Courts and Court Officers Bill 2009: Second Stage.

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

I thank the Seanad for agreeing to consider this legislation today. Most Members will appreciate that since the Courts Service was established in 1999, it has energetically and systematically pursued a programme of transforming the physical infrastructure of the courts. Not so long ago, many of our courthouses provided their users with a pretty dismal experience. In a relatively short space of time, with significant support from Government, the Courts Service has undone much of the legacy of decades of neglect of the courts infrastructure throughout the country. A total of 41 courthouses have been refurbished and ten newly-built courthouses have been completed.

There is no question but that the development and construction of the Criminal Courts of Justice is of a far greater magnitude and marks the advent of a new era for the courts in Dublin. It is the largest court building project since Gandon’s Four Courts building was completed in the late 18th century and is one of the most significant developments in the history of the courts in Ireland. Ever since the fledgling Dáil courts were established in the most difficult and divisive circumstances, the courts have served this country well. It is hoped the new Criminal Courts of Justice will in time, create its own history and will continue the strong tradition since 1922 of a just and independent Irish judicial system.

Construction of the complex commenced in May 2007 with a construction programme of 34 months and a target date for completion of March 2010. However, the building will be completed three months ahead of schedule and is on target to be handed over later this month. The complex will provide vastly improved conditions for the public, jurors, victims and their families which Members will agree is only right. People who come into contact with the criminal justice system, whether as a juror, a victim or a witness in a case, are nervous and intimidated without suffering the poor facilities and extremely close contact with the accused which had unfortunately become the norm in the Four Courts which was not designed for the volume or demands of the modern criminal justice system. Secure segregated accommodation and access routes are provided for the public, jurors, persons in custody and staff. The reception area for jurors can accommodate up to 400 people and jury dining facilities and retiring rooms are provided within a segregated area. Rooms for victims, witnesses and vulnerable witnesses are provided within a secure area. Representatives of victims and jurors are delighted with the facilities planned for them. A visit to the complex has been arranged for the members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights.

The new building will concentrate all central Dublin criminal business in one serviced location. This means transferring courts and administrative offices from the three jurisdictions — District Court, Circuit Court and High Court — as well as the Special Criminal Court, to one new centralised facility. This facility will have a significant impact on the criminal justice system and allow for more efficient logistical management of criminal trials. It will also allow the Four Courts to be freed up for civil business, which has been a major demand in recent years. The Courts Service has met this challenge by making full use of refurbished courthouses around the country for non-jury High Court lists but with the opening of the new complex, the Four Courts will once again be the main High Court venue in the country.

The Courts Service has, since its establishment, set about changing the physical infrastructure of our courts. However, change is not only about buildings; it is also about how the courts do business. In this regard, the courts have transformed the way they do their business by embracing new technologies and work practices. One example of this is the introduction of digital audio recording which has been installed in 41 courts nationwide over the last year and also in the new complex. This encompasses all Central Criminal Court, High Court, Family Law Court and Circuit Criminal Courts. The technology replaces stenography and transcripts can be produced overnight where necessary, speeding up the court process considerably. It also provides significant assistance in dealing with appeals.

The Courts Service has also created a unified staff structure which brought together three distinct staffing streams from the Circuit and District Courts, the High and Supreme Courts and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Prior to the establishment of the service, the three streams had separate career structures, promotional opportunities and methods of promotion. The unification provided for a transparent merit-based promotion system, allowing for greater flexibility and expertise for the Courts Service in the management of resources and supporting the courts.

The Bill before the House has enabling provisions to underpin streamlined management procedures in the new complex, which are especially necessary given its scale, but which can in future apply to other court venues as appropriate.

Part 2 of the Bill has a number of provisions to allow the Irish Prison Service to manage the central holding facility for people in custody and to have control over all persons held, including those who have not been committed to prison by the courts. The main objective is to avoid duplication of effort by the Irish Prison Service and the Garda Síochána and free up gardaí for operational duties.

The Bill allows for the temporary transfer of custody of a person to a holding area officer solely for the purposes of facilitating a court appearance by that person or the holding of a court hearing involving him or her. It is necessary to make legislative provision for this change so that the Irish Prison Service may be responsible for the custody of persons in holding cells in the courts who have up until now remained in Garda custody. A reciprocal arrangement whereby a prisoner may be temporarily placed in the custody of a member of the Garda Síochána is also provided for. This provision allows a garda to have temporary custody of a prisoner in the limited circumstances of facilitating a court appearance. I will be introducing a short amendment on Committee Stage to change an element of the provisions covering Garda custody of prisoners who may be held temporarily in Garda stations pending a court appearance.

Our intent is to provide for a situation where a garda may take temporary custody of a prisoner within or in the vicinity of a courthouse rather than impact on the existing situation in terms of those held in a Garda station. I look forward to detailing the changes we propose to make on Committee Stage and I trust Members will agree with the logic behind the amendments. Part 3 makes provision to improve staff management and flexibility further by designing a single administrative office rather than an office for each court jurisdiction. This builds on other changes introduced by the Courts Service in recent years. It will fully integrate the courts' staffing structures and allow for efficient procedures for the deployment of staff. Part 4 will allow a District Court clerk to take bail recognisance in certain instances without the need for the applicant to return to court and expand the range of persons who can take a recognisance in the case of an appeal from the District Court. Given the size of the building, considerable efficiency will be gained from this small change.

I will outline the provisions of the Bill to the House. Sections 1 to 4 form Part 1 of the Act and are standard drafting provisions. In Part 2, section 5 contains a number of definitions. At present, a person may be in custody for a number of reasons. He or she may be charged with a criminal offence by the Garda or may be held by the Irish Prison Service on foot of a court order, either on remand or on conviction. Up to now both agencies have shared access to cell areas. However, in the new complex the Prison Service will manage the custody area, thus freeing up the Garda for other duties. The main feature of this part is to provide a legislative basis for a person in custody to be placed in temporary custody of either the Garda Síochána or the Irish Prison Service. In the main, this will facilitate the management by the Prison Service of the new custody area. The reverse provision, in which prisoners of the Prison Service may be held in the temporary custody of the Garda, will be less frequently required but is included to ensure every possibility is covered and, as I indicated earlier, we will introduce an amendment to this provision to reflect the existing role and function of a member-in-charge in a Garda station.

Section 6 explains that a prisoner or person may be placed in the temporary custody of the Garda Síochána or a prison governor in a place in or adjacent to a court building for a purpose referred to in section 7. Section 7 provides that a person can be held either to facilitate a court appearance by that person or for the holding of a court hearing involving him or her. An example of such a situation this second provision is intended to cover would be if persons who are already in custody were required as witnesses in another case. Section 8 indicates at what point temporary custody under section 6 commences and ceases. Section 8(1) provides that the temporary custody commences when the prisoner is placed in the custody of the holding area officer and ceases either when the prisoner is returned to the person in whose custody they were prior to the temporary custody, or is released by order of the court. Under section 8(2) a person lawfully in the custody of the Garda Síochána may be placed in temporary custody of a governor for the purposes of a court appearance. This temporary custody commences from the moment the person is placed in the custody of the holding area officer and ceases either when the person is returned to the previous person of custody or released by order of the court.

Section 9 provides that a person placed in temporary custody shall be regarded as remaining in the custody of the person in whose custody he or she was before being so placed. The next section requires the prison authorities or the Garda Síochána to hand over to a holding area officer any medication, prescriptions for medication, health information etc. when placing a person in temporary custody. The reverse applies when the holding area officer is returning the person to custody. Section 11 sets out the duties, functions and powers of a holding area officer in respect of a person who has been placed in his or her temporary custody. Section 11(1) imposes certain obligations on the holding area officer. He or she must prevent a person in temporary custody from escape, prevent the commission of an offence, ensure orderly and disciplined behaviour, bring him or her to a court or court office, ensure his or her appearance before court and comply with any court order relating to his or her custody, treatment or transfer. Section 11(2) confers on a holding area officer a power of search in accordance with the prison rules in respect of the person in temporary custody if of opinion that it is necessary to the performance of the officer's functions to do so. This is to ensure that standards of safety are consistent regardless of the origin of the person in custody. Section 11(3) outlines that the holding area officer may use all reasonable force, where necessary, in the performance of their functions. Section 11(4) applies the same obligations and duties on a member of the Garda Síochána for the purposes of temporary custody. Section 11(5) is included to avoid any misapprehension. It retains all existing powers of search under the prison rules exercisable by a holding area officer who is a prison officer. Section 12 empowers the Minister to make a number of regulations, for example, governing standards, record keeping etc.

In Part 3, section 13 is a standard drafting provision containing definitions. Section 14 sets out the steps for the establishment of combined court offices. Sections 14(1) and 14(2) enable the Courts Service, having undertaken the necessary consultations, to establish a combined court office. As part of this process they will designate two or more court offices to comprise the combined office and set out the business to be transacted in the office. Section 14(3) requires the Courts Service to publish notice of establishment in Iris Oifigiúil. However, it notes that failure to publish will not affect the validity of the office’s establishment. Section 15 allows the Courts Service, subject to consultation, to change or remove the functions of any constituent office of a combined court office, other than any business relating to the Special Criminal Court.

Section 16 requires that the Courts Service must consult with the Chief Justice or President of the relevant court before establishing a combined court office. Section 17 provides a power for the Government to make an order applying these sections to the business of the Special Criminal Court, obviously excluding the judicial business of that court. Section 18 provides for certain legal consequences to follow where business of a court office is transacted in a combined court office. Sections 19 to 22 provide for the staffing arrangements which may apply in a combined office. For example, section 20 confers on a combined court office manager the management and control in regard to all matters of general administration of the combined court office, subject to the general directions of the Courts Service. In the case of the new complex this manager has already been appointed and has been overseeing preparations for some time. Section 22(2) enables any member of Courts Service staff to act as registrar to the Central Criminal Court, the Court of Criminal Appeal, the Courts-Martial Appeal Court or the Circuit Court, where those courts form part of a combined court office. This provision will allow for flexibility and maximise use of available staff and accommodation.

Section 23 makes provision to ensure the continuity of the administration of justice or of the business of a court office affected is not interrupted by the establishment, variation of the functions or disestablishment of a combined courts office. Section 24 amends the Courts Service Act 1998 to incorporate in the powers conferred on the Courts Service under that Act the powers given to it under the Bill to establish, vary the functions of or disestablish a combined court office.

Section 25 is the first section in the fourth part of the Bill which covers a number of provisions relating to bail. It amends section 22 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1967 and will have the effect of conferring on a District Court clerk power to take bail recognisances, where the District Court has admitted a person to bail with immediate effect when remanding that person or sending him forward for trial or sentence. Section 26 amends section 24 of Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851. The effect of this section is to extend the categories of persons who may take bail recognisance, where bail has been fixed by the District Court pending an appeal to include a District Court clerk, a prison governor and prison officer.

I am conscious these provisions are technical and I thank Senators for their patience. The Courts Acts generally are highly procedural. They comprise over 100 statutes, many of which date from before independence. However, in co-operation with the Department, the Law Reform Commission is working on valuable legislation to codify the provisions. This will be of great assistance both to practitioners and anyone wishing to access the courts. The provisions set out in the Bill will, once enacted, make their own small but important contribution to greater efficiency. I trust all Members will support the measures proposed and I commend the Bill to the Seanad.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. This Bill, which has Fine Gael's support, is designed to modernise and improve efficiency in the courts. It has been necessitated by the need to ensure the new Criminal Courts of Justice complex operates effectively and functions appropriately. The building of the aforementioned complex is a wonderful development and will be beneficial for the court system and for court efficiencies. The Courts Service has done wonderful work in modernising the court system since its establishment. This complex will deal with all central Dublin criminal business, including that pertaining to the District and Circuit Court, as well as the Central Criminal Court, the Special Criminal Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal. This is to be welcomed.

The Bill underpins a streamlined management procedure for this complex. In so far as the Irish Prison Service will be given responsibility for managing the central holding facility for people in custody and will have control over all persons held there, including those who have not been committed to prison by the courts, it will help to free Garda time for other operational duties and will avoid duplication. The establishment of a holding area officer also is welcome and the designation of a single administrative office rather than an office for each court jurisdiction is appropriate.

I note the miscellaneous provision regarding the taking of recognisances by the District Court clerk in certain instances. I wonder whether this proposal has been thought through and how it would operate in practice in a busy court in which a judge makes orders in respect of bail and recognisance. There is much business to be conducted in the court and I wonder whether, if there is a handing up to the clerk of a recognisance in the court, it would slow down the court's business. For example, if anything interferes with the flow of business in the Bridewell court, it can slow down the process. The determination of bail in respect of ascertaining who will provide the recognisance and what member of the family will provide the money takes time. I appreciate this measure has been introduced to facilitate the process but I wonder whether it will do so in practice.

The Minister of State has mentioned that he proposes to table an amendment on Committee Stage and I reserve my position on it. However, in many ways this is a straightforward Bill. Its theme is efficiency and it is designed to facilitate the new criminal court complex. Fine Gael is fully supportive of the Bill. I reserve my position in respect of some minor amendments which may be relevant to ensuring the object of the legislation is achieved but otherwise I commend the Bill to the House.

I also welcome the Minister of State to the House and wish to signal my support for the Bill. As the Minister of State noted, courts Acts in general are quite technical and do not contain anything exciting. At the same time, however, when the Courts Service or courts offices do not work or, as Senator Regan mentioned, business does not flow, it can cause a great deal of angst, strife and vexation for victims, practitioners, judges and everyone involved in the administration of justice. The changes contained in this Bill are quite minor as this legislation has been prompted by the construction of the new criminal courts complex in Dublin. While I look forward to visiting it and seeing it in operation, it seems to be a state-of-the-art complex in which every need of victims, practitioners and courts staff will be met. The bringing under one roof in Dublin of all those courts to enable the High Court to become the central High Court for civil cases again is welcome. Obviously security issues will be easier to deal with in the new complex. For example, I note that one of its design features is to minimise the proximity of victims to the accused and it also provides for remote video links etc. which is welcome. In another recent development, the Courts Service introduced a new on-line accounting system which helps to free up staff time in respect of dealing with other matters and which is highly worthwhile.

The temporary transfer of prisoners to a holding officer clearly will free Garda time. However, I cannot let this opportunity pass without commenting that in any District Court in the land, gardaí are sitting around all day waiting to be called. It is a pity this Bill will be passed without addressing this point as it provides a good opportunity to do so. I acknowledge this Bill has a specific focus but if one takes a step back to consider how District Courts are run nationwide, great wastage of Garda time is evident. In my experience of District Courts, the absence of a call-over means one is obliged to sit there all day. Moreover, one does not know whether the relevant garda will turn up. Sometimes he or she does not do so and the case then is either adjourned or struck out. If a garda fails to turn up the next time such an adjourned case is scheduled, it eventually can be struck out on the delay rule arising from the Arthurs case. Something must be done in this regard but I do not know what. The Circuit and High Courts run efficiently in that regard in that one usually knows the day and week when a case will be called. I do not understand why this cannot be done in respect of the District Court. I appreciate the great volume of work faced by District Court judges.. Recently, when I asked a judge in the midlands whether, in respect of a case in the list, I could wait until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. to be heard, he told me to go away and to tell the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to appoint more judges. Something must be done about the District Court.

I have stated repeatedly in this House that separate family law courts should be considered. Last year or the year before, I attended a conference in Paris on domestic violence. The British system has different domestic violence courts. I will outline the manner in which the Irish District Court is run. The court is called at 10 a.m. and if there are urgent cases that must be heard, which generally pertain to domestic violence or sometimes to children's law and children's rights etc., the District Court judge must hear them. Therefore, despite the provision of separate family law days, which usually comprise a full day once a month in the country jurisdictions, District Court judges are under great pressure to deal with the family law caseload that invariably comes in every morning the court opens. As a result, a judge will not start his or her business until noon. After lunch, if the court breaks for lunch, the judge again returns to urgent family law cases and may spend another hour or so at that. This is causing great frustration among practitioners and I am sure among the Judiciary as well, but most of all for the victims or those who require justice to be heard and done in their cases. I believe Members are missing an opportunity at this point to consider this issue. While I appreciate that much more committee work must be done on this area, I will not allow the opportunity to pass without highlighting this issue.

In addition, the issue of the efficient use of Garda time when dealing with criminal law cases must be considered. As I noted previously, a judge might not even start the list until noon and the gardaí involved would have been sitting around or coming and going since 10 a.m.

Dealing with debt collection, maintenance, arrears and such issues could also free up a great amount of time. The system is not working efficiently. It is a great ideal that we want to have the courts system working more efficiently. I note that the amendments refer to the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851 and a great amount of work must be done in that regard. There is also a reference to an Act of 1967 in the measure to allow the District Court clerk to have the power to take bail recognisances. That is welcome but we must work out how it will work in practice. Let us take the opportunity to deal with this issue more efficiently than the Minister's amendment suggests. Perhaps it will deal with the issue satisfactorily; therefore, I will not second-guess it.

Some areas of the courts system do not work efficiently and we must examine and deal with them properly. The in camera rule in family law cases does not work efficiently in the District Court. Invariably, parties are sitting in packed courtrooms and in districts where people tend to know one another’s business and it is very clear what is happening.

Many practitioners claim that the PIAB is not running efficiently. It still takes 12 to 18 months to get to court, after spending one year in the PIAB. This must be examined in order that we can streamline the system and make it more efficient.

The combined Courts Service location is great. The Circuit Court office and the District Court office in Wexford are located in different parts of the town. This is not efficient. I know the Minister cannot comment on a judicial review case under way but we can examine the matter in the context of the Bill. It was raised in the House by two Senators last week. The example I know best is that of County Wexford. The District Court for smaller towns in the county — New Ross, Enniscorthy and Gorey — now sits in Wexford District Court. A judicial review has been sought by some solicitors in New Ross, suggesting the power is not available to do this. The Minister cannot comment on the case before the courts but we must examine the matter. Is the practice allowed? There is not much appetite in smaller towns to have the District Court moved to larger towns and the issue must be addressed.

The Bill is technical in nature and there is not much to speak about. It is codifying legislation which will assist practitioners, the Judiciary and everyone involved in the streamlining of the process. There are many more areas in the administration of justice and the Courts Service that we could examine.

Like others Senators, I welcome the provisions included in the Bill. For the main part, the Bill is technical and deals with the coming into being of the new criminal courts complex. Other Senators have paid tribute to the Courts Service and the Department for the efficient and timely near-completion of the complex. I have spoken with colleagues who are criminal law practitioners and people involved in the prosecution service and understand the building is due to come on stream in early December, although the Minister referred to the end of this month. In any case, it is earlier than previously anticipated. From the Minister's nod, I think it might be December rather than November.

According to those who have seen the complex, it will be a major improvement. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights and look forward to the committee's visit to the new complex. In particular, we welcome the provision of a reception area for jurors. In my days in the Circuit Criminal Court I remember the chaos that ensued as prospective jurors mingled with members of the public, gardaí, prison officers, accused persons, solicitors and barristers at the side of the Four Courts building, in Courts Nos. 24, 25 and 26. Improvements have been made in the provision of accommodation for jurors, witnesses, vulnerable witnesses and victims. There will be greatly enhanced provisions for these categories, which is particularly welcome in the case of victims. Research I have conducted and that carried out by others on the need for greater provision for victims shows that one of the key complaints victims tend to have concerns the physical space they are provided with in court premises. All too often, they are left in close proximity to the accused or members of his or her family. This can be very traumatic and distressing for victims and vulnerable witnesses. I welcome the new era of criminal trials that the Bill will herald, where appropriate space will be provided for such persons and they can remain separate. This is also important for accused persons.

There has been some griping among practitioners. Deputy Rabbitte has commented on the fact that practitioners can no longer switch between civil and criminal work as they currently do at the Bar. They will now be much more inclined to confine themselves to one area of work. That is not necessarily a bad thing and might explain why an unprecedented number of criminal practitioners recently took silk in the Law Library. As Deputy Rabbitte suggested, the Minister could start a barge service along the river to facilitate those who wish to move between the Four Courts and the criminal complex. That is a somewhat light-hearted comment but joking aside many of those engaged in criminal trial work must be engaged in civil work also because of judicial reviews. Senator MacDonald referred to one such review under way. There is a major increase in the number of judicial reviews arising from criminal proceedings. There has been great expansion in this area; therefore, it is important there remains a crossover in so far as criminal practitioners can also be engaged in judicial reviews arising from trials.

I welcome the bulk of the Bill and compliment the Courts Service on bringing the new building on stream. It marks an improvement in the running of criminal trials. Many of the provisions of the Bill are administrative in nature and give effect to the move. The Labour Party submitted amendments on Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil but the Minister did not accept them. I intend to resubmit the amendments to Part 2 of the Bill as they deserve substantive comment.

Part 1 is the preliminary Part of the Bill; Part 3 deals with the combined courts office, while Part 4 deals with miscellaneous provisions. There can be no issue with these. I welcome the expansion in Part 4 of the category of persons who can take recognisances. This will improve the efficiency of the system and is a welcome change.

Part 2 of the Bill deals with temporary custody. I take the Minister's point that it deals with the difficulty where persons have tended to remain in Garda custody when in holding cells in court. This change facilitate will their removal into the custody of the Irish Prison Service. The Labour Party amendment in the Dáil sought to place a limitation on the persons who could be placed in temporary custody. Sections 6 and 7 refer to prisoners, within the meaning of the Prisons Act 2007, but section 7 extends the reference to include other persons. I presume this must relate to section 6(2) which deals with a person lawfully in the custody of the Garda Síochána but the Labour Party amendment seeks to make it specific.

That is important because we may generally describe these as administrative or technical provisions but Part 2 deals with the deprivation of liberty and we must be very careful about how these provisions are framed. We must ensure they are framed in as tight and as narrow a way as possible to ensure we do not in any way encroach on constitutional rights to liberty. Will the Minister of State consider placing this limitation on the definition of "person" in section 7? I will make this point again on Committee and Report Stages.

Section 7(b) allows for the holding in temporary custody of people not only for the purpose of making their own court appearance — where one assumes they would be the accused — but also their participation as a witness or in another capacity in a court hearing involving them. This might require more caution and I would like to know what the Minister of State envisages that this section will cover. On Committee Stage, we may want to tease out what exactly this is designed to cover. Why would a person be held in temporary custody? One assumes it is somebody who is already serving a sentence and is being asked to appear as a witness in another trial or who may be appearing as an accused in another trial. The phrase, “in another capacity” is very broadly drafted given that we are speaking about the deprivation of liberty. Another aspect of this relates to the safeguards for persons placed in temporary custody.

Section 10 facilitates the handing over of medications to the holding area officer, which is very practical and section 11 deals with the functions of the holding area officer, including granting the power of search to the holding area officer. We should examine this in more detail on Committee and Report Stages.

I want to ask the Minister of State about section 12. It is a facilitative section, allowing the Minister to prescribe the standards to be employed in the safekeeping of a person who has been placed in temporary custody. What type of regulations are envisaged to be applied? It rings alarm bells for me. This will provide for persons who, for the most part, have been convicted of offences to be held in custody by the Prison Service. Those convicted would now be held on a different premise, for the purpose of appearing in court in another matter or participating in a court hearing as a witness or in the unspecified other capacity. However, we are not being told what are the safeguards; we are simply told the Minister will prescribe. What are the criteria by which the Minister will prescribe safeguards? What reference point will he or she have for the development of standards? I am conscious that custody regulations and prison rules are already in place but I am not clear to which standards the Minister will refer because they are rather different.

In sections 5 to 12, which make up Part 2 of the Bill and which deal with temporary custody, there is no limitation on the length of time a person can spend in custody. The Minister of State mentioned the very diverse range of courts Acts. I was aware that they were being codified and I am delighted the Minister of State has confirmed this. It is long overdue and a welcome development. Undoubtedly, those in the Law Reform Commission are the best people to develop this codification. The Minister of State is aware that at present, the Courts Acts provide for various time limits for which persons may be held in custody prior to court appearances. The Minister of State will recall that "as soon as practicable" was the formula used in one Act and "forthwith" has been used in other Acts.

I should declare an interest because I was involved in a case where the meaning of "forthwith" in that context was considered. The question was for how long one could hold a person lawfully in custody prior to bringing him or her to court where the obligation was to bring him or her to court "forthwith". We won a case in the Supreme Court on that basis and the legislation was subsequently changed. People may well be held for periods of hours or days under these provisions. Will the Minister of State clarify whether it is envisaged that anyone would be held overnight in temporary custody? My reading of the Minister of State's speech is that it is not envisaged and that what is envisaged is simply a transference for a matter of hours to a holding cell of people who are already being held by the Garda under other powers while they wait to be called up before a judge.

There is nothing in the Bill about time limits but there are plenty of references to time limits in other legislation providing the Garda with powers to hold people in custody. How will that tally with the provisions here for temporary custody, undefined as they are? Perhaps "temporary" is the only word that implies there is any time limit and for me that raises issues. According to section 5, "‘temporary custody' shall be construed in accordance with subsections (1) and (2) of section 6“ but there is no sense there of any outer limit. Clearly, it is anticipated that it would be for a matter of hours as people wait for the court list to be gone through, but Senator McDonald already referred to difficulties with court lists. A court list may go over to another day. In that case, will a person be capable of being held in temporary custody overnight?

I raise these issues with the Minister of State to ensure the Bill can be brought into effect in as timely a way as possible and that the operation of the new courts complex will be as smooth as possible. As I stated, I very much welcome the Bill and I recognise that most of its provisions are purely technical. However, I urge some caution that the provisions under Part 2 relate to the deprivation of liberty.

Unlike some other speakers my profession was not in the courtroom, which I sometimes regret because of the lucrative nature of ploughing one's trade in the hallowed halls of those establishments——

——and finding oneself in a position where one can charge people whatever one likes which has no bearing on the cost to oneself or to the amount of time one gives.

Not if one works in the criminal legal aid scheme.

On the Bill.

This is relevant to the Bill because the Bill is designed to improve the efficiencies of the system, which I welcome. The main provisions of the Bill will enhance the system and, it is hoped, will improve value for money in the courts area, if that is at all possible. It is interesting that a motion signed by many on this side of the House, which I am informed will be tabled in the near future, on limiting the fees for senior counsel to €969 per day failed to get the support of esteemed colleagues, legal or otherwise, on the other side of the House.

The Bill deals with the maintenance of prisoners in custody and how they are dealt with. The purpose of the Bill is to allow the Prison Service to take custody and not involve Gardaí in the court system. This will have a beneficial effect. Many attempts have been made to increase community policing and the visibility of gardaí on the streets. We have debated that issue on previous occasions and a former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform made improvements in that area where administrative roles in the Garda Síochána were opened to civilians. That has had some effect, as will this, to free up gardaí who are well-qualified and quite well paid and whose job it is to deal with crime. This may provide a template for extension to other areas. The courts are often timed around the convenience of the Judiciary and the legal system rather than gardaí and those who have a serious and responsible job in maintaining order in society, and this creates a certain imbalance in how the system operates.

Anything that tackles and improves this is to be welcomed.

We have talked here before about video evidence. Under this Bill, court clerks will be authorised to deal with people when they are brought before them for bail reconnaissance. We should consider such changes in the system. Much more use should be made of videoconferencing and so on in remanding prisoners. The idea of having to bring prisoners any distance to court, with all the attendant costs, for purely technical or legal formalities is unpalatable. Obviously people must be able to defend themselves properly and effectively when charged, but common sense must prevail within the system and the current arrangements often defy logic. It has been mentioned that Thornton Hall, when built, will have a court system within it. Wheatfield is another example in this regard. Prisoners do not need to be transported long distances with all the attendant costs.

The Courts Service deserves some recognition for the manner in which it is dealing with certain issues, especially infrastructural issues. However, I have done some homework by talking to people who worked within the Courts Service but do not work there now, and I was aghast to find that many of the inefficiencies we have identified within other public services are just as common within the Courts Service. The culture of not doing things in a cost-effective way is just as evident, including the engagement of professionals. Often, those who command — or seek, depending on one's point of view — the highest fees are engaged, which prevents the service from taking on people in the most cost-effective way. It may be argued that the best often equates to the most expensive, and thus the most expensive professionals are the correct ones to engage. However, the reality from a business perspective is that this is not always the case.

I do not want to refer to the Courts Service in a derogatory way as a quango, but it is one of the agencies that was set up as an offshoot of the public service where Executive discretion no longer has an influence on what goes on. Many of these agencies become empires in their own right, and the interest of the taxpayer frequently does not get the priority it needs. With the significant downturn in public finances, which will be with us for many years to come, it behoves us to investigate every such body to ensure they are forced to operate to the highest standards of efficiency, cost effectiveness and value for money for the taxpayer.

Just like the Government.

Good standards.

Unlike Fine Gael, when it was in Government, and unlike the manner in which the legal profession in particular has treated the taxpayer through the tribunals and so on. People have no qualms of conscience whatsoever about sending bills of €2,000 to €3,000 per day for doing small amounts of work——

The Senator agrees with me then.

I agree with Senator Regan. It is absolute greed.

The Government agrees.

The greatest manifestation of greed we have seen in our society is from the legal profession, as the good Senator opposite will be fully aware.

I welcome the Minister and the opportunity to debate the Courts and Court Officers Bill 2009. Like Senator Walsh, I must admit to feeling at a slight disadvantage. I am not a legal practitioner and thus am not on the receiving end of some of Senator Walsh's criticisms, but I have been a litigant once or twice and a defendant in one or two minor cases and I was struck by the volume of people going through the courts. This obviously puts pressure on the court offices and the Courts Service.

Because I am not familiar with this area, I looked at the annual report of the Courts Service where I found that the functions of the service are wide ranging and important. It manages the courts, supports the Judiciary, provides services to court users, provides and maintains court buildings and provides information on the courts to the public. It is important that the service is working effectively and efficiently. However, as others have mentioned, we are facing difficult times with regard to our public finances, and the Courts Service will need to conduct its services with less money. We must try to ensure that whatever changes take place do not have a negative impact on the front-line services, particularly customer and courtroom services.

I welcome the Bill. While it is largely technical in nature, it will introduce much more efficient operational procedures into the Courts Service which will be put into effect at the new Criminal Courts of Justice when it is opened, although the date for that is still up in the air. It will streamline procedures for custody arrangements, prevent the duplication of duties by the Garda Síochána and free gardaí for operational duties.

The Bill alters some of the structures that were put in place by earlier courts legislation so that the service can prepare for the move to the Criminal Courts of Justice complex near the Phoenix Park. This will be quite an impressive facility with 450 rooms, 22 courtrooms and ancillary facilities, and vastly improved facilities generally for both staff and the Judiciary. It will enable the courts staff to operate in a single administrative office in support of all the courts, of which there are 22, including the Central Criminal Court, the Court of Criminal Appeal, the Special Criminal Court, the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court and the Dublin District Court. These will all be located in the new facility. This will allow for improved flexibility in staff arrangements, which will be important in years to come.

The Bill hopes to achieve administrative efficiencies by consolidating the court offices on a thematic, that is, criminal, basis. The District Court deals with approximately 450,000 cases per year while the Supreme Court deals with fewer than 500. Section 15 will allow the criminal aspects of the High Court office to be relocated to the Phoenix Park office while retaining a civilian jurisdiction in the existing office in the Four Courts. The Bill also requires that the head of each office, the senior sitting judge, be consulted before any such consolidated office can be established. Section 17 also allows for the administrative business of the Special Criminal Court to be dealt with by a nominated court office.

The remainder of Part 3 combines the court offices into the existing legislative structures. Essentially, the sections clarify that all previous references to a court office should be read in future as including a reference to the new combined office. Section 23 provides that there be no disruption to court business or filing of documents where court offices are being reconfigured and jurisdiction is being transferred. This is important to avoid the kind of upheaval that can sometimes occur when there is a reconfiguration of services.

Some of the other technical changes made by the Bill, as others have mentioned, are in the area of bail recognisance. I was obliged to educate myself about bail recognisance which is an obligation or bond made before a court for a person to perform some act, for example, to appear before a court or ensure the attendance of an accused person at a trial.

The various courts have slightly different rules as to who can enter a recognisance. A bond or recognisance does not always have to be entered by an individual. Where it is required from a person, the judge may accept an instrument executed by a solvent person, corporation or insurance company. In the context of bail, recognisance will be estreated, that is, forfeited on foot of a special procedure in circumstances where the person fails to appear and a warrant for arrest is issued or the person is brought before the court and the court is satisfied that he or she has contravened the terms of the recognisance.

Under the Criminal Procedure Act 1967, recognisances may be taken by a District Court judge, a District Court clerk, a peace commissioner, the governor of a prison or a prison officer designated by a prison governor. The Act provided the District Court with the options of either requiring the accused to enter a judicially determined recognisance into court or of refusing bail and remanding him or her into custody. Section 18 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 allowed the District Court judge a third option of a non-monetary recognisance, in recognition of the circumstances faced by many people in this situation. However, the wording of the Act gave rise to the potential interpretation that only a District Court judge could take a non-monetary recognisance. An amendment in this Bill allows for District Court clerks to receive this form of recognisance where the court has admitted a person to bail as part of being remanded or sent for trial or sentence. Effectively, it allows for the administrative act of taking a non-monetary recognisance to be undertaken by a District Court clerk rather than a judge.

The Bill also provides for changes in the area of temporary custody. There has been a gradual shift from employing gardaí for escort duties and transfers of prisoners for court appearances are now largely carried out by the Prison Service escort corps, which is based in Cloverhill Prison in west Dublin and has a staff of 156 and a fleet of 52 vehicles. However, occasions arise when gardaí have to resume escort duties. Part 2 of the Bill aims both to resolve these jurisdictional issues and reduce the resource burden of escorting prisoners to and from prisons in advance of the completion of the Central Criminal Court complex by allowing custody facilities to be managed by the Prison Service. While the default position is that prisoners will remain under the jurisdiction and physical control of the Prison Service officers on their way to and from court appearances, section 6 of the Bill provides that a prisoner may lawfully be placed temporarily under the control of a garda or a prison governor in a court house or place adjacent to a court house.

Section 11 of the Bill provides that the holding area officer may use such force as is necessary to carry out his or her duties in respect of temporary custody. Section 11(2) provides that the series of rules dealing with all aspects of prison regulation will only apply so in so far as they deal with the regulation of searches conducted in the temporary holding facility. Section 12 also provides that the Minister may make regulations on the standard and procedures relating to the orderly management of any place in which a person is held. I share Senator Bacik's concerns about this section and ask for clarification on it. If it is intended to introduce safeguards for prisoners who have not yet been prosecuted of found guilty or who may be appearing as a witness, it is important that we provide proper safeguards for their treatment while in temporary custody. Otherwise, I welcome this technical but important Bill, which will achieve greater efficiencies and cost savings in the Courts Service.

Ba bhreá liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Stáit. Tacaím leis an mBille seo. Creidim gur féidir linn leasuithe a dhéanamh a bheidh ar leas an phobail ó thaobh riaracháin agus costais a sparáil de.

The Bill makes provision for the following three matters: a custody facility at the new criminal courts of justice complex in the Phoenix Park to be managed by the Irish Prison Service and for similar custody facilities at other courts, the establishment of a combined courts office to enable courts staff to operate in a single administrative office in support of all courts and to facilitate the acceptance of bail recognisance by District Court clerks in relation to persons remanded on bail in the District Court.

The first matter, custody facilities at the courts, deserves further study. Part 2 of the Bill will allow the Prison Service to manage a central holding facility for people in custody and have control over all persons held, including those who have not been committed to prison. The Bill allows for the temporary transfer of custody to a holding area officer only for the purpose of facilitating a court appearance by a person or the holding of a court hearing involving that person. The Prison Service will be responsible for the custody of persons in holding cells in the courts who have until now remained in Garda custody.

This might reduce the Garda's reliance on station bail with the result that more accused persons might be held in custody and brought directly to court. As charging and court appearances might now occur very quickly even in minor offences, this could put unfair pressure on the accused and restrict his or her opportunities for more detailed consultations with legal advisers. From the point of view of ensuring due process, people brought directly to court for summary offences, such as threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, failing to comply with a direction of a Garda or being drunk and disorderly, may still be in an animated state when brought before the courts. This might result in more unsympathetic judgments than would occur where the same people are sober, washed and contrite. In minor offences, an accused may lack a genuine opportunity to find and persuade character witnesses to testify and gather more impressive damages or poor box contributions. The Minister of State may hold a different view but I raise these issues because I want to see an efficient system which guarantees due process and fair access to justice.

It is not clear to me how the provision for a combined courts office will improve matters. For example, how will a new High Court administrative office change the running of the High Court?

The provision on acceptance of bail recognisance by District Court clerks is phrased in almost exactly the same terms as the amendment to section 22 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1967 made by the Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act 2007. Why is the same provision considered a necessary part of this Bill?

I thank Senators Regan, MacDonald, Bacik, Walsh, de Búrca and Mullen for their contributions to Second Stage on this technical but important Bill. I acknowledge the support expressed on all sides for the Bill. While a number of issues raised by Senators can be more thoroughly addressed on Committee Stage, I wish to respond in a more general way.

The provision on bail recognisance is intended to avoid interruptions to the flow of business. It allows for situations where people require short extensions of time to make their bail arrangements.

It extends to the District Court clerk the power to take the bail recognisance, which means the party would not have to return to interrupt the court, in other words, the procedure could be completed administratively in a back office.

I will not address all of the points raised by Senator Bacik. On the issue of victims, about which she spoke in detail, the physical environment for victims going to court will be significantly improved, which is important. The Senator also referred to custody standards. These standards depend on the status of the detained, by which is meant that if a person is detained as a prisoner, he or she will be subject to the standards applying under the prison regulations, while a person in Garda custody will be subject to the Garda custody regulations.

The Senator also referred to the amendment tabled by Deputy Rabbitte on Committee Stage in the Dáil which was rejected because it referred to a prisoner being in the custody of a member of the Garda Síochána. This would never be the case as a prisoner may only be in the legal custody of a governor. I understand this explanation was accepted by Deputy Rabbitte.

Senator Bacik also asked about temporary custody. A time is not established in the Bill. Temporary custody only arises to facilitate a person's appearance in court. Once the court process is completed, the person detained will either be released on foot of a court order or returned to the person in whose custody he or she was originally. Equally, should the court hearing not proceed, the temporary custody will cease and the person will be returned to the original custody. As the Senator correctly noted, the Bill sets out clearly the start and end of temporary custody periods.

I thank the Minister of State for clarifying the matter.

Senator McDonald referred to Garda time being wasted and the need to free up Garda services. I understand the Garda Inspectorate has examined this issue and recommended the extended use of the court presenters. The obvious benefit of such a decision would be to address the issue raised by the Senator.

Senator Walsh raised many issues.

Most of them were irrelevant.

He spoke, for example, about inefficiencies in the Courts Service. The service has made significant strides in improving levels of efficiency and service. I referred to some of the improvements implemented in the past decade. The Judiciary is directly involved in developing and implementing these improvements and modernisation measures.

Senators will be familiar with the phrase, "Much done but more to do". The Courts Service is engaged in a wide-ranging efficiency review which focuses on all the businesses in which it engages. I understand the review will be completed at the end of this year or thereabouts.

The purpose of the Bill is to streamline the management procedure and provide for the efficient operation of the new criminal court justice complex. While Senators support the Bill in broad terms, I recognise that Senator Bacik has indicated her intention to introduce one or two amendments which the House will examine in detail on Committee Stage. The Bill also provides for a unified staff structure and builds on the modernisation and streamlined management structures introduced in the past decade by the Courts Service. This measure is timely in the light of the current financial position and the need to ensure maximum efficiency in the deployment of limited resources, including staff.

I am pleased Senators have recognised the necessity of the legislation and are broadly supportive of it. I look forward to returning to the House, perhaps next week, to deal with Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

On Tuesday next.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 10 November 2009.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. on Monday, 9 November.