Civil Liability and Courts Bill 2004: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages.

SECTION 31.

I move amendment No. 45:

In page 23, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following subsection:

"(5) A court hearing proceedings under a relevant enactment shall, on its own motion or on the application of one of the parties to the proceedings, have discretion to order disclosure of documents, information or evidence connected with or arising in the course of the proceedings to third parties if such disclosure is required to protect the legitimate interests of a party or other person affected by the proceedings.".

I have received representations seeking the inclusion of an amendment similar to the one tabled by the Senator. I intend to review section 31 further and I am consulting with the Courts Service. I will return to this matter at a later stage of debate on the legislation. I accept the objective of the amendment and I will do my best to address it then. I wish to consult before I accept it.

Can I take it that the Minister will deal with it on Committee Stage in the Dáil rather than on Report Stage in the Seanad?

That is possible but I do not want to commit myself to it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 46 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 31 stand part of the Bill."

This section relates to the in camera rule and proceedings being held in public. The legislation does not address the procedural inability of courts to order disclosure of certain aspects of family law proceedings and related documents in the interests of the parties or others affected, for example, children, nor does it enable witnesses or others with relevant information to disclose this to relevant agencies or persons if it is in the interest of a child without a court application, for which they will, in many cases, have no locus standi. I am advised by lawyers that there is case law and court decisions with regard to the need for disclosure. It can also arise for the protection of children by the notification of gardaí, the health board, the school or other agencies or people who are responsible for their welfare.

We need to examine this section carefully, particularly before we complete Committee Stage. We are proceeding directly to Report Stage but I ask the Minister to look again at this section.

I do not know if the procedure of the House will permit it but it might be wiser for me to accept amendment No. 45 if it were moved again. Can it be done on Report Stage?

If Senator Henry's amendment is moved on Report Stage, I will accept it with a view to seeing if I need to refine it further thereafter.

It can be tabled under my name and that of Senator Henry on Report Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 32.

Amendment No. 47 is out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 47 not moved.

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 24, subsection (3), lines 4 and 5, to delete all words from and including ", and" in line 4 down to and including "commencement" in line 5.

This amendment deals with the issue of interest on costs, charges and expenses associated with certain judgments, orders and decrees. The reason we have tabled this amendment is that the section as it stands could constitute an injustice against plaintiffs. It deprives plaintiffs of an entitlement to interest until such time as the taxation process is complete. The result of this is to favour defendants and there is no good reason for this position. I am not a lawyer, but the advice I have received is that this could be an unconstitutional interference with property rights and possibly even rights under Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Law Society points out that if this provision is enacted, defendants will have no incentive to encourage the taxation process. I know the Minister is anxious to ensure that the entire process of civil liability is speeded up but this provision may result in the taxation process being dragged out for months or even years. If a plaintiff is successful he could end up significantly out of pocket because he will not be entitled to any interest until the process is complete. This amendment is designed to make sure this does not happen. I hope the Minister will agree that the section as drafted could result in a considerable degree of unfairness to plaintiffs who are successful in their claims.

Amendments Nos. 47 and 48 represent retrograde steps. Amendment No. 47 would have reversed a change brought about by the Courts and Court Officers Act 2002. We would revert to the pre-2002 position in which interest on costs awarded to a party in court proceedings would run from the date of the judgment at 8%. That would mean that the losing party in an action would be obliged to pay this interest from the date of the judgment even though the amount of the costs had not yet been quantified or communicated to him or her. The MIAB strongly recommended that should not happen.

Amendment No. 48 seeks to confine the change in interest from 2% to 0% to actions brought after the commencement of this section. I do not agree with this move. I want the change to apply to pending actions also and, therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.

I will not press the amendment, but, from what the Minister said, I do not think my concern has been addressed. Does he agree there is an inherent unfairness in this section?

No, I do not agree.

That is fine.

The reason I do not agree is that the right to interest is not a constitutional right. In these circumstances, the obligation to pay interest on an unascertained sum of costs is penal. The defendant does not know how much he or she owes until the proceedings are over and he or she is then asked to pay a sum of money on the basis of a judgment that is given at a later stage. That is not fair. This provision should apply to pending proceedings also. We want this new regime to apply from the moment the Bill becomes law.

What about my point that this could constitute a disincentive to completing the process?

Amendment No. 47 is the exact opposite. It represents a major incentive for the solicitor for the plaintiff to delay the taxation process. The result of this amendment would be that the defendant could not pay until the taxation process was complete and the resulting sum of money would carry interest of 8% per annum, which is a nice little earner in this day and age. I do not agree with the Senator's point.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 32 stand part of the Bill."

We are opposed to this section for the reasons set out in the amendments. There is no point reiterating them but we feel there is an inherent unfairness in the section as drafted.

I thank Senator O'Meara for moving my amendment. I was helping Deputy Batt O'Keeffe launch a report on alcohol misuse by young people, a subject which is dear to the Minister's heart. I gather the Minister has considered my amendment favourably and I hope he will accept it on Report Stage.

The Senator has not been prejudiced by her absence. In fact, things have gone better than she might have expected.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 33 to 42, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS.
Government amendment No. 49:
In page 28, after section 42, to insert the following new section:
43.—(1) Upon the application of a party to any proceedings, the court hearing those proceedings may direct that a person (other than an expert witness) who it is intended will be called to give evidence in those proceedings shall not attend those proceedings until he or she is called to give evidence.
(2) Where a court gives a direction undersubsection (1), it may give all such other directions as it considers necessary or expedient to secure that a witness to whom the first-mentioned direction applies does not——
(a) communicate with other witnesses in the proceedings concerned, or
(b) receive information such as might influence him or her when giving evidence.
(3) In this section 'expert witness' means, in relation to proceedings, a person who it is intended will be called as a witness to give expert evidence.".

This section provides that the court in a personal injury action may, upon the application of a party to the action, direct that a person, other than the party to the action or an expert witness, who it is intended will be called to give evidence at the trial of the action, shall not attend the trial until he or she is called to give evidence. Where a court gives a direction under subsection (1) it can give all such other directions as it considers necessary or expedient to secure that a witness to whom the first mentioned direction applies does not communicate with other witnesses who it is intended will be called to give evidence at the trial of the action concerned or receive information such as might influence him or her when giving evidence. "Expert witness" is defined, in a personal injury case, as a person who it is intended will be called as a witness to give expert evidence at the trial of the action.

The effect of this amendment is to provide for a power, but not a duty, for the courts to exclude witnesses in personal injury actions from the trial of the action. It is commonplace in criminal procedure that witnesses as to fact are sometimes excluded by order of court while other witnesses are testifying so that they may not be influenced by or tempted to match their evidence to that which comes before. The same should apply in civil procedure. It is not mandatory in every case and where the truthfulness of witnesses is unlikely to be an issue it is unlikely that the court will deploy such a power. However, where three people are giving evidence relating to an accident in a heavily contested case, it can be desirable in working out which side is more reliable that the witnesses give evidence without hearing what other witnesses have said before. It is important that they do not hear the cross-examination of preceding witnesses and tailor their evidence to meet it.

I recommend this provision to the House as it will improve the standard of evidence in civil trials. It is already the practice in the UK and other countries to exclude witnesses of fact while others are testifying.

The amendment appears eminently sensible.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 50:
In page 28, after section 42, to insert the following new section:
44.—Section 46 of the Act of 2002 is amended by—
(a) the substitution of the following subsections for subsections (3), (4) and (5):
‘(3) Subject to subsection (6), if judgment in the proceedings concerned is not delivered before the expiration of 2 months from the date on which it is reserved, the President of the Court shall as soon as may be after—
(a) the said expiration, and
(b) the expiration of each subsequent period of 2 months (if judgment is not delivered first),
list the proceedings or cause them to be listed before the judge who reserved judgment therein and shall give notice in writing to the parties to the proceedings of each date on which the proceedings are listed in accordance with this section.
(4) Where proceedings are listed before a judge in accordance with subsection (3), the judge shall specify the date on which he or she proposes to deliver judgment in the proceedings.
(5) The date specified by a judge under subsection (4) shall, in relation to the proceedings concerned, be entered in the register and where the proceedings concerned have been listed more than once in accordance with subsection (1), there shall be entered in the register on each occasion on which they are so listed the date, for the time being, standing so specified.',
(b) the deletion of paragraph (b) of subsection (9),
(c) the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (10):
‘(10) In this section references to a judge shall, in the case of a court constituted of more than one judge, be construed as references to the judge who, among the judges of which the court was constituted, ranks first in order of precedence in accordance with section 9 (inserted by section 9 of the Courts (No. 2) Act 1997) of the Courts of Justice Act 1924.',
(d) the insertion of the following definition in subsection (11):
‘"President of the Court" means—
(a) in relation to the District Court, the President of the District Court,
(b) in relation to the Circuit Court, the President of the Circuit Court,
(c) in relation to the High Court, the President of the High Court,
(d) in relation to the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice;’.”.

The purpose of this section is to amend section 46 of the Courts and Court Officers Act 2002, which has not been brought into operation, to remove the possibility of judges being required to deliver judgments within prescribed periods but to preserve the requirement for a register of reserved judgments which is accessible to the public. I have concerns that section 46 as it stands might be perceived as an inappropriate interference with the exercise of judicial functions and the reason for this amendment is to avoid any such suggestion of interference.

The proposed new subsection (3) provides that as long as a judgment is undelivered, the proceedings in question will be listed before the judge or, where there is more than one judge, the senior judge, at intervals of two months and the judge will indicate on each occasion when he or she intends to give judgment.

Subsection (4) provides that where proceedings are listed before a judge in accordance with subsection (3), the judge shall specify the day on which he or she proposes to deliver judgment in proceedings.

Subsection (5) provides that the date specified by the judge shall be entered in the register of reserved judgment and where the proceedings have been listed more than once, the most recent dates specified shall be entered in the register. Paragraph (b) provides for the repeal of section 46(9)(b). That is consequential on the changes I have described. Paragraph (c) replaces section 46(10) with a new subsection to make clear that in the case of court constituted of more than one judge, the listing of the cases for the purpose of the register will be before the most senior judge in accordance with section 9 of the Courts of Justice Act 1924, as inserted by section 9 of the Courts (No. 2) Act 1997. The existing subsection (10) refers to the presiding judge of the court, a phrase which is defined in the Courts (No. 2) Act 1997 as the Chief Justice in the case of the Supreme Court and the presidents of other courts in their respective courts. However, many courts constituted of more than one member will include only ordinary judges, so it is necessary to change the law slightly to bring that about.

On the broader principle it is important that where judgments are reserved by a court the parties to the judgment have a clear sense on leaving court that there is some momentum in the process and that it will not simply be put on a shelf and addressed when the judge gets around to it. The purpose of the section is to require that there will be a register of reserved judgments, so that if any judge is falling into arrears with his or her work — that can happen for a variety of reasons — a warning bell will sound not merely to the president of that judge's court, but also to the public at large that an accumulation of reserved judgments exists in the case of that judge. The purpose is to effectively motivate the members of the Judiciary to address the question of reserved judgments and to keep it constantly fresh in their minds that they have not yet delivered judgment in a particular area.

Some people may think we should trust the Judiciary to deal with matters. In my experience, the vast majority of the Judiciary work extremely hard and extremely well to deliver their caseload in terms of judgments before them. However, I have known it to be the case on occasion in the past that some judges have, under the weight of the work they have undertaken, begun to fall far in arrears with delivering judgments in the cases they have heard. The result is a very unhappy one, which most public representatives will recognise. When people come to their clinics to ask what can be done about it, there is very little a public representative can do because, by definition, a letter from a public representative to anybody in the Courts Service in those circumstances would be immediately misunderstood and could be very damaging and compromising to everybody concerned.

Some judges have allowed significant arrears to accumulate and it was the view of the Government in proposing the original legislation that this must be addressed by some form of public incentive to the Judiciary to keep arrears within reasonable limits. The original section was never commenced because of judicial hostility to being told judgments must be delivered within a specified period because, they would say, the interests of justice may require them to delay judgment in particular circumstances. The new approach is that if the judgment is not delivered within a reasonable period the judge must have it listed before him or her again by the registrar and announce a substitute date on which it is intended to deliver the judgment. It is an incentive to delivering reserved judgments and a disincentive to leaving reserved judgments undelivered.

I thank the Minister for this worthwhile amendment. We are aware of a number of cases where judges have fallen into arrears and that is unacceptable. This measure should go some way towards alleviating that problem.

More broadly, in many cases the time limit is unacceptable and the workload of judges seems very large. Recognising the separation between the Judiciary and Government, is there some way in which we can address the problems in the courts and the level of arrears by perhaps appointing additional judges to ensure that cases are dealt with more speedily? That would be much more helpful to the people who are taking those cases and to those against whom the cases are being taken. This amendment must be welcomed and should go some way towards alleviating the problems.

I support the amendment. Is there any sort of centralised information regarding the extent of arrears? Could the Minister illustrate — not necessarily by mentioning particular cases — how long reserved judgments take in the worst cases? Regarding the register, will it be public and can it be taken up by journalists, if necessary, in particular cases?

This is an excellent amendment. There are notorious cases where years passed before a judgment was given. The public find this terribly hard to understand. However, we cannot put too many stipulations in the legislation. What the Minister has proposed is probably about right without us being accused of interfering with the mind processes of the Judiciary. Therefore I support the amendment.

On Senator Terry's point, more judges are required. I intend in the near future to bring a memorandum to Government in that regard. If I am successful at Government, I may amend this legislation as it goes through the Dáil and bring it back here in an amended form, providing for extra judges. I must first go through that procedure. I agree that in an increasingly complex world, with judges having more and more duties and more and more enactments to consider, and with increasing population and, unfortunately, an increasing caseload in some areas at any rate, it is necessary to have more judges.

Senator Mansergh asked a question regarding the types of cases where judgments could be reserved to the point where significant difficulty arose. There have been cases in the past, and I do not want to mention any names because it would be unfair to do so, where some judgments have been undelivered for in excess of 12 months and in some case for more than two years. That has given rise to difficulty. On one occasion an application was made to the European Court of Human Rights based on the failure of the Irish courts to deliver a reserved judgment in a case and compensation was awarded to the party affected by it.

In the context of the recent ECHR legislation which I piloted through the Houses and which is now law, I exempted the Judiciary, the administration of justice, from the application of the Act itself, but a quid pro quo or balancing item in regard to that was that this measure would be put in place. In other words, there would be an effective means of monitoring any failure in that regard. I do not want to interfere with the independence of the Judiciary. However, what I want to do above all is to ensure that no litigant ends up waiting years for a judgment and wondering what happened to that judgment. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, and very frequently without any malice or conscious default, some cases are sidelined in this way. The effect on the litigants is very significant.

A judge was effectively forced to resign in the UK because of an inability to deliver reserve judgments within a reasonable period. It is, therefore, not a matter which is confined entirely to Ireland. It seems this mechanism is the best one to make sure that it does not happen. Let us say that Senator Mansergh was a judge and a defaulter in this respect. If he kept reading in the newspapers that he was the worst judge and that his slow speed was the subject of public comment, it would act as an incentive to clear away the arrears and get on with the task. It is a gentle way of ensuring that the task is done. Given that a public register is involved, it gives a strong motivation to the Judiciary to ensure that the maxim that justice delayed is justice denied does not apply to its proceedings.

Senator Mansergh asked if there was some form of central register in existence at present. The answer is that there is not. The presidents of some of the courts have written circulars, talked to the registrars of the courts and, on an informal basis, brought delayed judgments to the attention of the members of their courts. There is no organised system at present of a statutory nature. Once the light of media and public attention is shone into the dark corner of reserve judgments, the problem should disappear.

I thank the Minister for assuring the House that he is looking at providing additional judges. Will he ensure that equality laws apply to judges also? Are judges entitled to maternity and paternity leave? They should get the same rights as every other worker in the country such as holidays and time off. It is my understanding that the same laws might not apply to them. Who ensures that those laws are applied to them? Who is their boss? It is not the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Is it the President of the High Court and the various other presidents and the registrars? Female judges in particular are unable to avail of all the rights afforded to other female workers.

It is a matter for the president of each court as to whether a judge should be allowed leave for any purpose and how the sittings of the court should be arranged to accommodate a judge who has a particular need of the type mentioned by the Senator. It is best left in its current form rather than put into statutory form. The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board generally operates on the basis that nobody is appointed to the Bench until he or she is over 40. Many women have children in their 40s, but it may not be as widespread a phenomenon as the Senator imagines. The general rule that people are not appointed as a judge before 40 is due to the feeling that 20 years is a long time to be an arbitral judge on the Bench and 30 years is an even longer time. If any error is made in appointments in terms of temperament or suitability, people in their 20s or 30s will suffer the consequence for a long time.

I wish to raise the point about paternity leave, given the age factor that will apply.

One never knows what the male members of the Judiciary would achieve with paternity leave, so we had better say nothing about that matter.

I do not want to leave it at that; the Minister should look at that again. The next time he brings legislation before the House on this issue, we should look at the equality issues in that regard.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 50a:
In page 28, after section 42, to insert the following new section:
43.—(1) The court in a personal injuries action may, upon the application of a party to the action, direct that a person (other than another party to the action or an expert witness) who it is intended will be called to give evidence at the trial of the action shall not attend that trial until, he or she is called to give evidence.
(2) Where a court gives a direction undersubsection (1), it may give all such other directions as it considers necessary or expedient to secure that a witness to whom the first-mentioned direction applies does not -
(a) communicate with other witnesses who it is intended will be called to give evidence at the trial of the action concerned, or
(b) receive information such as might influence him or her when giving evidence.
(3) In this section 'expert witness' means, in relation to a personal injuries action, a person who it is intended will be called as a witness to give expert evidence at the trial of that action."

This is a slightly different text to substitute section 43.

Amendment agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment.

When is proposed to take Report Stage?

Now.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.

Amendments Nos. 1, 6, 7 and 9 to 11, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 1:
In page 5, line 10, to delete "ONE YEAR" and substitute "2 YEARS".

This amendment is to substitute "two years" for "one year" in the Long Title. On Committee Stage, I undertook to examine the issue of the limitation period with my colleagues in Government and the outcome of my consideration of the matter is that I am prepared to accept amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 11, as tabled by Senators Terry and Henry. For completeness, I shall be proposing a consequential amendment to the Long Title at the end of our debate on Report Stage.

Also for completeness and having considered the debate we had here the other day, I believe a common limitation period should apply to all personal injuries actions. Providing a separate period for medical negligence actions could give rise to confusion, especially in the case of mixed actions with a little medical negligence and a little non-medical negligence involved. Therefore, I have introduced amendment No. 10, which is necessary to bring subsection 5(1) of the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act 1991 into line with the other provisions under that Act.

In the course of the debate on Committee Stage, I mentioned that my preference was for a limitation period which would apply across the board. There must be clarity on the issue. While I have some sympathy with the points raised by Senators regarding medical negligence claims, I consider that a two year period from the date of accrual of the cause of action or from the date of knowledge of the injury is sufficient time to lodge a claim for medical negligence. It is not my intention, therefore, to exempt medical negligence from the general limitation period of two years.

In addition, it is not my intention to accept amendment No. 9, which would have the effect of leaving the limitation period for a person under a disability at three years. I have outlined my reasons that a common limitation period should be in place for all personal injuries actions and, therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

I brought this matter to the Government today and secured its agreement to this proposal. In addition to what I have just stated, I am conscious that the one year period is being introduced in the context of an obligation to send the initial warning letter, which is provided for, and also in the context of an obligation not simply to issue a plenary summons before the expiry of the statutory period, but, in the case of a claim for damages for negligence, at the end of the limitation period to issue the personal injuries summons to which this applies setting out the case in extenso. This has to be a very significant statement of one’s case and not just a two line formula. In those circumstances, those who may feel disappointed that I am deviating from the one year rule should bear in mind that there are compensating issues, such as the obligation to send an initial letter and the obligation to state one’s case in full in the initiating legal document.

In a personal injuries case involving medical negligence, I could well imagine someone having a traumatic event in a hospital, taking months to recover from it, then going to a solicitor, the solicitor having to spend months researching what actually happened to the client and then, as frequently happens in a small medical community such as Ireland's, having to get a foreign expert to say negligence has occurred which justifies initiating proceedings and to agree to testify to that effect. All that could take quite an amount of time. If it were all to be done within 12 months there was a danger that the courts might have felt that the Bill was a disproportionate interference with a litigant's right of access to the courts.

In those circumstances, I have decided to accept the spirit of the amendments tabled by Senators Terry and Henry and to introduce a two year limitation period across the board.

The Minister is as good as his word. He has done what he indicated he would do. I have looked at the report of the full debate on this matter on Committee Stage and at the legislation. I am inclined to agree with the Minister that an extraordinary level of complexity would be created if there were one rule for medical negligence cases and another for non-medical negligence cases. I hope the Bill works in practice, considering that the two year period will run from the discovery of an injury or harm.

I support the amendments and the Minister's approach to them. This is the correct compromise. It is important to get this legislation up and running. A framework is being put in place and this is an essential part of it. These amendments are very important and useful. I commend the Minister on his approach.

I warmly welcome the amendment and I thank the Minister for responding to reasoned debate on all sides of the House on this issue. The legal profession did not adopt a fundamentalist position on the status quo and will be happy to work with this legislation. If unforeseen problems arise there is always the possibility of legislating later. We are all pleased that this amendment has been accepted.

I thank the Minister for accepting these amendments. I was taken by the submission Cheshire Ireland made to me. They deal with very serious cases and, in the submission, pointed out that people are often not in a position, either physically or mentally, to get around to thinking about the legal process.

It is right that the period is to be the same for medical and non-medical claims. I write occasionally for the Irish Medical News. After the debate on Second Stage I wrote about the debate and said what the Minister intended to do. While the article was published only yesterday, my colleagues are normally very quick to contact me if they have a complaint about something which is about to happen. I have not had any complaints. Therefore, it seems that they think this is a reasonable length of time.

I thank the Minister for accepting what was put to him during the debate on Second and Committee Stages. He has taken a sensible approach which will deliver a better outcome for everyone involved.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 2:
In page 5, line 28, to delete "FOR THOSE PURPOSES" and substitute "FOR THOSE AND OTHER PURPOSES".

This is a technical amendment without substance.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are alternatives to amendment No. 3 and all may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 3:
In page 7, to delete lines 36 to 38, and substitute the following:
"5.—Subject tosections 13(8), 21(4), 22(4), 23(3) and 24(2), a provision of this Part applies to personal injuries actions brought after the date of the commencement of that provision only.”.

I indicated on Committee Stage that I accepted the amendments to this section on their merits and that I would consult with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on the exact terms to be used to achieve the aims of the amendments. My amendment, by way of replacement of section 5, states that the provisions of Part 2 of the Bill will apply to personal injuries actions brought after the date of commencement of that provision only. The exceptions contained within sections 13, 21, 22, 23 and 24 remain. This wording incorporates the aims of the amendments discussed on Committee State and I thank the Senators for raising the point.

I thank the Minister for bringing forward this amendment, which meets the concerns I raised on Committee Stage.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 7, line 41, to delete "one year" and substitute "two years".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 8, line 1, to delete "one year" and substitute "two years".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 8, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"(c) the insertion in subsection (1) of section 5, after “disability” the words “or incapacity”.

As stated on Committee Stage, if disability is to be a ground for affording a longer period, incapacity should also be covered. For example, a person who is extremely traumatised or depressed following an accident may have knowledge of his or her injury but may not be in a position to do anything about it. I am asking that we make provision for such a mental condition and ensure such claims are not ruled out. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment.

I second the amendment.

I do not propose to accept the amendment because the word "disability" is a term of art when used in the context of limitations law and does not mean disability in a colloquial sense. Therefore, extending the provision to include incapacity is not necessary in the circumstances. Disability in limitations law includes that the person is an infant, a person of unsound mind, a convict subject to the forfeiture Act or a victim of sexual abuse suffering from consequential psychological injury. Those are the categories of people which count as disabled.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 9 not moved.
Government amendment No. 10:
In page 8, line 3, to delete "one year" and substitute "2 years".

I have already canvassed this amendment which is part of the scheme in changing the limitation period from one year to two years.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 8, line 11, to delete "one year" and substitute "two years".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 8, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:

"(2) The amendment effected by this section shall not apply to actions for personal injuries arising from medical negligence or other actions falling outside the jurisdiction of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, or to actions for personal injuries which are so serious as significantly to impair the plaintiff's capacity to institute proceedings within one year from the date of the incident concerned.".

The intention of this amendment, which was also tabled on Committee Stage, is clear. There is no need to rehearse the arguments in that regard. Perhaps the Minister will indicate if he has had a change of heart on the matter.

No, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

That is a pity. The arguments made on Committee Stage were important.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments No. 13 to 15, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 13:
In page 8, to delete lines 18 to 33 and substitute the following:
"7.—(1) Where a plaintiff in a personal injuries action fails, without reasonable cause, to serve a notice in writing, before the expiration of 2 months from the date of the cause of action, on the wrongdoer or alleged wrongdoer stating the nature of the wrong alleged to have been committed by him or her, the court hearing the action may—
(a) draw such inferences from the failure as appear proper, and
(b) where the interests of justice so require—
(i) make no order as to the payment of costs to the plaintiff, or
(ii) deduct such amount from the costs to be paid to the plaintiff as it considers appropriate.
(2) In this section 'date of the cause of action' means—
(a) the date of accrual of the cause of action, or
(b) the date of knowledge, as respects the cause of action concerned,
of the person against whom the wrong was committed or alleged to have been committed, whichever occurs later.".

Amendment No. 13 is introduced to close what could be seen as a possible loophole in the original provision. The original wording "a person who intends to bring a personal injuries claim" was to my mind open to possible abuse. In that regard, it may have been possible for a person to evade the penalty aspect of the provision by stating that he or she did not actually intend to bring an action and was still making up his or her mind. The new provision does not contain those words and its content is otherwise in line with the policy of the original provision.

Subsection (1) now provides that where a plaintiff in a personal injuries action fails to serve a notice in writing on the defendant within two months from the date of the cause of action, the court may draw inferences from the failure as appear proper. The court may also make no order as to the payment of costs to the plaintiff or deduct an appropriate amount from the cost to be paid to the plaintiff. Subsection (2) goes on to define for the purposes of the section the term "date of the cause of action". This can be either the date of accrual of the cause of the action or date of knowledge whichever occurs later.

One of my main objectives in bringing the Bill before the Oireachtas is to ensure that defendants are informed in good time of the wrong alleged to have been done to the plaintiff. It is not acceptable that defendants are only informed late in the limitation period that they may be facing a claim for personal injury damages. The rephrasing of the section means that any person who brings an action and who has not served a letter of claim on the defendant within two months of the date of accrual or of the date of knowledge may be penalised in costs. The provision does not provide that the person will be penalised but that he or she may be penalised and must have a reasonable excuse for not sending the letter. The amendment is in accordance with my thinking on the issue.

I opposed on Committee Stage the approach taken in amendment No. 14 and I continue to oppose it. Increasing the time limit goes against the purpose and objectives of the Bill. A two month period is sufficient time for a plaintiff to serve notice on a defendant. There must be a penalty for non-compliance with the procedures for personal injuries actions. In my view, the possibility — I emphasise the word "possibility" — that failure to serve a notice of claim could lead to a court making no order as to costs or to a court deducting an amount from costs is a much greater deterrent than the proposal contained in the amendment.

Acceptance of amendment No. 15 could negate the section. Certain plaintiffs may be willing to take their chances on not serving a letter of claim if they consider that the penalties for non-compliance are too weak or too limited. It is not right in normal circumstances that a defendant only becomes aware that a claim is pending when he or she receives a personal injuries summons towards the end of the limitation period. As the law stands, that is what can happen and that is a source of much concern. The section, as currently drafted, seeks to ensure defendants are made aware of potential claims within a short period. This provision is an important part of the legislation and for that reason I do not propose to accept amendment No. 15.

I must stress that a claim does not automatically fail for want of sending a warning letter. Also, a claim will not be knocked on the head by the courts for want of serving a warning letter. The law provides that a plaintiff can be penalised if he or she does not provide reasonable cause for not sending a warning letter. Reasonable cause will be determined by the courts.

In addition, where failure to send a warning letter occurs, without reasonable cause, the courts can draw such inferences as it feels appropriate. If a plaintiff withholds a claim until such time as the defendant is not in a position to investigate the accident and if a fair inference in that regard is that the plaintiff was deliberately making it difficult for the defendant to substantiate the claim, the courts may make whatever inferences it feels appropriate. An example would be a person who allowed at an unconscionable level a building to be repaired or demolished and then claimed the existence of a defective step on the third flight of stairs in that building. In such circumstances, a court could ask why if the person fell down the stairs in February he or she did not by April send a letter of claim and why he or she allowed the building to be demolished without ever drawing the attention of the defendant to the claim.

The mechanism being provided is a reasonable one and is always subject to the fact that the courts are not obliged to knock a case on the head or to disallow costs unless it believes there has been an unreasonable failure to comply with obligations to warn defendants of a potential claim.

I can understand why the Minister is introducing this provision but I am concerned that the time limit provided is short in terms of people who may be seriously injured. The court will merely note that no letter was sent within two months.

I hope cognisance will be taken of the fact that if someone is very seriously injured, litigation may be the very last thing on the minds of those concerned — it cannot be on the mind of the person injured if he is badly injured. This is the only aspect of this that worries me. I hope the measure was interpreted very carefully. I am quite sure the Minister does not want to see anyone who is seriously injured done down but this aspect of the Bill concerns me somewhat because two months go by so quickly in the case of people with serious injuries.

As I said before, following an accident a person first needs time to recover and then needs time to consider taking legal action. The request for a four month period is quite reasonable. The period of two months is unduly short and therefore I ask the Minister to consider our amendments.

I agree with my fellow Senators that two months comprise a very short period. Four months would meet the Minister's intentions. I join Senator Henry in questioning how we will know the courts will interpret the provision in the same way as the Minister. We can only go on what is in the Bill and I am assuming the courts will do the same. While the Minister's intention is in the spirit of the legislation, as alluded to in his remarks, I share Senator Henry's concern. In the interest of fairness, a period of four months, or even a compromise period of three months, would represent a better way forward.

While I must accept the Minister's judgment on this — it is a difficult issue of judgment — I urge him to consider it further as the Bill goes through the Oireachtas. All of us would have received quite strong representations from the legal profession on this matter and I see some merit in the suggestion of Senator O'Meara that a period of three months should be considered as a compromise.

I will bear in mind what Senator Mansergh and the other Senators have said.

Amendment put and declared carried.
Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.

Amendment No. 21 is an alternative to amendment No. 16 and they may be taken together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 9, line 20, after "summons" to insert "shall be in such form (if any) as may be prescribed by rules of court and".

This amendment is fairly self-evident. Has the Minister had any thoughts on it since Committee Stage?

I second the amendment.

On Committee Stage I undertook to examine this issue. By way of response to the matter raised in the recent debate, Government amendment No. 21 will insert a new subsection at section 12. All pleadings, not just summonses, should be in a form prescribed by rules of court. The new subsection provides for this and amendment No. 21 meets the Senator's wishes regarding the issue.

I thank the Minister for his remarks and I withdraw amendment No. 16.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 9, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:

"(3) A Statement of Claim shall not be required in a personal injuries action in the High Court and a defendant shall join issue on a personal injuries summons by delivering a defence thereto within twenty-one days from the service of the personal injuries summons.".

I believe we also discussed this amendment on Committee Stage. The trouble with spending an entire weekend at election counts is that it has an erasing effect on one's memory of what happened prior to them. Will the Minister respond to the amendment?

I second the amendment.

I opined on Committee Stage, before our memories were all erased, that this amendment was not necessary and I am still of that view. It would be entirely redundant to require people to put the same material into two separate documents. However, the appropriate approach is to expect the rules committee to recognise this fact and to amend the rules of court to state the period for a defence runs from the service of the summons rather than from the service of the statement of claim in personal injuries matters.

I will defer to the Minister's superior knowledge on this matter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 10, line 10, after "with" to insert "the following information so far as it is known to him or her".

This amendment is reasonable and its object is to clarify the section.

I second the amendment.

As I stated on Committee Stage, there is an old Latin maxim, nemo tenetur ad impossibile, meaning that nobody will be obliged to do the impossible. Consequently, people cannot supply information of which they are unaware and therefore this section must be interpreted as implying the substance of the amendment in Senator O’Meara’s name. In those circumstances, I do not propose to accept it.

I recall what the Minister said on Committee Stage and, once again, I will defer to his superior knowledge on this issue. However, we are relying on the Courts Service to amend its rules and I hope the Minster will ensure this happens.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 10, between lines 21 and 22 to insert the following:

"(2) Upon the request of a plaintiff in a personal injuries action, the defendant shall provide the plaintiff with full particulars of any matter alleged in the defence of the defendant and such other information as may reasonably be requested by the plaintiff within the knowledge of the defendant including full particulars of the plaintiff's earnings where such earnings were paid by the defendant, during such period as may be specified by the plaintiff.".

This amendment, which is to correct an imbalance, was also discussed on Committee Stage. I remember the Minister refer to the rules of court and I said I would consider what he said. However, I have resubmitted the amendment because the imbalance I referred to on Committee Stage needs to be corrected.

I second the amendment.

I am not disposed to accepting this amendment for the reasons already stated.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 11, line 18, after "alleges" to insert "and full particulars of the acts of the plaintiff constituting any alleged negligence or contributory negligence".

Once again, this has been discussed on Committee Stage. Given the Minister's response to the other amendments, I do not expect him to accept this one.

I second the amendment.

Senator O'Meara is absolutely right. I am still sticking to my guns on this matter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 21:
In page 12, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
"(2) Subject to this Act, pleadings in a personal injuries action shall be in such form as are prescribed by rules of court.".
Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 12, line 45, to delete "7 days" and substitute "one month".

This amendment concerns the swearing of an affidavit. We have had representations from the legal profession to the effect that the period of seven days is simply too short to effect what is required. I appeal to the Minister's sense of fairness. Even if he was unwilling to stretch it to one month, perhaps he would accept that seven days is too short and might compromise.

I second the amendment. Seven days is a very short time.

I have also received representations on this point. I accept the way the subsection is worded means that some latitude is allowed. It is not just seven days but, as the subsection states, "or such longer period as the court may direct or the parties may agree". Nonetheless, there is merit to giving consideration to changing this to one month.

To shorten the matter, if Senator O'Meara were to move an amendment to her amendment and substitute "21 days" for "7 days", I would be disposed towards accepting it.

I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 22:

To delete "one month" and substitute "21 days".

I second the amendment.

Amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 22 agreed to.
Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
Government amendment No. 23:
In page 13, line 1, to delete "subsection (7)(b)” and substitute “subsection (8)(b)”.

This is a technical amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 13, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

"(5) The court concerned may enlarge the time for lodgement of an affidavit under this section for sufficient reason.".

On Committee Stage, the Minister said this matter was already covered. My advice was to re-table the amendment to seek clarification as we did not have a full debate on the matter. The Minister has probably not looked at it since, in which case I will be prepared to withdraw it.

I second the amendment.

I can assure the Senator that while in the RDS I did nothing other than spend my time studying this amendment. The matter is already covered and it is not necessary to provide for it twice in the same section.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 13, line 24, after "where" to insert "a plaintiff decides to file such an affidavit or".

I second the amendment.

Regarding amendment No. 25, I do not imagine that many plaintiffs who are not obliged to lodge an affidavit at present would decide to do so and I am not clear why the proposed amendment should apply to plaintiffs. Why should defendants not be able to lodge voluntary affidavits? The wording is not consistent with the rest of the section, which refers to "swearing" rather than "filing" an affidavit. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

I believe 21 days is an appropriate period and, therefore, I do not intend to accept amendment No. 26. My aim is that the very significant new requirement to swear verifying affidavits should apply to the greatest extent possible to cases pending when the section comes into force.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 26 not moved.

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 14, line 14, after "conference" to insert "or any records thereof".

The Minister said he would have a look at this amendment. On Committee Stage he said he was not sure whether this was already implicit in the legislation.

I second the amendment.

It still seems it is implicit that the records of the mediation conference would be as confidential as the conference itself. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

I accept what the Minister said and I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 28 not moved.

Amendment No. 31 is an alternative to amendment No. 29 and both may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 14, line 22, after "concerned" to insert "and the parties to the action".

I assume amendment No. 31 is the Minister's response to what I have raised in amendment No. 29.

I second the amendment.

Amendment No. 31 addresses the point raised in the Senator's amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 30 not moved.
Government amendment No. 31:
In page 14, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:
"(2) A copy of a report prepared undersubsection (1) shall be given to each party to the personal injuries action at the same time as it is submitted to the court under that subsection.”.
Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 14, line 37, after "action" to insert "unreasonably".

Having reconsidered this amendment, I believe it would be useful. On Committee Stage the Minister felt it was not necessary. However, perhaps during his long hours at the RDS he had a chance to consider it.

I second the amendment.

On Committee Stage, I said I was not attracted by the amendment and remained unconvinced of its necessity. If I were to accept the amendment it would mean that a party failing to attend a conference as directed by a court could escape the consequence if their failure was reasonable. This implies that the court in giving the direction to attend would be acting in a manner requiring them to do something unreasonable. I cannot accept that construction and, therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 15, line 28, to delete "order of the Minister" and substitute "rules of court".

During our discussion on Committee Stage on these amendments, I said I would consider re-tabling them on Report Stage on the basis that clarity is required. The amendments are designed to preserve the integrity of the rules of the courts system. They are useful amendments and I hope the Minister has considered them in the meantime.

I second the amendment.

The situation remains the same. This is a matter on which I would like the Minister to have the capacity to initiate change and prescribe the period. If I simply left it to rules of court it would mean that unless the committee made a proposal to me, nothing could ever happen in these circumstances. On balance, I would prefer to have the right of initiative in this area. It does not mean that the courts cannot propose their own substitutes if I fail to come up with any.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 34 not moved.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 22, between lines 12 and 13 to insert the following:

"(g) the Child Abduction and Enforcement of Custody Orders Act 1991;”.

I believe this amendment is self-evident.

I second the amendment.

The amendment seeks to include the Child Abduction and Enforcement of Custody Orders Act 1991 among the list of relevant enactments coming within the terms of section 31(1) of the Bill. The term "relevant enactments" means those provisions for the hearing of family law matters other than in public. Section 1(2) of the 1991 Act provides that the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Acts 1961 to 1988 and the Act in so far as it affects the jurisdiction or procedure of any court in the State shall be construed together as one.

Section 45 of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act 1961 provides that justice may be administered in public in minor matters and is a relevant enactment under section 31(1) of the Bill. As I am informed of the matters already covered, the amendment is not necessary.

I defer to the Minister's advice.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 22, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:

"(a) the disclosure or publication of data or results of research conducted relating to proceedings, or”

Section 31(2) seems to permit only a report of proceedings and the judgment. There is nothing in it to permit the publication of the results of systematic research or academic studies of trends or aspects of family law cases. As this kind of work has proved very valuable in other fields and we must provide for it here if we are to learn from the way in which family law courts operate.

I second this important amendment. People involved in work in this area must build up knowledge as to what types of families are most at risk. In the absence of data it will be extremely difficult for them to do this without relying on anecdotal evidence.

I agree with my colleagues on this side of the House. The need for the information Senator Henry referred to is becoming increasingly evident. There are calls from many quarters to make the information available. I hope the Minister will address the clear need. We cannot rely simply on anecdotal evidence. We must have solid, clear information and statistical evidence. I hope the Minister will take this on board.

There is an important difference between the provisions of the proposed Bill and the wording of amendment No. 36. On the face of it, the Bill simply provides for a straightforward, deadpan report be it verbatim or summary. The amendment involves some degree of assessment and analysis as well as a report. Whether the exact wording of the amendment fits the Bill or whether after further reflection the Minister might consider a variation on it, the point underlining it has some validity. Perhaps the Minister can persuade us that there are compelling reasons to provide that only a verbatim or summary report can be permitted but I do not see the reason for it.

I regard the current state of the Bill to be slightly unsatisfactory in this area. As I indicated in the House previously, it was my plan to bring forward a revised proposal. Due to the time constraints on me, I have not been in a position to put my formulation into exact and proper terminology. I intend to move an amendment when the Bill comes before the Dáil. When it returns here, we will have an opportunity to consider it if that is agreeable to the House. This attitude also applies to the amendments which follow. I accept fully that there is a problem and I will deal with it.

I accept what the Minister says. It would be nice if our amendments could be accepted where the Minister is in agreement with us. Is it correct that he is not in a position to accept them today?

I prefer not to accept them as I do not regard them to be satisfactory. I must do a little more homework on the matter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 37 and 39 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 22, between lines 30 and 31 to insert the following:

"(a) The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for Ireland,”.

With the tolerance of the Cathaoirleach, before speaking to the amendment I note that we are being very lenient with the Minister. We accept his bona fides entirely and the need to advance the legislation whereas normally we would create a song and dance about the fact that he has not had time to bring the amendments before us which he said he would. We have all been involved in strenuous activities over the last week or so. As I pointed out on Committee Stage, the only problem is that when the Minister brings the amendments before the House, we will not debate them. We will either take them or leave them. While the Minister is being broadminded and we are having a useful discussion on the legislation which we are improving, it is not good practice simply to rely on coming back to the House to change the Bill again. I trust this will not arise again as the circumstances are slightly unusual.

The aims of amendments Nos. 37 and 39 are self-evident. We considered the provisions on Committee Stage when I was asked to put them forward for clarity and to be helpful. The Minister said he would consider the provisions in the context of what is necessary and he may be coming back to us with his own views later.

I second the amendment and the comments of Senator O'Meara to the effect that we like to have amendments discussed here. They will be a fait accompli when they come back to us. The Minister can see what a reasonable body of people he has here with which to discuss these amendments. We have made good progress with this Bill.

While I have not completed my homework, I will accept the amendments for the time being as a gesture. I may have to tidy them up later. While reporters from the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for Ireland are among the type of people I have in mind, I will not tie myself to the particular phraseology of the amendment in the last analysis.

I commend the Minister for his approach.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 38 and 40 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. I point out a correction to amendment No. 40 as circulated in which the line reference should read "between lines 15 and 16".

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 22, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:

"(4) Nothing in this section shall permit the publication or broadcast of journalistic or news reports of a case relating solely to a relevant enactment.".

I expressed concern previously that section 31 will allow journalists and reporters to cover very private matters. The last thing we want following enactment of the legislation is to pick up our newspapers to find explicit details of someone's private life. We must ensure that will not happen. I would like to hear what the Minister has to say on the matter.

I second the amendment. I am quite sure the Minister is as concerned as we are to ensure there should be nothing voyeuristic about attendance at family law cases. It is the concern of all of us to allow a body of jurisprudence on family law to be built up to give judges, barristers and solicitors an idea of what each is doing. We must also ensure the public realises how serious some of these cases are but that should not mean only the most sensational cases are reported. This is especially true of cases which involve people in the public eye or those who are not in a position to defend themselves by taking court cases where they are all too readily identified from details reported. This amendment is the best way we could think of to address the concerns we all share.

When we discussed this on Committee Stage I said that balance is necessary and important, because quite rightly there is a demand that justice be seen to be done. The current situation is not satisfactory. We need reportage but not a free-for-all with people's privacy invaded. I ask the Minister to ensure that as far as possible a good balance is retained. I also suggested on Committee Stage that the Minister should enter into discussions with the National Union of Journalists. He did not indicate at the time that he had done so. I assume he has not and ask him to consider having such discussions. We should not assume that all journalists will be responsible regarding the reporting of court matters.

I read the obituaries of Mary Holland. In the past, the former The Irish Times journalist Mary Maher, along with Mary Holland, Nell McCafferty and others, uncovered in The Irish Times an entire area of Irish life which needed to be uncovered. Other newspapers did similar work. We must remember that the media play an important role in keeping the public informed of what is going on, but must also be accountable. It is difficult to get the balance right. I accept that professional standards in journalism have fallen in some areas and that we do not feel as confident as we used to regarding how matters are reported. I ask the Minister to retain a good balance as far as is possible when he is framing law in this area.

I am grateful to the Senators for their remarks. This is an area where we must get the balance right. I said I was not disposed to accept these amendments because, well-intentioned as they are, they do not quite achieve the right balance. For instance, would it be desirable that members of the public could enter courtrooms where such proceedings were going on and listen merely out of curiosity? Would it be desirable that an employer, for example, should send someone to a court to listen to the family law matters of an employee? That would not be acceptable. Such situations could expose people, particularly those in public life, to severe pressures. For such a person to be watched in the course of a family law case by people who, even if prohibited from identifying the person, might well chat about it in the pub afterwards, could grossly inhibit the proper conduct of family law cases and the proper decision-making process in issues as sensitive as the custody of children, their psychological well-being and so on.

We must bear in mind that while we are dealing with a matter where privacy is an important issue because the entire process is essentially a private matter, we must also have some sort of system whereby State interference with those private matters in the form of judicial arbitration is subject to some degree of accountability thereafter. Striking that balance is not easy. I need a little more time to come up with a formulation and I accept that it would be more desirable if I could have done so by today. The thinking caps are on in the Department regarding this matter, and the formulation to be brought forward will cover all the points made today and will be more protective of privacy than the current text appears to be.

I accept what the Minister says.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 39:

"(a) The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for Ireland,”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 39a:

In page 23, between lines 10 and 11 to insert the following:

"(5) A court hearing proceedings under a relevant enactment shall, on its own motion or on the application of one of the parties to the proceedings, have discretion to order disclosure of documents, information or evidence connected with or arising in the course of the proceedings to third parties if such disclosure is required to protect the legitimate interests of a party or other person affected by the proceedings.".

I thank the Minister for his comments on Committee Stage which suggested he would accept this amendment. It is tabled because there can sometimes be some urgency with these cases. It would be a great pity if due to delay in going to another court the Garda Síochána for example, or schools, or those minding children were not informed of the judgment that had taken place in the family law case. That is a greater concern of mine than the additional costs involved in going to another court. I hope the Minister has decided to accept this amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 40 not moved.

Amendment No. 42 is an alternative to amendment No. 41 and both may be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

In the light of what the Minister said on Committee Stage I withdraw these amendments.

Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 not moved.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister for the manner in which he dealt with this Bill. We were very pleased at its initial introduction in this House. It deals with two very important areas. No one could be unconcerned at the way personal injuries claims have gone in this country and it was important to tighten the legislation. That is why the Minister got such support in this House. I thank the Minister for accepting the amendments which mainly related to time, and I am particularly grateful regarding the section on reporting of the family law courts. This has been an area of great concern to many of us for some years because so little information came out of those courts.

When the Minister was Attorney General he said that the in camera rule had to be interpreted very strictly as it was. I am glad to see that when he became Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform he rapidly brought forward this Bill which I hope will allow us to make great improvements in those courts, which are more important to many people than any of the civil or criminal courts. The family courts are of great importance to people and I am delighted with the changes the Minister has made in this area.

I thank the Minister for the manner in which he gave serious consideration to our amendments to this Bill, and for bringing forward amendments which complied as far as possible with those we tabled. We have a very good relationship in this House with the Minister and with other Ministers when they attend. This is a very good House in which to debate legislation and I am glad we can do so now and in the future. I thank the Minister and his officials for their co-operation.

I thank the Minister and his officials for their very open-minded, co-operative and constructive approach to the views expressed by Members on all sides of this House. It is an example of how we can work together to produce better legislation. I would like to see other Ministers taking the view of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. He clearly has full ownership of the legislation. It may not be exactly what we on this side of the House want but once passed this legislation will have a transforming and necessary effect on the whole area. I thank the Minister for his hard work in that regard. It has been a valuable and enjoyable experience to deal with this legislation.

I join in the expression of appreciation for the reasoned debate on the Bill which has allowed all Members of the House, particularly those on the Government side, to contribute constructively. I have already reported to some of the solicitors of County Tipperary, north and south, on the spirit with which Committee Stage was taken.

As have I.

I am sure the legal profession, which feels a little battered by the establishment of the PIAB, will be very appreciative and supportive of the Bill, as improved and amended.

I thank Senators for their thoughtful and committed contributions on the Bill, which it has been a pleasure to debate in the House. Some small improvement is still to be made to the Bill, but when I bring it back to the House in that improved state, it will mark a significant advance in the civil law of our society. In that context, much of the credit for making sure it is a good Bill falls to the Members of this House for the considered way in which they have approached the task of improving and amending it. I thank them for that.

Question put and agreed to.