly maintain them. The outdated accommodation in court buildings throughout the country reflects the antiquity of the work of the courts. As a member of the appeals tribunal — the previous speaker is a former member of that tribunal — I visit courts throughout Munster from time to time and I am often appalled at the conditions in which justices, their staff and the legal profession work. In the cold days of winter it is an absolute penance to sit in a court for several hours.

It is important that courthouses are updated and provide proper accommodation. It will take many years and much money to bring the facilities up to standard. A programme of work has commenced and considerable investment is being made in the courthouse in Newcastlewest in my area, which is in a very bad state of repair. The courts service should be accountable to the Oireachtas through the Minister for Justice for finance and administration but not for judicial decisions. That would ensure the separation of powers and would keep the Judiciary outside the sphere of political influence.

The Denham report on the courts identifies fundamental problems with the courts system which have caused delays. It acknowledges the difficult working conditions of court staff, who are to be complimented on their work. The report states that the fact that the courts have managed to function as well as they have is due to the dedication of people over the last 70 years in operating the judicial arm of Government. As the Minister said, delays are the crucial flaw in the courts system. They are expensive and create particular problems in criminal trials.

Of the first 20 cases listed in the Supreme Court in February, the length of time between the High Court and Supreme Court hearing dates varied from two and a half to eight years, which is totally unacceptable in a modern democracy. In personal injury cases in the High Court there is an average delay of almost three years between setting down of the case and its hearing. In the Central Criminal Court and the High Court delays in date of return for trial vary from two months to almost six years. For example, last December of 16 murder trials listed, eight were adjourned, three were adjourned with priority, two were listed for trial and provisional dates were fixed for three. Of 40 rape trials listed, dates were fixed for trial in only seven cases, provisional dates were fixed in two cases, two were arraigned and 29 adjourned.

The Minister's announcement yesterday to appoint ten further judges, together with the decision in April to increase the size of the Judiciary, will contribute greatly to alleviating the problem, and the Minister is to be congratulated for that. The courts have tried to provide a reasonable level of service in recent times in the face of modern demands and pressures. There has been a significant increase in the amount of business coming before the courts in recent years in practically all areas of law, civil actions, personal injuries, litigation, family law business and criminal cases.

The position of the Law Reform Commission on family courts is extremely revealing. The level of pressure in that area of the judicial system must be addressed, and I welcome the Minister's commitment to do so. Not only is there more business in that area but cases and appeals are more complex and time consuming than in the past. Changes to the limits of the jurisdiction of courts and developments in the family law area have had a tremendous impact on the amount and complexity of business before the courts. The courts system has not been able to keep up with the increase in the number of cases and appeals. Long delays in having cases resolved mean that many litigants, victims of crime and, to some extent, the community as a whole, are let down by the justice system.

Delays in courts may adversely affect the smooth running of the business and commercial sector. That could undermine public confidence in the system of justice. It is recognised that justice delayed is justice denied. That informs the overall approach to tackling the problems in the courts. A key reforming issue of the courts is the appointment of judges, and this Bill further facilitates that.

I wish to refer to some of the issues announced by the Minister in recent times.

On a point of order, this Bill is very specifically limited to enabling the Minister to appoint three extra judges to the Circuit Court. Will the Cathaoirleach say whether that allows debate on matters such as bail laws, crime and punishment and problems in our courts? I accept that the Minister has referred to those issues, but the Bill is very specific in its intent. Will the Cathaoirleach indicate whether on a Bill specifically dealing with an increase in the number of Circuit Court judges Members are allowed discuss the criminal law, the High Court, the Supreme Court, the District Court, prisons and so on? If that is the case, it is a new departure in procedure.

Acting Chairman

Anything that is relevant to the Bill is in order.

The Bill amends the Courts and Court Officers Bill, 1995, to the effect that the number of ordinary judges in the Circuit Court shall not be more than 27. That is the only provision in the Bill. How can it be relevant, therefore, to refer to the Supreme Court, the High Court and so on?

Acting Chairman

Senator O'Kennedy should resume his seat.

We are making a nonsense of the order and we will live to regret it.

Acting Chairman

The Senator should resume his seat and allow Senator Neville to continue. Generally speaking the matter rests with the Chair and I am trying as best I can to rule from here, which is not easy at times.

I wish to note that this is a huge break in precedent and practice in any debate on any Bill.

Acting Chairman

No interruptions. Senator Neville, please continue.

I allowed the Senator to make a point; he is entitled to that. However, it is significant that he did not raise that point when Senator Mulcahy was making his contribution which was well outside the scope of this Bill.

I was simply replying to the Minister's broad ranging contribution.

I was not here for the Minister's contribution either, otherwise I might have done so.

Mr. Mulcahy is quite right. I was addressing the issue of prison places, just as the Minister and Senator Mulcahy addressed such issues. It is significant that between 1989 and 1993 not one extra prison place was provided. Since then nothing further was done until the present Minister initiated a programme to increase prison space. Under this programme, which the Minister accelerated last Tuesday, 126 extra places will be provided in 1996. Construction of Castlerea main prison, which will provide 125 places, will begin and Mountjoy Women's Prison, which will provide 60 extra places, will start this year or in January 1997 at the latest.

Some 55 extra places will come on stream for a new wing at Limerick Prison within a year. Over a number of years I queried the former Minister for Justice and the Minister of State at the Department of Justice about the provision of this wing. A wing of Limerick Prison has been closed for over two years and the prison services there inform me that at the time it was closed, it would not have cost a lot of money to ensure that those cells remained in use. However, I welcome the fact that the Minister has now taken action on this and that 55 extra places will be provided in Limerick within a year. The building of the new remand prison at Wheatfield is welcome and this facility will provide 400 places.

I especially welcome the provision of extra gardaí, which I have called for here for a number of years. The Garda representative associations have for some time been pointing out the necessity for an increase in Garda numbers. We have had Adjournment debates about falling numbers in the Garda over the past number of years. I welcome the Minister's announcement of an increase of 400 gardaí between now and 1997 in addition to the recruitment of 350 gardaí in 1996 and another 350 in 1997. The aim of this is to bring the strength of the force up to around 11,000. It is well over ten years since the Garda numbers were at 11,000. Some 200 further gardaí will be provided by the introduction of civilians who will be recruited to the service to carry out some duties for which gardaí are not necessary. The association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors is very anxious that the Minister would consider increasing the retirement age from 55 to 60 years. I ask the Minister to see if anything can be done about this. I kept my contribution low-key after the last contribution.

I welcome the Minister to the House and the Bill. The Supreme Court and the High Court have a very high profile within the press and because of this the enormous amount of work which is done in the Circuit and District Courts often goes unnoticed. A great deal of the coal-face work is carried out there. The increase in the number of Circuit Court judges is to be warmly welcomed. It is not sufficient to simply extend the number of judges. The need for extra facilities and staff has been spoken of and like other Members I congratulate Mrs. Justice Susan Denham, not just on the speed with which she reported, but on the content of her report which was very wide ranging. I congratulate the Minister on having set up that group. I hope it will be in a position to continue its work.

It is extraordinary that the justice system has managed to function in the extraordinary facilities described as courthouses at present. On one occasion I was a witness in a District Court case and the hearing had to be transferred from the courthouse in Howth to Sutton Rugby Football Club clubhouse because Howth District Court had been burned down. I was in the Circuit Court in Naas on another occasion and the scene could only be described as reminiscent ofRemembrances of an Irish RM, because there was standing room only. I am glad the Minister is now addressing this long neglect of our justice system. Court sittings in September is to be warmly welcomed because, like the rest of us, judges like to plan their year. We should express our gratitude to them and to those barristers and solicitors who will be trying to deal with the incredible backlog which has become the norm within the courts.

I do not want to join the debate regarding the common practice of settling cases on the steps of the court. The only cases of which I have had much experience are personal injury cases. It would be worthwhile if the Minister could encourage such measures as the reciprocal disclosure of reports from the medical profession which in general is supported by most of those who have to give evidence within the courts. The delays in these cases are appalling and people often have to travel to give evidence only to find when they reach their destination that the case has been settled and that they might as well get the next train back. This also means that other cases which could have been dealt with are not.

The increase in the number of judges will mean that judges will want facilities which they consider suitable for those they have to pass sentence on and the progress to be made on the prison building programme is certainly welcome. I am very glad the Minister is bringing forward the development of Wheatfield Prison. I am one of the few people who have not called for an increase in the number of prison places because that is dangerous. It might be worthwhile to try to put a ceiling on the number of prison places. A remand prison, however, is absolutely essential. Regrettably I know Mountjoy Prison only too well from visits there and it is unsuitable to have remand prisoners and sentenced prisoners there at the same time. This has been spoken about for years so I hope that when Wheatfield is built one section of it will be used as a remand prison.

The building of the new women's prison which the Minister mentioned is also urgent. I spoke yesterday in the House about a study carried out on women prisoners within this country. Very little work has been done on women prisoners and this study looked at the incidence of psychiatric disease among them. On reading the report I saw to my dismay that a high number of women remand prisoners had psychiatric illness and a history of in-patient or outpatient attendance at psychiatric hospitals.

I spoke yesterday about Penrose's law which suggested that the closure of mental institutions led to a higher number of people in penal institutions. I know this is disputed but we must be very careful that those who are out of our mental institutions and become involved in crime are properly catered for. Many of the women on remand were first offenders and as the Minister knows this is quite unusual because a high proportion of our women prisoners are recidivists who are in for multiple offences of shoplifting and so on. We need to look very carefully at the type of people coming into prison. I hope the new courts will have facilities to carry out immediate psychiatric assessments so that psychiatric assessment is no longer made while the prisoner is on remand. This is a dangerous practice which we should try to prevent. We do not have the facilities that exist in England. There could be a diversion from court immediately so that a person before the court can be psychiatrically examined. I would like to see that matter addressed.

After all the work put into solving the drugs problem in the past few months and in view of the legislation introduced in the past few days, I was dismayed to discover there is a dispute about the opening of the detoxification unit in Mountjoy which has been so carefully planned. Apparently, the Prison Officers' Association is not enthusiastic about how it is to be staffed. I understood the unit was to be opened this week so I would be grateful if the Minister could explain how this problem has arisen at this late stage. The matter should have been addressed earlier.

The new judges will need more probation officers so I hope this is being addressed. I also hope the use of community service will be encouraged wherever possible so that those who do not need to be sentenced to detention are not so sentenced. We have an incredible situation where people who have been convicted for non-payment of fines are often sent to prison rather than being forced to take up community service. These people can be sent to prison whereas those detained on more serious charges may have to be released to make space. This matter must be addressed urgently.

I regret the Bill does not address a matter I brought up during discussion on the Courts and Court Officers Bill, 1995. That matter is the retirement of District Court judges. Their retirement conditions are different from those of other judges. District Court judges retire at 65 and, while they can continue to work until they are aged 70, it is based on an annual assessment. Senator Mulcahy supported the amendment I proposed to the Bill last December in this regard. Speaking on the amendment, I asked why Supreme Court, High Court and other judges did not have to retire until they were 70 while District Court judges had to retire at 65. The Minister of State did not give a plausible explanation.

It would be far more serious for a judge of the Supreme Court not to be in the whole of his or her health than for a member of the District Court. I cannot understand why the retirement ages for judges are not in line. Last December I said I would be grateful if the matter was examined in the future and the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, said he would do so. I suggested that it be dealt with in the next courts Bill. That Bill is now before the House and I would not like the same thing to happen to this issue as happened to the ratification of the Protocols to the Geneva Convention. One of the first things I sought when I became a Senator about three and a half years ago was that we should ratify the 1977 Protocols to the Geneva Convention. I was told it would be done almost immediately. It has not been ratified yet. It is eight months since the question of aligning retirement ages in the Judiciary arose and I did not think it would be difficult to introduce it in this Bill.

The current system seems to debase judges in one sector of the courts. Mrs. Justice Susan Denham recommended a unified court system in her report. Surely one of the most important elements in that is to ensure that judges have the same status and that people have the same expectations of the judges before whom they appear. People appearing before the District Court should not believe they come before judges whose positions are being renewed on a year to year basis. The renewal is not often refused; I understand it only happened once. However, there was a problem a couple of years ago when a district judge's renewal forms did not arrive on time. Retrospective legislation had to be introduced in the Oireachtas to ensure that cases which had come before that judge were valid. Can the Minister say why, as this is the next courts Bill before the House, the Department did not consider addressing this area, particularly as the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, said it would be looked at last December?

I sympathise with the Minister on her accident; I would not like to see how the other fellow looks. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. Its provisions are an important and integral contribution to the fight against crime which the Government recently announced.

Yesterday the government nominated Dermot O'Donovan for appointment to the High Court and nine other people for appointment to the Circuit Court. In addition, two new High Court judges received their warrants of office from President Robinson. These appointments are no substitute for the need for change in the courts system. The existence of a backlog in our courts is a serious problem which must be addressed as a matter of urgency. The Government and the Minister are committed to ensuring it is addressed.

With the recently published anticrime package, this Bill is an illustration of the Government's commitment to fighting crime. Unfortunately, the problem of crime is a fact of life. It is a serious problem that warrants urgent attention. This attention is now being given and the Minister is to be commended on that.

The backlog of cases in the courts system has been criticised. Some people are of the opinion that the courts have been inefficient in dealing with the anti-social elements of society. This criticism is unjust and does not put the problem in the correct context. The current crime problem is an unprecedented phenomenon. The courts system has served the country well in the past but the situation it now has to deal with is unprecedented. There is, therefore, an urgent need for change and this Bill illustrates the Government's acknowledgement of this need.

The provisions in the Bill increase the statutory maximum number of ordinary judges of the Circuit Court from 24 to 27. This is a welcome development and an important measure in the fight against crime. That fight is multifaceted. An important aspect of the fight is an efficient and effective court system. The Government has also decided to seek amendments to District Court Rules and request separate sittings to speed up procedures on evictions for anti-social behaviour, provide barring orders on evictions for anti-social behaviour in local authority dwellings, allow an authority to refuse to house an applicant on grounds of anti-social behaviour and provide discretion for health boards to refuse or withdraw housing assistance. These are important measures and indicate this Government's commitment to fighting the crime problem.

This Government is not, and never has been, soft on crime. The Labour Party is not, and never has been, soft on crime and it will not be in the future. The State has a duty to protect its citizens from anti-social elements and the Government is committed to ensuring this role is fulfilled. The Bill illustrates this commitment and I welcome it.

I welcome the Bill. It is a step in the right direction, in that it attempts to address the crime crisis through the courts. It remains to be seen whether it is too little too late or whether it is sufficient. Since last summer particularly we have lost our grip with regard to crime.

At that time, a Cabinet decision sent the wrong message to the people. The crime package was dismantled in the interests of the Wicklow by-election and more than £20 million was taken from the budget of the Department of Justice. The knock-on effect was that a 150 cell prison was put on hold. That sent a message to the public and to criminals that the Government was not serious about tackling crime, and had decided not to proceed with measures to deal with the extraordinary number of criminals who had been convicted but were walking the streets of our towns and cities.

Whether that is the truth or a myth, I heard Fine Gael spokespersons at public meetings in my constituency openly blame the Labour Party Minister for Finance for removing part of the budget of the Department of Justice. They supported their Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen. That criticism was obviously made also at higher levels if we are to accept recent reports. The chairman of Fine Gael and other members of that party openly criticised the lack of support for the Minister for Justice in her attempt to deal with the crime wave.

It was openly said by a Fine Gael elected representative at a public meeting at that time that the Minister for Justice was not at the Cabinet meeting which took that decision. I do not know whether that is true because I am not privy to that information, but that was the defence put forward on behalf of the Minister for Justice. I do not blame the Minister for Justice in all circumstances, but she should have dug in her heels on the matter — although that might not have been easy for her to do if she was not at the Cabinet meeting — and should not have allowed what happened at that time.

That was the start of the rot in regard to how we deal with crime. As my colleague, Senator Mulcahy, said, it was not until the deaths of Veronica Guerin and Detective Garda McCabe and the wounding of Detective Garda O'Sullivan that the reality hit the Cabinet that it had to take measures to claw back some credibility with the public in terms of addressing crime.

Everybody knew in June 1995 there was a revolving door policy on prisons. Any garda in any town could confirm that when he delivered a prisoner to Mountjoy Prison by taxi, if he went into a shop on his way home the prisoner would be home before him. The decision to dismantle the crime package was taken in the knowledge that that was the case. That was a very bad decision and we have been reeling from its effects ever since.

Another area which needs to be addressed is that of conviction for drug offences, which is tied up with the area of court reform. It is extraordinary to hear a statement by a Government source that a drug free zone is being provided in a prison. What hope can we have of drug free zones in our cities, towns and villages if our main prison is not a drug free zone? What hope have we of addressing the real issue of drugs on the streets if that is our approach? In the past few days it was revealed that someone who was convicted of the importation of drugs and given a sentence of eight years, is now in an open prison having served ten weeks. What kind of message does that send to the public and to criminals? While we welcome the Bill, the proper decisions are not being taken to deal effectively with crime.

Another area in which we will have disastrous results shortly is in the treatment of the insane, the plea of insanity and what happens at a later stage. Senator Henry referred to it to some extent. She confined her contribution to the fact that psychiatric hospitals have effectively closed and the prison and court systems are now picking up the fall out of social cases who up to now were dealt with by the Department of Health's psychiatric services. The court and prison systems are now clogged up as a result. I believe what Senator Henry said is true.

The Garda cannot deal with social cases in the way in which they did in the past, when they approached the psychiatric unit in the area and spoke to the medical officer in charge to see if there was a medical component to a problem. In many of those cases, people were dealt with by the Department of Health. That is no longer the case. A Garda sergeant recently told me he spent four hours travelling in a squad car from one psychiatric unit to another to try to get someone admitted without success. In his opinion, the person concerned needed medical assistance rather than to spend the night in a Garda station cell before appearing in court the next morning.

I understand from reports that up to 100 sex offenders will be released in the next two years, which concerns every parent. There is no register of sex offenders here. The Minister should take steps to compile such a register which could be linked with other European police forces. A convicted sex offender from another country provided care for young people here. This worries parents. There has been a massive increase in the number of sex abuse cases. It is time to establish a register to ensure that such people do not inveigle their way into care programmes established by different Departments and voluntary agencies. Perhaps the Minister of State will comment on this issue.

I am glad the Minister for Justice and the Government decided to accept the proposed Private Members' legislation introduced by Fianna Fáil in the Dáil. In recent years, Fianna Fáil has consistently put forward constructive suggestions and legislation and has voted money towards dealing with the problem of crime. I am pleased, to some extent, that the Government is responding in a positive way to that problem. It is encouraging that, for the first time in the life of this Administration, there seems to be a clear commitment to the notion that the parties involved in a rainbow coalition must work together to deal with crime. Today is the first time I have witnessed, in this House, a cohesive approach to crime by the three Government parties. In the past, people were inclined to protect their own patch but there is now evidence of cohesion. While people may not agree with Senator Mulcahy's comments——

If he had made a positive contribution, we might have agreed with him.

——he told a number of home truths with regard to crime and the way it has been dealt with in the past 18 months.

The Bill is straightforward and deals with the appointment of additional judges. I welcome this development, particularly as it relates to the Circuit Court because additional judges are needed for various reasons, including dealing with the problem of crime and the serious backlog of cases before our courts. If a person puts down a case today, it will not come before the courts until early 1998. When discussing the provision of additional judges, we are dealing with one aspect of a large area of the administration of justice. There are many other aspects which contribute towards achieving a fair system of justice and ensuring that people can live in peace and go about their business without fear of being shot, intimidated or attacked.

Recent events have brought about a realisation that, over a period, there was complacency towards crime which led to a deterioration in the situation. Crime did not appear in Dublin or throughout the country since the appointment of the present Minister for Justice; it is no harm to refute that lie. Successive administrations had to deal with grave problems, including the provision of courts, delays, etc., relating to the running of our courts, people being released on bail, prisoners gaining early release and a lack of accommodation for sentenced criminals. These issues must be tackled.

I welcome the appointment of additional judges. Members are aware that there are backlogs and delays and that the system is on the brink of collapse. There are difficulties with regard to criminal and civil law and delays in the hearing of cases. I welcome the appointment of additional judges who, I hope, will serve the system well and respond to changes within it. I have dealt with some of them in a professional capacity in the past.

By and large, the system of law which has evolved in Ireland has worked. Judges, no more than anyone, are not perfect. However, it is important that guidelines be laid down with regard to uniformity of sentencing. Judges cannot be blamed for the general breakdown in law and order. Some judges must be frustrated that their powers have been restricted. I welcome the fact that a referendum on the issue of bail will be held later in the year. The previous decision relating to this area was handed down over 30 years ago. Times have changed and we are no longer dealing with infringements on the liberty of petty criminals. We must now deal with well funded mobs of gangsters who will do anything to further their cause and evade justice. I am glad many people have taken note of the Minister's comments in this regard. Public representatives and opinion makers throughout Ireland, including the media, have a role to play. It is important that people support the referendum on bail. There is no doubt that people are playing ducks and drakes with the system.

It is also important to consider the question of sentencing policy and whether prisoners serve their full sentences. They will only do so if adequate accommodation is provided. Consideration must be given to the categorisation of prisoners. People serving sentences for minor crimes or once-off incidents should be treated differently to those who should be imprisoned for an extended period, if not forever.

The question of the expanded prison programme must also be considered because there is an immediate need for additional prison spaces. I would advocate the short-term conversion of certain institutions to cater for low risk prisoners until these additional spaces become available. Gardaí and judges would, therefore, not feel frustrated when they meet people who were given six month sentences but were released after two days. I urge the Minister to consider this as a short-term programme. While major prison schemes may proceed, we will be waiting a number of years for their completion. Some of those who are sentenced by our courts deserve to be imprisoned for long periods; they do not deserve to be at liberty. We must ensure that sentences handed down to those who commit serious crimes are served. Otherwise, it will be frustrating for gardaí and detectives if people are released from prison as quickly as they enter.

I hope there will be cross-party support for the measures being introduced. If amendments are to be taken on board, so be it. This problem is too serious to politicise the issue or for any cheap gimmicks by individuals or parties. If we fail to deal with the situation, the public will give a firm answer to individuals or parties.

We must look at the way courts operate and at courthouses. I am sure Senator O'Kennedy will confirm that in some areas business is done on the street which is pleasant on a sunny day but not when dealing with matrimonial cases. Couples often have to sit outside the courthouse or stand on the footpath during negotiations. Consultation rooms must be provided in our courthouses. I hope extra court space will be provided. If fire officers were particularly vigilant, some courthouses, particularly in the city, would be closed because they are overcrowded and badly ventilated. A judge in the courthouse in Kilmainham had an ongoing problem with rats and broken windows. It is not good enough that judges, practitioners and witnesses in civil and criminal cases have to put up with this. We must look at this.

As we debate this Bill and other measures relating to the administration of justice and fighting crime, it is important that both Houses adopt a unified approach. Politicians should be seen to respond to the problem. The opinion poll taken last week suggested that politicians did not respond as quickly as they might. It behoves us all to support the Minister for Justice. The poll also indicated that the public does not blame the Minister, who has worked hard but has been politically kicked around at times. She has responded by dealing efficiently with this problem. Knee jerk reactions or piecemeal proposals will not do when dealing with the crime problem. We must keep our heads.

These problems have evolved over a number of years and we should nail the lie that everything has got worse in the past 18 months since the Minister took office. It is important that we make suggestions, which I hope will be taken on board. We must ensure that those who commit serious crimes are given lengthy prison sentences and that there is no question of early release.

I compliment members of Judiciary who have made it known that they will not take any more nonsense in relation to drugs cases. It is important that people in public life are constructive and give a solid lead on this issue. We must deal with the problems before us, although we will not solve them overnight. I hope what I have said will be taken on board. I have no doubt the Minister of State, Deputy Coveney, will relay our comments to the Minister. This is a reasoned debate on the problems which have arisen and I support the Bill.

My party wholeheartedly supports the Bill and welcomes the fact that it is being introduced in the Seanad. I understand the Minister of State has been given a specific responsibility in the fight against crime, that is, to come up with immediate prison spaces. I wish him well in his task.

This Bill increases the number of Circuit Court judges from 24 to 27. There will be 28 judges sitting in the Circuit Court, including the President of the Circuit Court. This move is welcome. For many years the court system has been the Cinderella of State services in the justice area. It has been under-funded and devoid of any long-term strategic planning. Delay in gaining access to justice is one of the most remarkable features of the system and it is a major cost factor for litigants. We hope the appointment of these extra judges will lead to speedier trials and accused persons spending less time on bail.

The Minister said the Law Reform Commission's report on bail pointed out that one way bail offending could be reduced is by reducing the length of time persons are at liberty before trial and that the appointment of extra judges would deal with that. It is appropriate to welcome these appointments which, we hope, will lead to a reduction of the length of time people are on bail. A referendum on bail laws has been promised for November. Those on remand should not have to wait lengthy periods before being brought to trial, which is essential in a fair justice system.

The delays in the court system have been acknowledged for a number of years. In 1993 the Bar Council and the Law Society presented a joint submission with proposals for change. The Minister appointed a commission under Mrs. Justice Susan Denham which recommended that the court service should be established as an executive agency independent from the Department of Justice, but answerable to the Minister. This was in line with recommendations in the Devlin report in 1969. The court service in Northern Ireland is under the control of a full-time Executive, which the Minister mentioned. She said the Government had approved in principle the primary recommendation of the report, that is, that an independent and permanent body to be known as the court service would be established on a statutory basis. She has asked the working group to submit a further report on how the establishment of the service could be progressed. When will this happen?

I noted a comment by the Chairman of the Bar Council, James Nugent, on the appointment of the extra judges. He called for an independent body which would oversee the provision of the court service as recommended by the Denham commission. How soon does the Government expect that to be in operation? We must prioritise this matter. As we are all aware, delays are experienced daily in the courts. This undermines the justice system, our belief in it and causes us to question if it is fair. It also denies compensation to those who are entitled to it and causes litigants great personal stress and anxiety. The current backlog adds substantially to the high cost of litigation about which we all complain.

In the recent round of judicial appointments, Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness was appointed to the High Court and there are now two female High Court judges. Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness was the first woman to be appointed to the Circuit Court and it is welcome that of the nine judges appointed yesterday three are women, but I am disappointed that of the 28 judges in the Circuit Court, including the President, only three are women. I ask the Government to consider appointing more female judges. That is a recommendation of the Report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women of which Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness and I were members. It recommended that the aim in all State appointments should be to have a 40 per cent female representation. Given that the majority of family law cases are dealt with in the Circuit Court, it is particularly important that a reasonable number of women as well as those who have expertise in family law be appointed judges. Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness was recognised as having particular expertise in that area and there was some regret that she was moved from the Circuit Court to the High Court. I urge that more people such as she be appointed.

In addition to the appointment of extra judges, funding must allocated for the provision of necessary facilities and back up services. I pay tribute to the Government for extending the free legal aid service, increasing the number of centres providing that service and establishing the Free Legal Aid Board on a statutory basis. The Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Taylor, has spoken on that issue on a number of occasions here. This is an area that tends to overlap between his Department and the Department of Justice.

I welcome the provision in the Government's crime package for extra prison spaces. A total of 400 remand spaces are to be provided at Wheatfield Prison, but when will they be available? People would like an immediate response to that need though I accept that such additional resources cannot be provided overnight. I wish the Minister of State well in his task of finding immediate spaces for remand prisoners.

The total cost of the package announced by the Government last week in the fight against crime amounts to £54 million, a substantial but necessary expenditure in view of recent events and the escalation in crime. I am interested in hearing whether additional gardaí are to be dedicated to anti-drugs services. Of our force of 10,000 gardaí, less than 10 per cent are dedicated anti-drugs officers. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that there is a dedicated drugs squad in all Garda divisions. We discussed the drugs problem yesterday when debating the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill, 1996. We all acknowledge that drugs are the greatest threat to society and are the cause of most crime committed by addicts who need to feed their habit and by many who committed some of the frightening crimes in the recent past. I ask the Minister of State to convey the message to the Government that it is important that a greater number of gardaí be allocated to fighting the drugs scourge in our society.

I welcome the appointment of the new Garda Commissioner, Mr. Pat Byrne, and wish him well in the task ahead of him. This is a difficult time in the area of justice. A review of the efficiency of the Garda force is being carried out under the strategic management initiative and that review group will report back to Government before the end of the year. A speedy response in all those areas is necessary, but I question the inclusion of the Garda Commissioner as part of the review group. Is that wise? As my colleague, Senator Dardis, said on the Order of Business, would the chief executive of a company be involved in carrying out a review of his or her company?

I wish to raise another matter which was brought to my attention yesterday. In the fight against crime the Minister made provision for the appointment of additional forensic staff. There is a lack of resources in the office of the State Pathologist, which has been in the news recently. The demands on that office have increased. To date this year there have been 100 deaths in suspicious circumstances. The State Pathologist, Professor Harbison, is responsible for Dublin and the rest of the country and he has an assistant in Cork.

A very responsible one.

A woman. I agree she is a very able assistant. There appears to have been an increase in the burden of work in that office and the Minister should consider its needs. She has said she will publish the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill in the next week or two and that the legislation will improve the efficiency of court procedures and reduce the amount of time spent by gardaí in courts. That is welcome. All of us see gardaí spend many days in court when they could be doing much more worthwhile work. I welcome the promised increase in the number of gardaí under the crime package.

The Minister said that she is considering the introduction of changes in the system operating in the Family Law Court to make it more family friendly and to improve facilities there. Responsibility for that court straddles her Department and the Department of Equality and Law Reform. This area is being examined by the working group on the courts commission as part of its examination of the courts system. Given that divorce legislation has been introduced and will be passed early in the next session, the number of family law cases is rapidly increasing and it is an area of the courts system that deserves special attention.

My party supports the Bill and welcomes the increase in the number of judges.

Acting Chairman

I call Senator O'Sullivan.

I thought Senator Sherlock was due to speak. I will defer to him.

I welcome the decision to increase the number of Circuit Court judges to which this Bill gives statutory effect. Between 1987 and the end of the 1980s when a policy of fiscal rectitude was pursued untold damage was done to every system, but that is being rectified by the Government which has taken the crime problem seriously. As a previous speaker said, justice delayed is justice denied for the accused, the victim and society. The increase in the volume of cases coming before the courts which, until recently, was not met with a similar increase in the number of judges, has led to a judicial bottleneck whereby an individual may have to wait for months or years before a case comes to trial. That is unacceptable and has caused hardship for all those involved in a case. There will be widespread public welcome for the measures designed to reduce delays and I hope that in the coming months further measures will be introduced to speed up the administration of justice.

I wish to refer to decisions made on the steps of courthouses. Such decisions were totally unsatisfactory because, when people returned home and reflected on what had been decided and the manner in which that decision was taken, they failed to understand the procedure. It is an entirely different matter when a case goes to litigation because the litigant knows exactly where he or she stands. Increasingly, it has been the experience of people leaving courthouses that the system is totally unsatisfactory unless there is total agreement, unless litigants understand fully what has been decided which very often they do not.

The first step in maintaining and increasing public confidence in our judicial system has already been taken by the Court and Court Officers Act whose provisions attempted to bring our judicial system into the 20th century. It is time responsibility for the upkeep of courthouses was taken from local authorities. They are unable to fulfil their other statutory tasks, whether in the provision of housing, local services or whatever. Financial provision for courthouses is very far down on their agenda. Some other system must be seriously examined.

I especially welcome the fact that solicitors and barristers will be eligible for appointment to the Circuit Court. The first such appointment has already been made. The appointment of solicitors will broaden our judicial base and ensure that those with experience of the nitty gritty of the day to day operations of the law are eligible for appointment to the Bench. The speeding up of the administration of justice is just one of the challenges confronting us as we endeavour to get to grips with our increasing crime levels. The drugs crisis is at the very root of the problem we face. A law and order response alone will do little to tackle the demand for drugs.

I welcome the measures the Government announced yesterday, in particular its recognition that the explosion in demand for drugs must be tackled in tandem with their supply. Yesterday's announcement of the establishment of a ministerial task force, headed by the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Rabbitte, to identify ways in which the response to the drugs problem can be better co-ordinated is long overdue. I especially welcome the short period within which it is to report.

Drug dealers are holding many communities hostage, leaving many ordinary citizens feeling powerless to counteract the activities of dealers in their midst. I welcome the decision to speed up procedures for evicting people on the grounds of anti-social behaviour. I look forward to the early publication of the Bill to give effect to these measures which I hope will be passed by both Houses without delay.

Estate management is a major factor in the fight against drug dealing and anti-social behaviour. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy McManus, has made this a priority, the results of which will soon become evident. Following the brutal murders of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and Veronica Guerin, we have been forced to take a cold, hard look at our society, its present state and where it is heading. The Government's response to mounting concerns has been both swift and measured. However, the response from certain other quarters, while swift, certainly was not measured. It is inevitable that at times of great public emotion there will be ill-considered calls for quick panaceas. In recent weeks we have heard calls for the declaration of a state of emergency and the reinstatement of draconian Garda powers, but society's response to crime must be based on the rule of law. In some cases those laws may need to be changed or, the implementation of existing laws improved. The Government is addressing the position in a calm, measured manner. I am confident that the final result will be a significantly improved criminal justice system which will ensure that criminals are prosecuted with the full rigour of the law while simultaneously ensuring that individual freedoms are fully vindicated.

I fully support the updating of the State Forensic Laboratory. I understand the Government has already agreed the appointment of a full-time assistant to the State Pathologist. I plead that that office be based in Cork where a particularly large volume of work has been undertaken in recent years by the Assistant State Pathologist.

Some months ago the Minister increased the maximum number of Circuit Court judges to 24. What information has become available to the Minister in the intervening months to make her aware that her decision at that time was a mistake? What has emerged in the meantime to persuade her to introduce this Bill — which has one purpose only, to increase the number of Circuit Court judges from 24 to 27? What has transpired to justify this decision? Was information withheld from the Minister at that point? I should like be reassured on that point. She said some months ago that she had given very full consideration to all the demands and pressures at all levels in the courts and then proposed to the Oireachtas that the maximum number of Circuit Court judges required would be 24. Was her examination and consideration of the seriousness of the position, particularly in the Circuit Court but in others as well, so casual and incomplete as to represent a very serious indictment of the manner in which proposals are considered by her and within her Department and then enacted into law by the Oireachtas?

In my years as a Member of this House I have never experienced a Minister literally going back on something she proposed to us a mere three months ago, or witnessed such circumstances within a few months of the passage of a Bill such as the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act, 1995, despite the comprehensive statement of the Minister today on a whole range of issues not relevant to this Bill. That does not fill me with confidence. I had thought that the Minister would advance proposals on the basis of the most exhaustive examination of an issue which was very serious a few months ago and remains so. When replying I should like the Minister to explain that anomaly, which is a very kind word for it.

The Minister said, "I have had cause to look again at the position with regard to the arrears of cases." That cause arose within a few months of her saying that the maximum number of Circuit Court judges required was 24. There is something very wrong and deficient in that type of examination.

This is one of the shortest, if not the shortest, Bills ever introduced here which did not require consultation with the parliamentary draftsman or with anyone else. Its provision is simply to increase the number of judges to not more than 27. In case we are not capable of understanding it, we have an explanatory memorandum to tell us that that is precisely what this Bill is doing. That indicates something very serious in the Department of Justice or in the Minister's consideration of the crime level.

What will be the effect of this Bill on the Circuit Court? I am very concerned, as we all are, that our courts be seen to operate effectively, that when they take decisions, at whatever level, those decisions and sanctions will be implemented in the administration of justice. If there are more judges dealing with criminal cases, presumably they will have occasion to impose sentences. That will mean more people being made amenable to sanction and courts being able to operate effectively and seen to be respected by the Administration, because it is a matter for the Administration to provide prison places for the people who will be sentenced by the extra judges appointed yesterday and by those who will be appointed under this provision.

I would like to know — I presume the information on this will be available within the Department of Justice — how many of the people who received sentences of not less than two years in the superior courts in the past three years are now serving sentences in accordance with law and the Constitution? How many of them are now wandering free on temporary release? This is a matter of significant relevance because a heinous murder was committed in Clonmel in the past few days and it is of concern to the people in the surrounding area that, while someone is being investigated and will, perhaps, be prosecuted in time, a known number of convicted offenders are out on temporary release on the streets of Clonmel and in every town and city. For that reason I want to know if the Minister is now of the view that we need 27 judges, not 24. Is she conscious that giving responsibility to judges and then frustrating that by not providing prison places is calculated to bring the whole system into further disrepute?

Unfortunately, I was not here last week, but I regret statements made by members of the Judiciary in respect of people they had sentenced wandering free. That is a significant indication of frustration and anger on the part of so many judges or justices at the fact that when they do what they are required to do under their oath and under this Constitution, their actions are set at naught. Will the appointment of three extra judges improve the system, or will it give rise to a further undermining of confidence in the system of administering justice? Given that so many convicted criminals are wandering free in our towns and cities and in the countryside, is the Minister's proposal to appoint three extra judges to deal with criminal cases in the Circuit Court merely window-dressing? I was told today of someone sentenced to seven years for a very serious offence in the Minister's city who, within three weeks of being sentenced, was transferred to the open prison at Shelton Abbey. How can that inspire confidence in our system of justice? What consideration did the Minister and her officials give to that scandal before coming before us today with a proposal, which seems to contain an element of window-dressing, to appoint three extra judges?

The Minister's statement covered the whole range of the law and contained only one short paragraph about arrears of cases on the criminal side. That is a terrible indictment. Either someone withheld information from the Minister or she did not sufficiently consider the information provided. Which is it? I would particularly like to know how many of those serving sentences are on temporary release, because the public is entitled to know just how our system is operating and how it is being utterly frustrated.

My views on the establishment of an interview board to examine the suitability of appointees to the Judiciary have been known for a long time. It is a nonsense, an accommodation reached, perhaps in our time in Government, with the Labour Party, which has, unfortunately, been maintained by this Government. Which of yesterday's appointees could not or would not have been appointed by the Government if that nonsense of an interview board had not been introduced? Which of them would not have been considered under the old system where the Government of the day acted on its responsibility? Why was it necessary to go through the nonsense of interviewing people if not for the purpose of giving the public the impression that things were being done properly and fairly? Those who are close to the people appointed would just smile wryly. I have respect for the people who were appointed; I know most of them personally, but not one of them is a card carrying member of Fianna Fáil. That should not disqualify them from being appointed to the Judiciary, but I have to ask what kind of window-dressing is this on the part of elements of the Labour Party in particular and of Democratic Left, to convey the impression that things are being done properly? That is the issue we have to be honest about in terms of the administration of justice. The public want to know if we are just engaged in window-dressing to give the impression that we are doing things as they should be done according to the highest standards and the most efficient system.

I have one final question which is not immediately related to this short Bill. Many people are concerned about the balance that applies between the treatment of persons charged with crime and that of victims, the people in whose name prosecutions are brought. Our adversarial system means that a case must be proved beyond all doubt. Many times, particularly in my earlier years in addressing a jury, I relied on that fact to leave a doubt in the mind of a jury. It is a very heavy onus. In other systems in other countries, the inquisitorial system particularly, an examining magistrate conducts an examination. If we are moving towards the pattern of our European partners, why should an examining magistrate not be allowed to note it as being significant if someone stays silent and will not account for this, that or the other?

We should at least consider the option of the inquisitorial system which has proved to be much more effective in bringing criminals to justice throughout the European Community than our system. Even if those criminals were brought to justice, resulting in more convictions, would that mean people would be more frustrated and angry because those who were convicted would not be serving their sentences in accordance with the Constitution? How much thought has the Minister given to that fact in introducing legislation providing for these extra appointments?

I welcome the Bill. I agree with Senator O'Kennedy that we should look at the possibilities of the inquisitorial system. I am not a practitioner in this area but his suggestion is a worthy one. I welcome the additional appointments. I do not know any of the people appointed nor have I any idea of their political affiliations. I do not understand Senator O'Kennedy's problem with the interview process.

I have expressed this opinion many times. I think it is nonsense.

I do not see why there should be a problem with it. I congratulate Senator O'Kennedy because he has addressed some of the positive aspects of the Bill whereas the previous two Fianna Fáil speakers seemed to waste practically all of their precious time attacking the Government, saying absolutely nothing constructive on the debate. I do not know why they did that.

May I correct Senator Mulcahy's comment on the Labour Party drugs policy document? I was a member of that sub-committee and am aware the report was not put together hastily. At our last party conference, a policy development commission was set up under which subcommittees were established. The drugs policy sub-committee was the first to start working and we have been working for at least six months, seeking opinions not only from people within the Labour Party but from people working in the drugs area. We spent a long time deliberating before presenting our report. I refute the falsehood that it was hastily put together.

Senator Finneran seems to have access to what goes on in Cabinet. I thought there was Cabinet confidentiality but he seems to know what goes on in Cabinet. I wonder how.

Senator Neville gave details of the time delays in various courts. It is stated in theBar Review that the Supreme Court list of April this year contained 259 cases awaiting hearing, of which up to 150 are still awaiting a date for hearing. The first case in the Supreme Court list which does not yet have a date for hearing shows a delay from the date of hearing in the High Court of almost three years. I presume that when that case was in the High Court there was a Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice. That gives the lie to the Fianna Fáil assertion that the problem started in the past year or so. The problem obviously has been ongoing for years. The court system needs a thorough root and branch examination. It is obvious to anyone — I am a lay person who has to sit in court occasionally for one reason or another — that the courts system needs a thorough overhaul. I do not know why Senator Mulcahy is so sensitive about solicitors and barristers being part of that process.

I support the recommendations of the first interim report of the working group on a court commission, the Denham Committee. I welcome the fact that the Minister has told us she is working out ways to have it implemented. The committee's main recommendation is that an independent court services board should be set up comprising mainly members of the Judiciary as well as representation from trade unions, management, the legal professions, court staff and court users. It is intended that it should be widely representative and that it should look into all aspects of court procedure.

Clearly there are delays and we should look at the ways to speed up the process. Obviously that will mean appointing extra judges. It includes other things and I welcome the fact that in future the county registrar will be able to do some of the business that judges spent their time on and that the Circuit Court Rules Committee will have the power to save time for judges. The working group recommends that modern information technology could be used more efficiently to speed up the process. The Minister indicated today and previously that measures are being taken so that a garda will not have to sit around all day in court, waiting to say that he was the garda who submitted certain documentation. Similarly, a doctor should not have to sit around all day waiting to say that he is the doctor who conducted such an examination. If barristers had to wait in hospital as long as doctors have to wait in court they would be asking questions about hospital administrative systems. It is up to barristers and solicitors to play their role in examining what can be done to improve the court systems.

I agree with the Senator entirely.

Many barristers and solicitors do, but that point does not seem to be coming across from Senator Mulcahy.

There is now an established procedure to exchange medical reports and doctors are not required to attend at court.

This happens in about 85-90 per cent of cases.

That is very welcome. I was called to a court because I had written a letter to the housing maintenance department about a repair I wanted carried out. Somebody subsequently put in a claim and used my letter as evidence. I had to sit around in court. The only reason I was there was to say I was the person who had written the letter. There should have been a simple procedure where I could have spoken to the judge for half a minute saying I signed the letter. The case was settled and I did not have to give evidence. That is just an example of time wasting. I hope those areas will be addressed.

On the question of offences committed while on bail, it is clear that if cases are heard sooner obviously the people will not be out on bail for so long and will commit fewer offences during the period of bail. We should have consecutive rather than concurrent sentencing when somebody on bail commits other offences. I do not have a problem with the fact that we are proposing to change the bail laws.

Under Article 38.1 of the Constitution, "No person shall be tried on any criminal charge save in due course of law". People have a right to reasonable expedition in legal business. Clearly the will of the people is that hearings should be speeded up. I welcome the fact that there will be extra sittings of the High, Circuit and Central Criminal Courts and the additional appointments in the forensics area. I support the call for additional resources for forensic pathology.

I hope the Minister of State will be able to convey to the Minister my question on the promised juvenile justice Bill. It was announced earlier that there would be such a Bill. I asked the Minister about it a month ago and she indicated that progress was being made but it would be difficult to draft. If we do not deal with young offenders in an effective way, and in my view that involves their parents — that is the intention of the proposed juvenile justice Bill — we will have people offending at an early age who will become chronic offenders unless we have effective methods of dealing with them at their first offence.

There is a need for preventive measures in the criminal justice area as well as in areas related to drugs and crime. We cannot merely react to what is happening without taking preventive action. That legislation is just as important as the other legislation we dealt with. Sentencing policy, the Garda, prison places, efficiency within prisons and the courts are interrelated. We do not need to dwell on the question of prisons today but if many people come out of prison as worse offenders than when they entered there must be something wrong.

Perhaps we should look at the possibility of separate courts to deal with drugs related cases. In the United States there is a system of separate courts which has proved to be effective in reducing the number of crimes committed by drug addicts. It is estimated that in Dublin up to 80 per cent of crime may be committed by drug addicts to feed their habit. So far as I understood the US system, people are not necessarily put into prison but are put on a rehabilitative medical programme and have to report to the court consistently and to be seen to be working with the rehabilitative programme. That would seem more effective than to put people into a prison such as Mountjoy where Senator Henry referred to the setting up of separate detoxification units and where the majority of prisoners still have little access to a rehabilitative programme.

There may be other ways of dealing with that issue and, if so, we should look at them. Given that the health boards have little to do with drug addicts in prison that matter should be looked at. There should be continuing treatment for drug offenders during their stay in and following their release from prison.

I welcome the appointment of extra judges. Clearly that in itself will not solve all our problems but it is an important factor. The recommendations of the working group must be implemented as soon as possible. I hope the various measures being put forward to deal with the prisons, the Garda and the demand reduction in drugs will be effective.

I welcome the Bill. The Minister has adopted the correct approach by increasing the number of judges. The appointment of three additional circuit court judges is welcome. Those who have been appointed are people of the highest calibre and will play an important role in administering the law.

There is considerable agreement on all sides of the House regarding a number of important changes being proposed by the Minister, one of which is the referendum to change the bail laws. This issue has been discussed for quite some time and up to now nobody had grasped the nettle. On other occasions, public opinion polls gave the impression a referendum would pass easily but as the debate progressed the margins became very narrow and it was defeated. However, it is important to change the bail laws. In the wake of current events I am confident a referendum on bail with the correct wording will be passed by a huge majority if and when it is put to the people. If a referendum on bail, which involved a huge public debate, were defeated it would be a serious matter and would send out all the wrong signals. However, I am pleased the Minister is now grasping this nettle and bringing forward the referendum.

I have spoken on numerous occasions about the necessity to curtail the right to silence. I want the right to silence to be restricted but there will have to be sufficient safeguards for an accused person or suspect. I am pleased the Minister has met my demand in large measure by amending the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill which restricts the right to silence in drug trafficking cases. It is a difficult matter to restrict the right to silence and I congratulate her on moving in this direction. At a later stage it may prove necessary to further restrict that right.

Everyone is aware of how people involved in drug trafficking were arrested by the Garda, taken in for questioning and refused to answer questions. Drug traffickers are fully aware of how the system operates to safeguard them. This legislation is essential and has been necessary for a long time.

The Organised Crime (Restraint and Disposal of Illicit Assets) Bill which is before the Dáil is necessary as well as the earlier legislation under which banks are obliged to report on money they consider is being laundered. Finance companies and banks reported more than 300 cases to the Revenue with the result that over £20 million has been frozen. The people who own it will have to vouch for this money. Given that large sums of money were being laundered this Bill was necessary. The Minister has adopted the correct approach to having this money frozen. I would go one step further and say where money is about to be moved because there is a suspicion that the Revenue are about to take action, the Minister should have the power to obtain a conditional order.

The Garda has demanded a change in regard to arrestable offences to deal with persons who have stabbed or assaulted somebody and run into a house or their own home with an iron bar and where the Garda have been prevented from entering that house. They could enter the house if the person in question had a gun, but not if he or she had a knife. I am pleased the criminal law legislation currently going through the Dáil will create a new series of new arrestable offences which will allow gardaí enter houses without warrants to arrest such offenders.

Senator O'Sullivan is correct in saying that gardaí should not have to go to court to deal with minor traffic offences. In such circumstances a Garda certificate stating that the person concerned did not have tax or insurance on a car should be sufficient. A Garda sergeant could then deal with the matter in the court. The prosecuting garda could notify offenders of the information he or she intends to supply to the court and inform them that if they wish they can go to court to contest it. If they decline the offer to go to court the judge in question should be notified. When speeding offences come before our courts, courtrooms are usually full of gardaí, detectives, defendants and so on. Many of those cases could be dealt with by a District Court clerk without the offenders going to court. The amount of Garda manpower and resources being wasted on minor traffic offences is unacceptable.

I commend the Minister on the changes she initiated in regard to county registrars. Up to now listed cases and notices of motion cluttered up the courts, but the Minister has simplified the system. This will speed up the court process and reduce the number of people attending court.

As a solicitor I am pleased the Minister has appointed a number of solicitors to the Circuit Court Bench. I am sure Senator O'Kennedy agrees this will give the Minister a much greater choice of people.

I do not have a problem with that, and I said that when the Bill dealing with that matter was introduced here. This Bill does not deal with that matter.

Nor does it deal with 90 per cent of the other issues raised.

This is the first time solicitors will be appointed to the Circuit Court Bench.

Senator O'Kennedy referred to early releases and prison spaces. In 1985-86 a plan was drawn up for the building of prison spaces, but nothing was done for ten years. We then had talk about a prison in Castlerea. The Minister is making a major effort to provide prison spaces which cost a great deal of money. She has made decisions about the Curragh, Castlerea and improving the prison system generally. Those convicted of drug trafficking offences should be sent to Spike Island. If that prison were turned into an Alcatraz it might prevent such criminals from continuing a life of crime.

I hope the Minister and other members of the Government are listening to the Senator.

The Minister is doing an excellent job. While I accept that providing additional spaces costs a great deal of money, the development of the prison on Spike Island would be highly desirable. I ask the Minister to include that in her overall plans for increasing prison spaces.

We are fortunate that the Judiciary, the Legislature and the Executive are independent. Judges speaking from the Bench should confine their comments to the laws before them. It would be regrettable if judges were to stray into the political arena when speaking from the Bench. They should exercise care when making remarks. I have no difficulty with them speaking on such matters at seminars or elsewhere.

Judges are independent of the House.

Long may that remain the case. That is why politicians should not interfere with the courts and judges should not enter the political arena when speaking from the Bench.

Under the Constitution they are charged with implementing justice but they are frustrated in doing that.

I have no difficulty with that, but they should not enter the political arena. I wish the Minister continued success in her difficult task.

I welcome the Bill and the appointment of three new judges which will speed up the process and inject new life to the Judiciary. I also welcome the announcement made yesterday. Like Senator O'Kennedy, I also wonder whether the presence of bord scrúdú made any difference or if different people would have been appointed it had not been in existence.

I am not questioning the qualifications of members of the board.

I accept that. We discussed this when we dealt with the relevant Bill and we were both sceptical about that matter. However, in an age when people tend to be suspicious, at least all those appointed have been verified as being fit for appointment by an independent board. In the past very few unqualified people were appointed at senior level, but perhaps there were difficulties at lower levels.

Senator O'Kennedy raised the question of people's political backgrounds. I think he will agree that should not be a bar to appointment. I have great admiration for people who have a sense of public service and become involved——

I did not say they had a political background.

Senator Manning, without interruption.

The Senator might be surprised. There is certainly one gentleman who may have worn more than one colour, but I will not go into that.

I wish to refer to ways in which the system may be improved. Legal vacations are far too long and there is no excuse for that. Part of the reason for clogging the system is that courts are closed for an unconscionably long time each year — that is a greater factor than the small number of judges — and that is due to the persistence of a Victorian legal calendar. That may be the most difficult area to reform.

There is a question of discipline among the Judiciary. Before Senator Mulcahy accuses me of besmirching the Judiciary let me explain what I mean. Some judges sit extraordinarily short hours, as any barrister or solicitor who works in the courts on a daily basis will confirm. Some — the number is small — deem it virtually an infringement of their constitutional rights to be asked to sit in the afternoon. I think Senator Mulcahy will not disagree with me in that regard. To give one example, a solicitor recently told me of a very difficult settlement in a family law case where the parties had come together for consultation and on three occasions within ten minutes on a Friday afternoon the judge's tipstaff came into the room to ask if they could hurry up. That was a sensitive case in which money was involved and the parties were interrupted on three occasions, perhaps because the judge wanted to leave for lunch, to play golf or whatever. To the outsider that may appear scandalous. There is need for greater discipline within the Judiciary as to the way business is conducted. Far too often it appears that business is organised around the personal convenience of the judge rather than the needs of those using the court.

We should be extremely careful in being critical of judges.

I am speaking in general. Wild horses would not reveal the name of the person about whom I am speaking.

There is an increasing problem in terms of judges' knowledge of the law. The law changes constantly, with changes in European law and so on — this is the 40th Bill steered through the Seanad this year — and frequently judges may not have full knowledge of the most recent aspects of the law. I welcome some of the recent appointments of people such as Judge Tom Smith, Judge Catherine McGuinness and many other judges who have very deep knowledge in specialist areas, which is of great value in certain areas of the court, but is there provision to ensure judges are obliged to keep abreast of the law in their area? I would be interested in the answer.

A further problem relates to a matter referred to by Senator Enright, the separation of powers. The review of the performance of judges is very cumbersome. In virtually every other aspect of life people's performance is reviewed, whether by the electorate, by customers in the case of commerce or through a fixed term contract, but there is no way of reviewing the performance of judges who sulk, as happens occasionally, are lazy or not performing well. Unless there is major malpractice there is no means of reviewing their performance. I accept that the separation of powers of the Judiciary is of paramount importance, but perhaps in holding a referendum on bail we could consider establishing an independent constitutional authority which would, from time to time, review the behaviour and performance of judges. Their role is so important and has such far-reaching consequences that they should not be almost free agents.

I wish to refer to another matter raised by Senator Enright — I will be careful as I always am — the intrusion of judges in to public debate. As a general principle, I welcome the involvement of judges in public debate, in seminars, the Law Reform Commission, as judges in residence at universities and in various ways where they help to form and shape public debate and interact and hear views from the public. I am thinking about people such as Judge Ronan Keane, Judge Hugh O'Flaherty and Judge Catherine McGuinness, all of whom have played an important part in shaping public opinion on areas which may be included in legislation. One of the very good developments in the Judiciary in the last 20 or 30 years is the greater openness of judges to listen and give their views in areas where law may be about to be shaped or changed.

However, I deprecate, as Senator Enright did, the type of blunderbuss intrusion of certain district justices into public print. It was a well known feature of life in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s that liverish district justices would hold forth on virtually any topic, with headlines such as "District Justice attacks the GAA", "District Justice blames the cinema for low moral standards" and "Drink — the curse of Rathvilly, says District Justice". Those headings, which appeared in local papers at the time, made great copy but they did not do much for the Judiciary. I thought that practice had ended, but I deprecate recent blunderbuss attacks on politicians to the effect that somebody somewhere must do something. Judges must be conscious that if they have a point to make——

We should be very careful here. It has been a long-standing tradition that the Judiciary is independent of the Oireachtas.

I agree, but I am not attacking individual judges; I am simply exchanging views on them. There are ways in which judges can channel complaints in terms of their desire for change. Just as we should be careful in commenting on what happens in the courts and second-guessing judicial decisions, so too should judges be careful of the position they hold and the impact their words can have, particularly at the hands of an unscrupulous sub-editor.

I welcome the legislation and commend it to the House.

There has been a very wide ranging debate on this legislation, which is the smallest Bill I have ever seen——

We can thank the Minister for that. She did not deal with the Bill but with many other issues.

——and that is indicative of the intense interest in the subject. I will try to respond to most of the points made, certainly since I came in. I thank those who contributed for their unequivocal welcome for the Bill. It is a short Bill containing a single provision which will be most effective in alleviating delays in hearing cases in the Circuit Court. With the nomination by the Government yesterday of nine judges for appointment to the Circuit Court, this Bill will help ensure that in time the public will no longer have to put up with such long delays in having criminal cases, family law cases and civil actions dealt with by the court. The Bill, with recent judicial appointments and other ongoing initiatives and reforms relating to the courts, provides the basis for a more responsive and effective courts service, which is a matter of vital importance to the public.

There is unanimity among the various parties in Government about the measures being brought forward. There was a reference to my colleague, the Minister for Finance, in regard to Castlerea. There was never an argument in Government about the need for additional places; the argument was about the optimum site for them. Given that the majority of offenders are in this city and its environs, a question could be raised about the logic of building a prison so far away. I wish to nail the notion that there was a huge disagreement in Government about the need to provide prison places; there was not.

That is not what was printed in the papers.

I am sure the Senator does not believe everything he reads. Senator Mulcahy was critical of the Government's performance. While I could deal with each of the the points he raised his only serious criticism was that the Government is taking some of these measures too late. The preparation of legislation in this area is a very slow process. Fianna Fáil has been in Government and knows how slow it is. I am not speaking only about this Bill.

It would take one minute to prepare this Bill.

Senators know how long it takes to prepare some of the larger criminal legislation. Anything to do with the criminal law requires a huge amount of consultation with other bodies. The whole process is slow and we all regret that but it is a fact and important safeguards are built into that process. I will answer the Senators who are present rather than trying to deal with every matter raised.

Senator Henry raised the retirement age of District Court judges. The present retirement age for judges of the Supreme Court, High Court and Circuit Court is 70 years. This was reduced from 72 years for appointments made after December 1995 as a result of provisions in the Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995. The present retirement age for judges of the District Court is 65 years. However, there is a provision whereby judges of the District Court can apply annually for an extension of their service up to the age of 70 years. Their application is considered by a committee comprising the Chief Justice, the Attorney General and the President of the High Court and my understanding is that applications are generally granted.

Senator Henry will appreciate that the thrust of the 1995 Act was to reduce the retirement ages for judges. This Bill is solely aimed at increasing the number of Circuit Court judges but I understand that the Minister will also be in correspondence with her about this issue and will develop her explanation in more detail than I can do here.

Will the matter reach the ears of the rest of us and the public or will it be a cosy little arrangement?

I presume Senator Henry is free to circulate any correspondence she gets if she wishes.

I respect Senator Henry but her amendment was published to the Oireachtas.

I understand Senator Henry has withdrawn her amendment.

There is an amendment to the Bill and we will deal with it at the appropriate time.

Senator Finneran spoke at length about prisons. The Taoiseach has asked me to take personal responsibility in this area. My main responsibility is to ensure that the prisons are constructed quickly in a cost effective way and, if necessary, to use innovative methods. I have been involved in that process for less than one week but we are determined to increase by 50 per cent — from roughly 2,000 to 3,000 places — in prison space over as short a time as possible. Some of it can be done very quickly. The Curragh is practically ready and the new wing of Limerick Prison will be ready soon. I am going to Castlerea on Friday and the first phase — 25 spaces — is almost ready there. We are building about another 120 spaces there.

Will the Government apologise for the delay?

The Minister without interruption.

If the Senator wants to discuss the performance of thisversus previous Governments we can do so. He knows what has and has not been done over the last ten years in the construction of prisons.

We provided the money in the budget.

The number of spaces created by all previous Governments over the past decade is a disgrace. The Government is trying to run as fast as it can with this ball and I am not fooling about with it. If we have to ruffle feathers to get this job done we will do so. There is to be a major new prison at Wheatfield as well as a women's prison and all those projects are being actively considered at the moment. I will be providing the Minister for Justice or the Taoiseach, or both, with a summary of proposals and the likely programme for the debate in the Dáil on 25 July. I will, unfortunately, miss that debate as I will be in Brussels.

Senators might be interested to know that people have been in contact with my office about the reference to immediate prison places. I do not know whether some of the ideas put forward are worth following up, but people have been suggesting how one might acquire immediate places. That will be difficult because converting even a relatively suitable building into a prison cannot be done immediately but we will look at that as well. Senator Enright mentioned Spike Island. I have not looked at Spike Island because other prisons have been listed for my consideration, including those in the Curragh, Portlaoise, Castlerea and Wheatfield, as well as the women's prison. As I said, I have not looked beyond those yet but I will do so.

Senator Finneran spoke about a register of abusers and sex offenders. To a very limited extent, because of data protection legislation, that information is available from the Garda authorities. It is available in qualified circumstances to potential employers, particularly those in children's residential centres. A certain amount of information is available in that area but it is restricted by law.

I thank Senator Honan for her comments on the prison proposals. She mentioned the independent courts service and the Denham commission. My understanding is that the Government has approved these proposals in principle and has asked the Denham commission to come back with recommendations on the most effective means of implementing the new courts service procedures. That will happen quite quickly.

Senator Honan also referred to the desirability of having more women judges. This Government has been more assiduous than any of its predecessors in trying to reach the 40 per cent figure in relation to public appointments generally. In my time in Cabinet it was a regular subject for discussion. When people were coming forward with names somebody always mentioned that 40 per cent of public appointments had to be women. There is a willingness in this Government not just to pay lip service to this provision but to do it, but it takes time. It must be borne in mind that the 40 per cent figure has not yet been achieved in a whole range of areas. It will not happen overnight but there is a determination to do it.

The Senator also made a point about dedicated drug squads. I cannot give her an answer to that because I do not know it yet. However, Mr. Barry Galvin is a member of the efficiency review commission which has just been established to look at the efficiency of the Garda. Mr. Galvin is a solicitor from Cork who has been in the vanguard of the attack on drug barons in the southern part of the country, with some success. He has very strong views on that issue and I am sure he will bring those to bear on that group.

Senator Sherlock referred a number of times to the financing of courthouses and the fact that they have a relatively low priority in local authority financing. While local authorities are responsible for courthouses in some cases, the capital is provided entirely by central Government. The priorities of local authorities in that area are not a deterrent to construction or renovation of courthouses. The Senator also mentioned support for the forensic science laboratory and offered the view that it should be located in Cork. I will not comment on that.

Senator O'Kennedy made some extremely constructive comments. He asked why the Bill was introduced so quickly after the previous Bill was enacted. The Minister dealt with this at length in her speech. She admitted that in the relatively short period since the enactment of the Courts and Court Officers Act she had cause to look again at the arrears of criminal cases and in appeals before the Circuit Court. She explained that at length. The Senator's question is reasonable and, with the benefit of hindsight, he can legitimately say that somebody with sufficient foresight should have anticipated that. The Minister did not seek to blame any of her advisers and neither will I. However, the Senator's question is fair. Why, six months later, do we have to increase the number of judges again? The Senator might well ask if the same thing will happen again in a year's time. I do not know.

What is the answer?

I accept the validity of the Senator's question. I cannot give him an answer. The Minister has answered it in a way that is not satisfactory to the Senator.

She said she had had cause to look at it again.

The Minister of State without interruption.

There is nothing more I can say. The Minister recognised the need for additional judges and she introduced legislation to meet that requirement. The Senator's only criticism can be that somebody should have anticipated that need sooner and acted upon it. It is a small criticism.

It is a little more than that.

With regard to early temporary releases, the implications of appointing more judges are that there will be more convictions. The Senator will accept that the Government's approach is an integrated approach of providing prison spaces, extra judges and more court space for the judges. The fact that this will not happen overnight means that the present unsatisfactory situation will not be alleviated overnight. However, one must start somewhere and this Government is seriously addressing these issues on an integrated basis.

Senator O'Kennedy referred to the transfer to an open prison of a convicted drugs dealer. The way that matter was reported sent out an unfortunate message. I am told the prisoner is not seen as a high security risk in the sense that he is not a physical danger to anybody nor is he likely to escape, and the prison in question is not a hotel. The prisoner is locked up in a cell and so forth. My initial reaction to the story was the same as the Senator's. However, looking at it in more detail it makes sense that if there is a shortage of secure places and they are being used by people who are deemed not to be serious security risks or a threat to anybody or likely to break out, there is validity in moving them from one place to another. That appears to have been the case in this instance.

Drug dealing is a serious crime against society.

It is an extremely serious crime.

To move such an offender in a matter of a few weeks is a reflection on our administration of justice.

The Minister of State without interruption.

The Senator referred to the interview board for judges. Like Senator Manning and the late John Kelly, I believe Governments have tended to move away from making decisions for which they should carry full responsibility. That has happened in the case of An Bord Pleanála, in this instance and in many others. I have always taken the view that politicians are ultimately accountable to the public and if we do the wrong thing we should pay the price. Moving decisions away to nameless people — nobody in the country can name those who select people for some of the most important positions in our society — is not advisable. The other side of the argument is that this process——

It is supported by the Labour Party.

——creates a sense of transparency or impartiality. I believe it is a trend we should resist. We should take responsibility and if we make mistakes we should pay the price.

Hear, hear.

A number of Members referred to the inquisitorial system. I am not a lawyer so I cannot comment on that. However, I am impressed that some Members who are lawyers believe it is worth examining. Barry Galvin, who is closely involved in the battle against drugs in Cork, has told me more than once that politicians do not know how terribly difficult it is to secure a conviction. We must be conscious of that aspect while not losing sight of the issue of civil liberties.

Senator O'Sullivan asked when the juvenile justice Bill will be introduced. I do not know but when I get the answer I will forward it to her. Senator Enright referred to restricting the right to silence in drug trafficking cases. There is a general welcome for that development. He spoke about the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill currently before the Oireachtas. All Members welcome those provisions and the sooner they are implemented the better. He also referred to dealing with simple bureaucratic delays and that needs to be addressed.

Senator Manning concluded the debate with a bang. I took note of the points he made but I will not repeat them. The questions he raised require answers. One is walking on glass when asking them but they must be asked.

I asked the Minister of State about convictions. I wanted to know how many people were serving sentences and how many were out on temporary release.

There is no denying that the situation the Senator outlined exists. I do not have the numbers but I can get them for him if they are available.

The Minister of State can forward them to me and I will publish them for him.

I am sure he will. They are widely known; this is widely known to be a serious problem. This Government recognises that problem and is adopting an integrated approach to tackle it. It inherited serious neglect by successive Governments during the previous decade and it is trying to do something about it; better late than never.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.