Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Bill, 1998 [ Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil ] : Report and Final Stages.

This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. Senators may speak only once on Report Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

Senators will be aware that the international community has provided a framework for international protection against torture. That framework is contained in the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The convention was drawn up to provide an international system under which a person who has committed torture could find no safe haven. The Bill, when enacted, will allow Ireland to more fully play its part in this international effort by enabling us ratify this important UN convention.

Senators will recall that the main provisions of the Bill include creating a specific statutory offence of torture with a penalty of up to life imprisonment, allowing a person to be tried here or extradited from here in relation to the commission of the new offence anywhere in the world, and prohibiting the extradition or expulsion of a person from the State where there are substantial grounds for believing that if the extradition or expulsion took place the person may be subjected to torture.

A number of amendments were made to the Bill in the Dáil and I am pleased to outline their background to the House. Most of the amendments made in the Dáil were of a technical nature, clearly illustrating the very careful, thorough and detailed examination given the Bill in this House.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 will simplify the Bill without in any way detracting from its meaning or purpose. These are technical amendments advised by the parliamentary draftsman. They involve removing the words "except where the context otherwise requires" from section 1(1) and (2). The Minister is advised that in both instances there is no alternative context and that the words are, therefore, unnecessary if not misleading.

Amendment No. 3 removed section 3(a) from the Bill. That section provided that a person who directs, instructs, aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission of an offence of torture shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life. The Minister has been advised that as section 7(1) of the Criminal Law Act, 1997, already provides that a person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission of an indictable offence is liable to be indicted, tried and punished as a principal offender, section 3(a) was a duplication of the 1997 provision and should be removed. Given the gravity of the issues being addressed in the Bill, the Minister approached this amendment with the utmost caution, fully conscious of the need to ensure that activities other than those committed by the person who actually carries out the acts of torture are fully covered in legislation. It is hardly necessary to point out that often the most blameworthy person in these situations is not the person who performs the act of torture, but rather the party who orders or encourages it to be done. The Minister, therefore, would not have contemplated moving this amendment in the Dáil were he not acting in the certainty and on the advice of the Attorney General that it in no way weakens the Bill. Put quite simply, these persons who were covered by section 3(a) of the Bill will be covered by section 7(1) of the Criminal Law Act, 1997.

The Minister always considered the words "directs and instructs", inserted by the House on Committee Stage, to be unnecessary because they were already covered by "aids and abets". He did not oppose their inclusion in section 3(a) on the basis that the surplusage created no major problems. However, the advice to the Minister has confirmed his view that these words are already covered by section 7(1) of the Criminal Law Act, 1997. If “aids and abets” etc. are deleted, as has been advised by the Attorney General, it would make little sense to leave in two words which are already covered by the 1997 Act. The Attorney General has, accordingly, advised removal of these words.

The amendment was moved on the strong advice of the Attorney General that removal of the surplus wording was necessary if we are to provide for consistency in our criminal law and avoid ambiguities in interpretation which might arise from unnecessary and surplus provisions.

Amendments Nos. 4 to 12, inclusive, are purely technical and were advised by the parliamentary draftsman. The amendments improve this very important Bill and I hope they are acceptable to the House.

I welcome the Minister and the fact that we have reached the final stage of bringing into effect the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The convention has been in existence since the 1980s. There are about eight or nine major UN conventions on human rights and this is the last to be transposed into domestic law.

We are constrained in a debate such as this, but the convention obliges each contracting state to keep its enforcement under review and to ensure the police and military authorities are well informed in relation to the prevention of torture and what is meant by the convention. I wonder if we are putting in place training facilities for our military and the police to ensure everybody who is accused of torture under the convention in any state is clearly au fait and up to date in relation to methods of interrogation, etc.

The convention obliges contracting states to define and outlaw torture and to ensure allegations of torture against a person, whether an official of the state, are fully investigated. Each state is also required to ensure certain practices which do not rise to the level of torture, such as cruel and degrading treatment, are outlawed. To house refugees and asylum seekers in old barracks or offshore on boats as suggested would amount to degrading—

I have allowed the Senator some latitude in his general introductory comments but I have pointed out that only the amendments made by the Dáil may be discussed. This is not the time for a Second Stage speech on the Bill. I would ask the Senator to address the amendments made by the Dáil.

Since the amendments in a sense are with the angels it is difficult to add anything to what the Minister of State has said. While the amendments are welcome, I have these concerns which, as you will understand, I need to raise. I thank you for your great indulgence. If we were to house refugees and asylum seekers in the way proposed it would amount to degrading treatment. Now that this convention is part of the law of the land I warn the Minister of State how close we could come to being in serious breach of the rules of the convention.

I am extremely surprised that amendment No. 3 to section 3(a) of the Bill has been recommended by the Attorney General. We are talking here about persons who commit or direct or instruct others to commit the offence of torture or who aid, abet, counsel or procure the commission of an offence of torture or who attempt or conspire to commit the offence of torture. Paragraph (b) leads on directly from paragraph (a). By removing paragraph (a) therefore one is diminishing the related offences which may be construed as torture. The fact that they are included in section 7 of the Criminal Law Act, 1997, is not a valid reason for not inserting them in the Bill which incorporates the United Nations convention against torture into our domestic criminal justice law. While the Attorney General may say that it is unnecessary to include them, to avoid duplication, there is a need to strengthen the primary legislation.

Section 3, as it stands, appears to be a strong one. Paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) appear to be part of a seamless whole. The Bill should be as strong as possible – it is has taken a long time to place it on the Statute Book – given that the European convention on human rights was not included, despite our wishes, in the human rights commission Bill. We should be very careful not to dilute the offence of torture and related offences.

We all share Senator Connor's concerns that all conventions should be signed and ratified. We have come a long way in the case of the convention under discussion.

On amendment No. 3, the words "aids, abets, counsels or procures" are included in the 1997 Act. The Minister was very anxious to ensure that because they were included in that Act they would be included in this Bill also. The Attorney General is adamant however that the Bill is covered because of their inclusion in the 1997 Act. It is crucial that both the perpetrator of a crime and the person who procures its commission are found guilty. It was only after careful consideration that the Minister decided to go along with the amendment on the strict understanding that there is no dilution of the provision contained in the 1997 Act.

The words "directs and instructs" were added to the Bill in this House. Because they reiterated the words already included in the Bill –"aids, abets and counsels"– it was considered unnecessary to retain them. While it is an issue of concern, the Minister is convinced, on the advice of the Attorney General, that a person who is party to a crime will be found guilty.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

The international community has provided a framework for international protection against torture. That framework is found in the United Nations convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. It is highly appropriate that the Bill was initiated in the Seanad given its very fine reputation for highlighting and championing human rights issues. Aside from the amendments made to the Bill in the Dáil, I remind Senators that it was also amended in this House, partly as a result of Opposition amendments which improved it considerably.

During the debate on the Bill in this House and the Dáil reference was frequently made to the delay in bringing forward the legislation necessary to allow Ireland to ratify this important convention. The Minister is delighted to have guided the Bill through the Oireachtas. We are obviously pleased to see our work nearing completion and are looking foward to the enactment and early ratification of the Bill.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis na Seanadóirí as an obair a rinne siad ar an mBille seo, as an gcabhair a thug siad agus as an críoch atá bainte amach againn anseo inniu.

I am delighted that the convention has at long last been incorporated into domestic law. Not alone does it outlaw torture it also outlaws certain activities which do not rise to the level of torture, such as cruel and degrading treatment. I sound a word of warning that a state could come very close to breaching the relevant sections.

There is another major United Nations convention dealing with the international criminal court, a matter I have often raised in the House. In light of current events we have been very tardy in preparing the legislation necessary to ratify this very important convention. I listened to an interview given by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, a former Member of this House and President of Ireland, in which she referred to the establishment of the international criminal court agreed to by 120 countries in Rome in July 1998. Sixty nations have to ratify the convention for it to come into force but only six have done so. Ireland has no baggage in this area and should be a pioneer on this issue. However, I am disappointed it is not included in the Department's proposed legislation.

The Minister of State is an influential member of Government and I know from our days on the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights that she is interested in this issue. I plead with her, as I have done unsuccessfully with the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, to prepare legislation. The Minister stated there were major difficulties which I could not see. However, I ask the Minister of State to take an interest in this issue and perhaps she might be able to move the matter forward.

I thank the Minister of State and her officials for their good work on this legislation, for the courtesy they have shown to Senators and their willingness to consider amendments proposed. I agree with Senator Connor's comments on other international instruments which we still have to ratify and transpose into domestic law. The international criminal court is one such instrument, as are the European Convention on Human Rights and the international convention on civil and political rights.

I hope the transposition into domestic law of the UN convention against torture and the human rights commission will be the beginning of the introduction, within a short period of time, of legislation on the gamut of international instruments which Ireland should ratify and to which it should be a party.

I welcome the speedy passage of this Bill and thank the Minister of State and the Minister for initiating this important legislation in the Seanad. In the past three years a significant amount of legislation has been initiated in this House, particularly by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue. This has added great strength to the House and rubbishes the notion which emerged some time ago that the Seanad did not have a significant role to play. The House has a significant role and this legislation indicates the amount of work carried out in the Seanad on this legislation. The fact that some amendments proposed by Opposition Senators were accepted adds credence to the work of this House and I thank the Minister of State, the Minister and their officials for their work on this Bill and for creating a strong platform for the Seanad.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 11.13 a.m. and resumed at 11.45 a.m.