Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013: Report and Final Stages

Before commencing I remind Members that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage, each Opposition amendment must be seconded.

Government amendment No. 1:
In page 7, line 16, to delete “Supreme Court judges” and substitute “ordinary judges of the Supreme Court”.

The amendment was recommended by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, which has advised that this technical amendment should be made to the Long Title for consistency with section 22.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 2:
In page 9, line 7, to delete “each of the following” and substitute “any of the following provisions”.

The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has advised these technical drafting amendments to section 4 are necessary to improve the clarity of the section.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 3:
In page 9, line 18, to delete “sections 33 and 38” and substitute “section 33 or 38”.
Government amendment No. 4:
In page 9, line 21, to delete “sections 18, 30, 31, 49, 54 and 92” and substitute “section 18, 30, 31, 49, 54 or 92”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 5:
In page 9, line 22, to delete “sections 145 and 199” and substitute “section 145 or 199”.
Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 12, to delete lines 36 to 39, and in page 13, to delete line 1 and substitute the following:

"5A (a) Bona fide representatives of the Press, in order to be permitted to attend proceedings referred to in subsection (1), shall be required to provide accreditation of the form prescribed in paragraph (b).

(b) Accreditation for the purposes of paragraph (a) shall be provided by the Court Reporting Accreditation Committee, which shall consist of the following ordinary members:

(i) a representative of the Press Council,

(ii) a representative of the Press Ombudsman’s Office,

(iii) a representative of the Department of Justice and Equality, and

(iv) a representative of the Children’s Ombudsman’s office,

and the Minister for Justice and Equality shall also appoint a judge of the High Court as the chair of the Courts Reporting Accreditation Committee. The Courts Reporting Accreditation Committee shall operate on the basis of majority decision, and in the event of a tied decision among the ordinary members, the chair of the committee shall have the casting vote.

Bona fide representatives of the Press, without accreditation as provided for in subsections (a) and (b) shall be prohibited from attending proceedings referred to in subsection (1).

(d) Subject to subsection (c), nothing contained in this section shall operate to prohibit bona fide representatives of the Press from attending proceedings referred to in subsection (1).

(e) Subject to paragraphs (f) and (g), where, in proceedings referred to in subsection (1), a court is satisfied that it is necessary to do so

—”.

Ba mhaith liom arís fáilte a chur roimh an mBille. It has not been long since we took Committee Stage and I had hoped the Minister would take more time to deliberate on the discussion we had about the accreditation issue last week. However, when we returned to our offices, we found that Report Stage would be taken today. The Minister either deliberates quickly or there was not a huge amount of deliberation on the issue. He was probably busy tabling his own amendments and I will take that on board.

We have another suggestion regarding accreditation of the press when reporting in the context of the Bill. It is an issue. If anybody wants to report on a gig or a GAA football match or even the proceedings of the Houses of the Oireachtas, a system of accreditation is in place. For example, the Oireachtas will not allow any old journalists or a student with an NUJ card to walk in and report on the workings of the Houses nor would they get into the All-Ireland Final in Croke Park. It is not a complicated system to put in place but the benefits of having a system of accreditation in the courts would be useful. The amendment states:

"Bona fide representatives of the Press, in order to be permitted to attend proceedings referred to in subsection (1), shall be required to provide accreditation of the form prescribed in paragraph (b).

(b) Accreditation for the purposes of paragraph (a) shall be provided by the Court Reporting Accreditation Committee, which shall consist of the following ordinary members:

(i) a representative of the Press Council,

(ii) a representative of the Press Ombudsman’s Office,

(iii) a representative of the Department of Justice and Equality, and

(iv) a representative of the Children’s Ombudsman’s office,

and the Minister for Justice and Equality shall also appoint a judge of the High Court as the chair of the Courts Reporting Accreditation Committee. The Courts Reporting Accreditation Committee shall operate on the basis of majority decision, and in the event of a tied decision among the ordinary members, the chair of the committee shall have the casting vote.

(c) Bona fide representatives of the Press, without accreditation as provided for in subsections (a) and (b) shall be prohibited from attending proceedings referred to in subsection (1).

(d) Subject to subsection (c), nothing contained in this section shall operate to prohibit bona fide representatives of the Press from attending proceedings referred to in subsection (1).

(e) Subject to paragraphs (f) and (g), where, in proceedings referred to in subsection (1), a court is satisfied that it is necessary to do so

—”.

We are suggesting a simple procedure to be followed. On Committee Stage, a number of Members said one would expect the judge to know the members of the press in the gallery. That would not be a prudent way to go about this. I have worked in the media for a number of years.

It is not very difficult to get a NUJ card or even to have a NUJ card in a probationary position. If someone has a valid NUJ card, he or she could easily argue to the person at the door of the courthouse that he or she should be allowed to come into the court and report on the proceedings.

It is not prudent to think a judge in Galway, for example, would know anybody from Galway who potentially has a NUJ card. I could name hundreds of people in Galway who have either done media degrees or are bona fide journalists working in journalism on a daily basis and who would have a NUJ card. Also, there might be a situation where the people involved in the case are from different areas or counties. If, for example, one of the parties is from Dublin, somebody in the press in Dublin might be interested in the case and present at a courthouse in Galway to report on it in a bona fide way in their medium.

What we are proposing is a practical measure. It would not be over-onerous. It simply calls for an accreditation system to be put in place. I realise the Minister has many amendments to deal with, but this is a genuine attempt to bring forward an amendment that would be workable and practical but which would put safeguards in place in order that there would be responsible journalism in cases of this nature. I hope he will accept the amendment.

I second the amendment. As I said last week, the move towards greater transparency in the reporting of family law cases is good. There has been far too much secrecy and at times it has undermined people's faith in the system unnecessarily. It is good to have more reporting. However, it is important - this is the objective of the Bill - that this be done in a responsible way, that there be adequate protection for privacy and anonymity in sensitive family law cases and that members of the press who report on such cases abide by these principles and ensure any reporting on child protection, divorce and other sensitive family law cases is appropriate, respectful and done in a responsible way.

This is a very positive amendment. The process proposed is sensible and not overly cumbersome. I agree with Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh on whether a judge would know whether somebody was a member of the press and would know what was the most appropriate form of identity to seek. Would it simply be a NUJ card or would more be required in such a sensitive case? I do not believe most judges would like to be put in that position. It would be sensible to have a simple process which journalists could go through to be vetted and receive accreditation. That is the case for sports events and in reporting on proceedings in this House. In the case of the most basic conference a journalist wishes to attend, he or she must register in advance and receive accreditation. That should be the least we should expect in reporting on family law cases.

I thank the Senators for proposing the amendment. I deliberate in a deliberate and focused manner and was conscious of this issue. We might be dealing with this Stage at some speed, but obviously these are issues that were given consideration during the drafting of the various provisions of the Bill.

I agree that there must be very careful rules regarding the publishing of material about family law and child care cases. As Senator Averil Power said, it is important that cases be reported carefully and responsibly and that there be sufficient insight on the part of journalists to ensure that in their reportage they do not reveal identities or other information. Of course, there are specific provisions in the Bill that seek to ensure this does not occur. As I said on the last occasion, it would be useful if, following the enactment of the legislation, there could be an agreed protocol with and between media outlets on how they will report family and child care cases to ensure there is a degree of consistency in the non-disclosure of sensitive information or any other information that could identify individuals. This has worked well in the context of the reporting of criminal prosecutions for sexual offences and where such reports are made by bona fide members of the media, there has been no major difficulty arising as to whether an individual is a bona fide member of the media.

The Bill does not take a prescriptive approach to regulating the members of the media who may or may not be permitted access to relevant child care, family law and adoption proceedings. The Bill leaves it to the court to allow bona fide members of the media to be present in certain circumstances. It is a matter for the individual judge to be satisfied as to the bona fide nature of a representative of the press in this respect.

I reiterate that where this terminology has been used in other circumstances in respect of court proceedings it has not given rise, in practice, to any major difficulty of which I am aware. As I said, the same approach is used in many legislative provisions and they also use the term "bone fide representatives of the press". If that term has allowed for matters to be reported in a matter that preserves people's anonymity and does not provide for the disclosure of information that would be an identifying feature in serious sexual offences when they are taken to court and prosecuted, there is no reason for it to give rise to any unexpected difficulty in dealing with family law matters. The experience to date is that the approach works well. I believe it is the correct approach in the circumstances of these provisions also.

Unfortunately, I do not intend to accept the amendment, but I hope a protocol might be agreed with the media with regard to consistency in reporting and the protection of people's identities. I think that would be a desirable thing. It is my hope and expectation that the reporting of such proceedings will be undertaken with a degree of responsibility. Of course, if reporting occurs that identifies individuals, that will constitute an offence under the legislation and will create a particular difficulty for the reporter and media outlet that so breach the legislation.

I would expect that there would be care and caution in the use of this. Of course, if a difficulty arises that is not anticipated at the moment we will always have recourse, if needs be, to further changes in the law. I am very conscious that this is a new departure in family proceedings. Whereas I think it is desirable that we bring transparency to this area, the legislative structure we have provided is a very cautious one. It gives rise to myriad circumstances in which the press may still be excluded from reporting particular family, child care or adoption proceedings, including circumstances in which it is in the best interests of the child that this occurs.

This is a very careful approach because I am conscious, as someone who has worked in this area, of the huge importance of ensuring no barrier is placed in the way of individuals having their personal issues addressed in the courts and that there is no fear that matters of very personal nature could get publicity for sensational reasons where there is no real public interest in their reportage. One bit of me has a reluctance to go down this road for fear that it may well be abused, but I think there is an overwhelming case for greater transparency so that people who use our court system have some understanding of how family proceedings take place, that there is some transparency in how justice is administered and that there are some insights into the approach taken and the consistency in that approach. That may also be of assistance to Members of this House as legislators in determining on occasions whether laws as enacted are working as envisaged or whether there is a need for reform because the original intent of the Houses of the Oireachtas is not necessarily reflected in the manner in which cases are being heard and determined. This a very sensitive and difficult area of the law which causes great emotional stress to any individual who finds himself or herself coming into our courts, particularly in circumstances of family breakdown, child care issues or conflicts in adoption cases, which can give rise to a great deal of stress and understandable emotion.

I thank the Senator for raising this. It is a seriously intended amendment. It is important that we tease these issues out. It is important, as I have said on other occasions, that we acknowledge none of us has a monopoly on wisdom.

However, the creation of the type of committee the Senator is suggesting could result in bona fide individuals assigned to report on family law proceedings having to go through a labyrinthine procedure or unnecessary delays before they can have access to the courts to report properly and responsibly on these matters. That is a cause for concern.

The proposal in this amendment has not proved necessary in the reporting of serious criminal sexual offences in our courts, and I do not consider it necessary for the reportage of family law. Any judge hearing a family case who sees a person sitting in the court will be in a position to query that individual's presence and to seek a validation, if need be and if there is any suggestion otherwise, that he or she is a member of the press. The likelihood is, as is the case at present in other court proceedings, that reporters in family cases will be well known to the court clerks, registrars and judges because they are regularly reporting matters before the courts. It is very unlikely that there will be myriad different reporters descending on the court system on different days. As it stands, a large number of cases are litigated in the criminal and civil areas on a day-to-day basis, the vast majority of which never see the light of day in newspaper reports. Only a minority will generate coverage by either the broadcast or print media.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I am disappointed, however, that he will not take on board this amendment. Some of the arguments he advanced actually strengthen the case for our proposal. He acknowledged that this is a new departure in the law and that many of the cases involved are very sensitive. This proposal would provide an additional layer of safety for the persons involved. The Minister notes that it will be a criminal offence to breach the guidelines or the spirit of the legislation. For the people who are victimised by that breach, however, by way, for instance, of a media report which names people it should not or gives details that should not be given, any action in that regard may well be too late. Although we have a very responsible media in general in this country, we have seen how unscrupulous media outlets in other jurisdictions, not very far away, will pick up on the salacious details of these types of cases in an effort to sell newspapers. That is precisely what we are anxious to avoid.

I do not agree that the procedure outlined in our amendment would be over-cumbersome. I am aware of organisations which have an annual procedure whereby court reporters must apply for the relevant accreditation. There is also the question of the time a judge might have to spend in ascertaining whether persons sitting in the courtroom are bona fide journalists. An annual process of accreditation which furnishes journalists with a form of identification that can be presented for inspection would provide an easy and speedy means for the clerk or other official to verify their identity. I appreciate where the Minister is coming from on this issue and acknowledge the extent of his experience in this area. I remain of the view, however, that this provision would provide an additional safety valve, so to speak, in the context of this new departure in court proceedings.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are related and may be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 7:
In page 21, lines 10 and 11, to delete "additional jurors have been sworn in the trial of a
criminal issue pursuant to" and substitute "jurors have been sworn in the trial of a criminal issue following the making of".

The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has advised that these technical drafting amendments are necessary to improve the clarity of section 23.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 8:
In page 21, line 33, to delete "additional jurors have been selected pursuant to" and substitute "jurors have been selected following the making of an order under".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 9:
In page 26, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:
"(b) by the insertion of the following definition:
"'Director' means the Director of the Insolvency Service;",".

This amendment inserts the definition of "Director" in section 3 of the Bankruptcy Act 1988 into the Bill.

The definition is necessary for the interpretation of the Act, given the transfer of responsibility for the office of the official assignee in bankruptcy to the Insolvency Service of Ireland.

Amendment No. 10 corrects an error in the text. Amendment No. 11 makes clear that all documents relating to the office of the official assignee in bankruptcy are to be transferred to the Insolvency Service of Ireland from the Courts Service.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 10:
In page 30, line 4, to delete “of his or her” and substitute “of his”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 11:
In page 30, line 36, to delete “signature.”.” and substitute the following:
“signature.
Transfer of records to Insolvency Service
60D. All documents and records in the custody and control of the Courts Service relating to the Office of the Official Assignee in Bankruptcy immediately before the coming into operation of section 28 of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 shall on the coming into operation of that section be transferred to the Insolvency Service.”.”.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 are related and will be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 12:
In page 32, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:
“Insertion of section 86A in Act of 1988
33. The Act of 1988 is amended by the insertion, after section 86 but in Part IV, of the following section:
“Prohibition on presentation of petition for arrangement under section 87
86A. A person shall not present a petition to the Court under section 87 after the coming into operation of section 33# of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013.”.”.

Section 6 of the Personal Insolvency Act 2012 provided for the repeal of sections 87 to 109 of the Bankruptcy Act 1988, which had the effect of abolishing arrangements in bankruptcy. The rationale for this was that the new debt resolution mechanisms in the 2012 Act, in particular the personal insolvency arrangement mechanism, will offer debtors the possibility of arranging a repayment plan with their creditors without having to go through a bankruptcy process. However, the 2012 Act did not make sufficiently clear that any arrangements existing at the time of the repeal of sections 87 to 109 would continue. Amendment No. 12 addresses this by inserting a new section 86A to make clear that no new petitions for arrangements can be presented once the provisions of section 33 of this Bill come into operation. Amendment No. 13 arises as a consequence of amendment No. 12.

Government amendment No. 13:

In page 32, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:

“Repeal of section 6 of and Schedule 1 to Personal Insolvency Act 2012

34. Section 6 of and Schedule 1 to the Personal Insolvency Act 2012 are repealed.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 14 to 16, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 14:
In page 35, to delete lines 27 to 29 and substitute the following:
“Amendment of section 34 of Act of 2012
44. Section 34 of the Act of 2012 is amended—
(a) in subsection (4)(b), by substituting “section 37(3) (as amended by section 47 of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013)” for “section 37(2)(a)”, and
(b) in subsection (5), by deleting the words “and the approved intermediary concerned”.”.

Amendment No. 16 inserts a new section to amend section 37 of the Personal Insolvency Act 2012, which relates to payments by a debtor who is the subject of a debt relief notice. It seeks to improve on the current text of the 2012 Act to make clearer what happens when a specified debtor's payment or payments under section 36(2) or 36(3) or section 37 amount to 50% or more of the specified qualifying debts concerned and when this happens. Under the amendment, on the date on which a single payment is made that amounts to 50% or more of the specified qualifying debts on the date on which the aggregate of payments made amounts to 50%, the debt relief notice ceases to have effect and the specified debtor stands discharged of the specified qualifying debt. In addition, the insolvency service is obliged to remove the information from the register of debt relief notices within three months of the date.

The amendment is linked to similar amendments I moved on Committee Stage, which provide for the removal of information from the insolvency register "within three months" rather than "without delay". The more precise requirement necessitated a precise date from which the three months began. The proposed amendment also makes clearer the fact that a single payment under section 36(2) or 36(3) that is worth 50% or more of the specified qualifying debts can lead to the debt relief notice ceasing to have effect. This is not entirely clear from the current wording of section 37(3) of the Act, which suggests that payments under section 37 can only be taken into account in calculating an aggregate figure.

Amendment No. 14 provides for the amendment of section 34(4)(b) of the Personal Insolvency Act 2012. It arises as a consequence of the proposed amendment to section 37. The amendment of section 34(5) is a technical amendment to remove the reference to "the approved intermediary concerned". The deletion is required for consistency with the rest of the 2012 Act as the approved intermediary has no role in the debt relief notice process at this stage.

Amendment No. 15, which provides for the amendment of section 36 of the Personal Insolvency Act, also arises as a result of the proposed amendment to section 37. It proposes to delete section 36(5) as its provisions overlap with section 37(2).

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 15:
In page 35, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 36 of Act of 2012
46. Section 36 of the Act of 2012 is amended—
(a) in subsection (2), by substituting “A specified debtor” for “Subject to subsection (5), a specified debtor”,
(b) in subsection (3), by substituting “Subject to subsection (4),” for “Subject to subsections (4) and (5),”, and
(c) by deleting subsection (5).”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 16:
In page 35, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 37 of Act of 2012
47. Section 37 of the Act of 2012 is amended by substituting the following for subsections (2) and (3):
“(2) Where —
(a) a sum is paid by a specified debtor under this section, or surrendered by him or her under subsection (2) or (3) of section 36, that is, or
(b) the aggregate of the sums so paid or so surrendered is, in an amount that is not less than 50 per cent of the total value of the specified qualifying debts concerned, subsection (3) shall apply.
(3) Where this subsection applies —
(a) the Debt Relief Notice concerned shall cease to have effect,
(b) the specified debtor shall stand discharged from all of the specified qualifying debts, and
(c) the Insolvency Service shall, within 3 months of the date on which paragraph (a) or (b), as the case may be, of subsection (2) applies, remove from the Register of Debt Relief Notices all information recorded in respect of the Debt Relief Notice.”.”.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 17 to 24, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 17:
In page 38, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 71 of Act of 2012
56. Section 71(1): c) of the Act of 2012 is amended by substituting the following for subparagraph (iv):
“(iv) he or she is of the opinion that—
(I) the debtor satisfies the eligibility criteria for the proposal of a Debt Settlement Arrangement specified in section 57,
(II) the proposed Debt Settlement Arrangement complies with the mandatory requirements referred to in section 65(2), and
(III) the proposed Debt Settlement Arrangement does not contain any terms that would release the debtor from an excluded debt, an excludable debt (other than a permitted debt) or a secured debt or otherwise affect such a debt;”.”.

These amendments relate to the verification of matters with which an appropriate court must be satisfied before it can approve a debt settlement arrangement or a personal insolvency arrangement.

Amendments Nos. 17 to 20, inclusive, are mainly technical. They propose to improve on the existing construction of sections 71, 75, 76 and 78 of the 2012 Act to make clearer how a court is to satisfy itself that the conditions prescribed in section 78(2) have been met in an application to the court for approval of a debt settlement arrangement. Amendments Nos. 21 to 24, inclusive, are similar. The purpose of these is to improve on the existing construction of sections 107, 112, 113 and 115 of the 2012 Act to make clearer how a court is to satisfy itself that the conditions set out in section 115(2) have been met in an application to the court for approval of a personal insolvency arrangement.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 18:
In page 38, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 75 of Act of 2012
58. Section 75 of the Act of 2012 is amended by substituting the following for subsection
(1):
“(1) Where a Debt Settlement Arrangement is approved at a creditors’ meeting in accordance with section 73, the personal insolvency
practitioner shall as soon as practicable after the meeting has concluded notify the Insolvency Service and each creditor concerned, which notification shall be accompanied by—
(a) a certificate with the result of the vote taken at the creditors’ meeting, identifying the number of votes, in value of the creditors present and voting, in favour and against the proposed Debt Settlement Arrangement, and stating that the requisite percentage of creditors referred to in section 73(6) has approved the proposal for a Debt Settlement Arrangement,
(b) a copy of the approved Debt Settlement Arrangement, and
(c) a statement by the personal insolvency practitioner to the effect that he or she is of the opinion that—
(i) the debtor satisfies the eligibility criteria for the proposal of a Debt Settlement Arrangement specified in section 57,
(ii) the approved Debt Settlement Arrangement complies with the mandatory requirements referred to in section 65(2), and
(iii) the approved Debt Settlement Arrangement does not contain any terms that would release the debtor from an excluded debt, an excludable debt (other than a permitted debt) or a secured debt or otherwise affect such a debt.".".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 19:
In page 38, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 76 of Act of 2012
59. Section 76 of the Act of 2012 is amended by substituting the following for subsection
(1):
"(1) On receipt of a notification and accompanying documents from the personal insolvency practitioner pursuant to section 75(1) (as amended
by section 58# of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013), the Insolvency Service shall—
(a) notify the appropriate court and furnish to that court a copy of the notification and documents, and
(b) record the approval of the Debt Settlement Arrangement concerned in the Register of Debt Settlement Arrangements.".".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 20:
In page 38, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 78 of Act of 2012
60. Section 78 of the Act of 2012 is amended—
(a) in subsection (2), by substituting “the notification and documents” for “the copy of the Debt Settlement Arrangement”,
(b) by substituting the following for subsection (3):
"(3) Where the appropriate court, for the purpose of its arriving at a decision under subsection (2), requires—
(a) further information, it may request the Insolvency Service to provide this information, and the Insolvency Service shall provide the information requested to the court and to the personal insolvency practitioner concerned, or
(b) further information or evidence, it may hold a hearing, which hearing shall be on notice to the Insolvency Service and the personal insolvency practitioner concerned.”,
and
(c) by substituting the following for subsection (5):
"(5) For the purposes of subsection (2), the appropriate court may accept—
(a) the certificate of the personal insolvency practitioner referred to in section 75(1)(a) (as amended by section 58# of the Courts and
Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013) as evidence that the requisite percentage of creditors referred to in section 73(6) has
approved the proposal for a Debt Settlement Arrangement, and
(b) the statement of the personal insolvency practitioner referred to in section 75(1)(c) (as amended by section 58# of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013) as evidence of any matter referred to in subsection (2) which is the subject of that statement.".".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 21:
In page 40, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 107 of Act of 2012
66. Section 107(1)(c) of the Act of 2012 is amended by substituting the following for subparagraph (iv):
“(iv) he or she is of the opinion that—
(I) the debtor satisfies the eligibility criteria for the proposal of a Personal Insolvency Arrangement specified in section 91,
(II) the proposed Personal Insolvency Arrangement complies with the mandatory requirements referred to in section
99(2), and
(III) the proposed Personal Insolvency Arrangement does not contain any terms that would release the debtor from an excluded debt or an excludable debt (other than a permitted debt) or otherwise affect such a debt;".".
Government amendment No. 22:
In page 40, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 112 of Act of 2012
67. Section 112 of the Act of 2012 is amended by substituting the following for subsection
(1):
"(1) Where a Personal Insolvency Arrangement is approved at a creditors’ meeting in accordance with section 110, the personal insolvency practitioner shall as soon as practicable after the meeting has concluded notify the Insolvency Service and each creditor concerned, which notification shall be accompanied by—
(a) a certificate with the result of the vote taken at the creditors’ meeting, identifying the proportions of the respective categories of votes cast by those voting at the creditors’ meeting and stating that the requisite percentage of creditors referred to in section 110(1) has approved the proposal for a Personal Insolvency Arrangement,
(b) a copy of the approved Personal Insolvency Arrangement, and
(c) a statement by the personal insolvency practitioner to the effect that he or she is of the opinion that—
(i) the debtor satisfies the eligibility criteria for the proposal of a Personal Insolvency Arrangement specified in section 91,
(ii) the approved Personal Insolvency Arrangement complies with the mandatory requirements referred to in section 99(2), and
(iii) the approved Personal Insolvency Arrangement does not contain any terms that would release the debtor from an excluded debt or an excludable debt (other than a permitted debt) or otherwise affect such a debt.”.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 23:
In page 40, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 113 of Act of 2012
68. Section 113 of the Act of 2012 is amended by substituting the following for subsection
(1):
“(1) On receipt of a notification and accompanying documents from the personal insolvency practitioner pursuant to section 112(1) (as amended by section 67# of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013), the Insolvency Service shall—
(a) notify the appropriate court and furnish to that court a copy of the notification and documents, and
(b) record the approval of the Personal Insolvency Arrangement concerned in the Register of Personal Insolvency Arrangements.”.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 24:
In page 40, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 115 of Act of 2012
69. Section 115 of the Act of 2012 is amended—
(a) in subsection (2), by substituting “the notification and documents” for “the copy of the Personal Insolvency Arrangement”,
(b) by substituting the following for subsection (3):
(3) Where the appropriate court, for the purpose of its arriving at a decision under subsection (2), requires—
(a) further information, it may request the Insolvency Service to provide this information, and the Insolvency Service shall provide the information requested to the court and to the personal insolvency practitioner concerned, or
(b) further information or evidence, it may hold a hearing, which hearing shall be on notice to the Insolvency Service and the personal insolvency practitioner concerned.",
and
(c) by substituting the following for subsection (5):
“(5) For the purposes of subsection (2), the appropriate court may accept—
(a) the certificate of the personal insolvency practitioner referred to in section 112(1)(a) (as amended by section 67# of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013) as evidence that the requisite percentage of creditors referred to in section 110(1) has approved the proposal for a Personal Insolvency Arrangement,
and
(b) the statement of the personal insolvency practitioner referred to in section 112(1)(c) (as amended by section 67# of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013) as evidence of any matter referred to in subsection (2) which is the subject of that
statement.".".
Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 41, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

“PART 9

INADMISSIBILITY OF SEXUAL ASSAULT COMMUNICATIONS

71. The Criminal Evidence Act 1992 is amended by the insertion of the following sections

after section 30:

“31. (1) Where a person engages in sexual assault counselling relating to a sexual assault occurring while they were under the age of 18, evidence disclosing the content of communications made in confidence in the course of the said sexual assault counselling shall not be admissible as evidence in criminal proceedings save by order of the court.

(2) Any application for an order admitting such evidence must be made prior to the trial of the offence, to the court in which the offence is

intended to be tried.

(3) In determining an application for an order admitting such evidence, the court shall, subject to the Rules of the Court, have regard to the

following requirements:

(a) the evidence must have substantial probative value;

(b) there must be no other evidence which could prove the disputed facts;

(c) the public interest in disclosure outweighs the potential harm to the

complainant.

32. (1) For the purpose of section 31, sexual assault counselling shall mean communications made between a person being the victim of a sexual assault occurring while they were under the age of 18, and a person who—

(a) has undertaken training or study or has experience that is relevant to the process of counselling persons who have suffered harm, and

(b) who—

(i) listens to and gives verbal or other support to the other person,

or

(ii) advises, gives therapy to or treats the other person, whether or not for fee or reward.

(2) The Minister may by order set out detailed criteria regarding the conduct of sexual assault counselling, and the training or qualifications of those who provide sexual assault counselling for the purposes of this Act.”.”.

I welcome the Minister back to the House on Report Stage of what has become a very comprehensive Bill. Last Wednesday on Committee Stage, I outlined in great detail the rationale and urgency behind my amendment, and I do not propose to do so again today because we are all here. I have conducted extensive legislative analysis on my proposal, which I believe strikes the appropriate balance between the right of the accused to procedural fairness and the right of the child witness to privacy and personal dignity. Without ready access to legislative drafters, it is difficult to translate a legitimate and necessary reform such as this into a legislative proposal, and I thank the Minister for his critique of my amendment on Committee Stage. It has given me this opportunity, albeit with an extremely short turnaround time, to revert with a more robust amendment that I urge him to accept today.

The Minister's primary concern on core procedure is very valid. I have altered the wording to allow the matter to be considered pre-trial. I have also added a reference to the rule of court to allow for further regulation of the application process by way of an amendment to the rules of court, should the Minister or the court rules committee find it necessary to do so. For example, the rules could set out a prescribed form for such applications, time limits and so on.

I noted the Minister's concerns in respect of the qualifications of a counsellor and clarity as to whom communication should be regarded as confidential. It is unwise to specify any particular credential for counsellors. This is partly due to the wide range of training and education approaches in the area. More important is the avoidance of a situation where communication made by a child in confidence is disclosed simply because the counsellor did not pass all the exams, or passed the wrong kind of exams. The regulation of the counselling profession is an important question, but there is a danger of allowing a preoccupation with credentials to distract from the purpose of this amendment. However, to address the Minister's concern, I have added the following short provision which allows the Minister to refine, by way of statutory instrument, the definition of "counselling" and "counsellor", while allowing the amendment to proceed.

The amendment I have proposed states that the Minister "may by order set out detailed criteria regarding the conduct of sexual assault counselling, and the training or qualifications of those who provide sexual assault counselling for the purposes of this Act." I also noted the points the Minister made about the word "encouragement". While I believe it is a remote concern, I have removed the word from the section.

I thank the Minister for his letter following the Committee Stage debate and I would like to address some of the points he raised therein. He said that any proposal should address the rights of an adult as well as child complainants, and that immediate action is required, and as such he has decided to deal with the issue in the forthcoming sexual offences Bill. In my Committee Stage intervention, I stressed the urgent to address the issue of third party disclosure of confidential records for adults complainants. I know that there is a considerable amount of work being done by interested members, including myself and Senator Bacik, and by advocacy groups, and I welcome the Minister's commitment to act. However, I do not see any justification for not proceeding with a legislative solution for children immediately in this Bill, as opposed to the sexual offences Bill, for which the heads have not yet been approved by the Government. In February 2012 I brought forward a motion on child abuse material, and at that point I was promised it would be in the sexual offences Bill that would be published shortly. I hope the Minister can understand that this is a very real and pertinent issue that is being dealt with at the moment. Every child has the right to protection from harm, abuse and exploitation, including from criminal justice arrangements.

As an aside, I must raise the experience of child victims of sexual abuse and the criminal justice system about repeated interviewing by separate agencies, most commonly in the context of parallel Garda investigations alongside a child protection investigation. The attendant risk of further trauma and upset for a child in this context can be avoided by joint interviewing, which is done in other countries. From a legal perspective, limiting the number of times a child is interviewed will reduce the potential for the type of contamination of a child's recollections of events which can lead to the failure to secure a conviction.

We need effective co-ordination and training of gardaí and social workers interviewing child victims of sexual abuse. I note the arrangements in place for this in our neighbouring jurisdictions, such as the UK, in achieving best evidence, video interviews and the detailed, recommended practice for interviewing child witnesses in the latest edition of "Achieving best evidence in criminal proceedings, Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, Guidance on using special measures" and "Guidance on joint interviewing of child witnesses in Scotland in 2011."

I have already pointed out that there has been a notable increase in requests from the DPP's office seeking access to therapists' notes of children's private and confidential therapy sessions over the last six to 12 months. That is a very real issue right now. As an independent office, I appreciate that the Minister cannot directly instruct the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to revise its practice in this area. There is no time to waste in introducing legislative guidelines. I also appreciate the need for a solution that is workable from both a prosecution and defence perspective, but the arrangements proposed do not affect in any way the disclosure of material evidence or evidence relevant to a criminal trial. The issue has been raised on a number of occasions, most recently in 2010 by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, who is the Government appointed special rapporteur on child protection. He stressed the urgent need for legislation then. That was three years ago and no legislation has come forward.

I do not have the legislative drafters that the Minister has at his disposal and the advice that he receives. I do not need it for this amendment today in the Seanad, but it is not good enough that this will be promised in a Bill in the near future. This is about children at the moment whose records are being handed over. Parents have told me they are not sending their child to counselling because of this situation. We have an obligation to do something. I appreciate the Minister understands this issue as much as I do; probably more so from dealing with cases. I have put this amendment forward in good faith and I have tried to get the balancing right. I am willing to go back and work on this. If it has to be brought through in the Dáil, I have no difficulty with that. It is not about my name, but about the children in these cases. We have seen the increase in the DPP requests in the last six to 12 months. This issue is escalating rather than going away.

Ba mhaith liom cuidiú leis an leasú atá mollta. I would like to second the amendment. We had a very comprehensive debate on the issue last week and I was hoping that the Minister might bring forward an amendment on it. Last week, Senator van Turnhout showed that she had done a huge amount of research in the area. She spoke a lot about NGOs.

We raised issues between us which we have been discussing with other NGOs, such as the Rape Crisis Centre. They have genuine concerns that the law is stacked against the victim in many cases and that the fear of coming forward to give information is increased by allowing access to notes from private therapy sessions. It is a serious and telling issue which the Minister referred to last week. Will he use his good offices to take on board the spirit of Senator van Turnhout’s amendment?

I compliment Senator van Turnhout for her eloquent and passionate discussion of this amendment on Committee Stage at which the Minister engaged with us and which we all appreciated.

Several of us are working on the broader level of the disclosure of counselling records of adult complainants in sexual offence trials and not just complainants in respect of child sexual abuse. As Senator van Turnhout said, there is a real concern that there are an increasing number of requests for disclosure made by defence teams. Having worked in criminal defence at the Bar for some years, I noted there can be an increased tendency among defence counsels to undermine the evidence of complainants by way of a fishing exercise in seeking disclosure of their therapy sessions. I accept it can be relevant in some cases but there is a concern that this is having a detrimental effect on complainants and their families.

The Minister has stated it is important the Attorney General would review the issues involved. Clearly, there has to be regard for the due-process rights of the accused. It is to be welcomed that the Law Reform Commission will undertake a review of this area of the law. The Minister is correct that all of these issues should be codified in one Bill dealing with sex offences. I have said before that it is unfortunate that so many of our provisions on sex offences are contained in many piecemeal Bills. In principle, it would be much better if a provision on the disclosure of therapy and counselling notes in sex offence trials would also be contained in one Bill.

Senator van Turnhout’s point about delays is an important one. It would be welcome if the Minister would review some limited form of amendment in the other House dealing with the specific issue of particular rules on the admissibility of evidence where the complainant is still under 18. We have very specific provisions and protections around the provision of evidence by child witnesses. For example, I have visited the excellent facilities for child witnesses in the new Criminal Courts of Justice building, a significant improvement to those in the Four Courts building. If we were to make a special provision for the more restricted rule on disclosure of evidence in cases where the complainant is under 18, it would more likely withstand constitutional scrutiny than if it were a more general provision. If we were to examine international conventions and case law, we would find more support for this special rule.

If the Minister cannot accept this amendment, will he consider a more refined version dealing with child complainants and the disclosure of counselling records to be taken in the Dáil? This might be a way of dealing with the particular concerns so eloquently expressed by Senator van Turnhout and those expressed to me by counsellors and those working in the Rape Crisis Centre.

Again, I want to thank Senator van Turnhout for raising this matter. It is one on which, in principle, we are all agreed. The issue is how we address it appropriately. On Committee Stage, I said we should deal with it as speedily as possible. I did point out that the issue is complex and requires careful consideration to ensure any proposal in this area correctly balances the constitutional right of the accused to due process along with the privacy rights of the complainant. The Attorney General has advised me that a detailed examination is required to precisely identify and provide for the rights concerned.

I indicated on Committee Stage that I would consider whether it would feasible to bring forward an amendment on Report Stage or on Dáil Committee Stage that could satisfactorily address the issue. It is intended to complete the Bill’s passage before the Houses rise for the summer vacation. I have decided in such circumstances that there is, unfortunately, not enough time to comprehensively address this issue with the careful consideration required. I have come to this conclusion because I believe further consultation is necessary with interested parties to bring forward a robust and workable solution. I also want to allow time for full consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure any proposal put forward will work in practice to protect the rights concerned and ensure the effectiveness of the prosecution process. I am also concerned that any proposal in this regard should be comprehensive and address the rights of adult as well as child complainants.

The examination and consultation on this subject, proposed by the Law Reform Commission, would be a suitable way of examining this complex issue. I am conscious that the timeframe for such an examination is not appropriate and more immediate action is required. Accordingly, I have decided this issue will be addressed in the forthcoming sexual offences Bill. I am conscious this legislation has not yet been published due to other areas of legislation we have been addressing and the pressure on the Attorney General’s office. However, it is at an advanced stage of preparation. I expect the Bill to be before the Cabinet after the summer vacation and to be published at the end of October at the latest.

I believe this is the correct approach to ensure a suitable legislative solution is found as soon as possible to resolve the issue. I hope the House will understand I cannot accept the amendment, not because I reject its purpose or value, but because the subject demands a fuller examination. The difficulties in addressing this area are seen by the very helpful approach Senator van Turnhout has taken.

We now have a new version of this proposal. That is not a criticism of it. Senator van Turnhout has tried to address some of the issues I raised of difficulty and complexity. I welcome that and thank her for the work she has done on the provision that we now have. I do not want to take up the House's time going through it in detail. One of the issues I raised the last day, for example, was that this would be better as a pretrial procedure in the most cases. Senator van Turnhout has prescribed it in those circumstances but I did say that, for example, during the course of an actual trial an issue could arise which would indicate that perhaps it would be legitimate for notes to be made available. This provision does not envisage that. I understand it does not because of the complexities involved. This is not easy to draft. There is also the question of treating the accused equally with regard to sexual offences. Despite all of my concerns in addressing this in respect of children, I do think that, for example, an adult could be charged with the rape of a 17 year old or of a 19 year old and have different evidential rules in place with regard to the disclosure of information. That could generate a difficulty in the criminal law area and might create constitutional problems.

Senator Bacik has highlighted another issue which we did not touch on the last time we discussed this Bill. That discussion envisaged, although we did not all necessarily put it this way, a sexual prosecution taking place in circumstances where the court hearing occurred at a time when the alleged victim was still a child, not when the victim was an adult. There is great complexity, a lot of law, a lot of court judgments and a lot of difficulty, for example, in validating allegations of sexual assault going back over the past 20 years. In other jurisdictions it has arisen that someone in their 30s or 40s has gone through a form of counselling and perhaps that individual had difficulties in his or her life and retrospectively realised he or she was sexually assaulted at the age of eight or nine or 12 or 13. There is a lot of literature about genuine memories and recollections or people being conditioned into recalling or believing events occurred in their lives that may not have occurred.

I can well understand Senator Bacik’s approach in saying that perhaps this should apply only in circumstances in which at the time of the prosecution the alleged victim is a child but we do not live in a black and white world. What happens if the prosecution is initiated when the victim is a child but becomes an adult before the case is put to trial? We need an all-encompassing rule in this area that deals with the issue of access to these notes, whether the victim is or was at the time of the assault and prosecution a child, or whether the victim was a child at the time of the alleged offence but is an adult at the time of the trial, or whether the victim first said an offence occurred 20 years after becoming an adult.

We need a consistent and careful legal architecture that seeks to ensure that people who seek counselling are not presented with barriers but seeks also to ensure that there is due process where an accusation is made, and that, on the other side, we have the balance of protecting people's privacy, the need and right they have to have access to help, be it psychological, psychiatric or counselling of another nature, following being a victim in this area. Unfortunately, this is a complicated issue. It is best that we address it comprehensively and that we engage in, and complete, a consultative process. It is my intention that we address it in this sexual offences Bill.

I could well conceive that because the Bill is so advanced we would be at a point where we could publish it as heads of a Bill before we finalise it in the way we have done, where this particular matter has not been completed but work on it will continue and be completed before we publish the Bill in final form. That could well be the case but I want to assure Members of the House that I do take this issue seriously. I am of course aware of Geoffrey Shannon's 2010 report on this issue. I recall raising it when I was in opposition and I hope we get the opportunity to address it. I genuinely thank Senator van Turnhout for what has been an important discussion, one which has probably contributed to ensuring that the matter is not delayed until the Law Reform Commission addresses it but that we do address it within the Bill.

Senator van Turnhout made a very important point in talking about the impact, particularly on children, of repeated interviews by different agencies. That is an issue on which I know there is supposed to be a co-ordinated approach. Repetitive interviews are supposed to be avoided. I will discuss with my colleague, the Minister for Children, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, the approach taken by the HSE and the new child protection agency, when it is in place, to these matters and the coordinated and cooperative nature of Garda involvement where it is required. There are of course occasions when interviews take place on the social service side, which may involve child protection issues at a time when it may not be immediately clear that gardaí need to be present, or at a time when their presence might be counter-productive. Gardaí may be present and there may be a need on occasion for the HSE to refer the matter to the Garda. There will be instances in the future when it is impossible that there be one set of interviews by social services and members of the Garda. I will also raise this issue with the Garda Commissioner to see, where it is possible, that repetitive interviews be avoided so that a young person who has suffered a trauma and been the victim of an alleged assault does not have consistently to relive that experience.

I am, nevertheless, also cognisant of the fact that not all information necessarily comes out in an initial interview, that individuals may be traumatised, that they may be able only to give limited information but if the problem could result in a criminal law process, in order for that process to take place and for a Garda file to be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions, it may well be necessary for a young person, who is the victim of a sexual assault, to be interviewed on more than one or two occasions so that there is clarity about the nature of his or her description of events. Alternatively, if issues arise during the course of an investigation it can well occur that the alleged victim must again be consulted and further questions may arise to ensure that the full background is understood and any inconsistencies that emerge are addressed so that if a file is sent to the DPP it contains the fullest and most comprehensive information possible.

I thank the Minister. On the last point, the Cabinet Secretary on Justice at the Scottish Parliament has issued guidance notes on joint investigative interviewing of child witnesses. That could perhaps be done quite easily in co-operation.

With regard to the substantive amendment, perhaps in the consultations the Minister might, in addition to consulting the DPP, consult the NGOs and the victims' units that deal with the cases at the moment, and discuss their relationship with the DPP. They are very conflicted over the role they play in counselling and how to ensure that people are brought to trial for the offences they have committed. They face an impossible dilemma. We need urgently to find a way to deal with it.

I am very happy to share the work I have done so far with officials to see if we can progress this issue. I take the Minister's word on the sexual offences Bill. The only caveat I will enter is that if another miscellaneous provisions Bill comes along in the meantime I will back here and the Minister will remember that I said I would come back here.

If another miscellaneous provisions Bill comes along in the meantime, I will be back here and the Minister will remember that I said I would come back because we all know that we have good intentions to bring things forward. I know that the sexual offences Bill will be comprehensive and I would prefer it to be dealt with in a comprehensive manner, but for adults, there is a pressing urgency. Specifically for me, however, this involves the vulnerability of children and child witnesses; therefore, there is urgency with regard to child witnesses specifically.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed "That the Bill do now pass".

I thank the House for its co-operation on this Bill which has grown as we have brought it through the House. It started off as a relatively modest courts Bill. In the context of the myriad issues that I am anxious we address and the reforms that I want to see implemented, it has proved, because having published it we let it sit for some time to give different groups and individuals an opportunity to consider its contents and make submissions on it, particularly in the matter of the reporting on family and child care cases, to be a useful legislative vehicle to try to address some other reforming issues. There were still others that I had hoped we might be able to deal with, but, unfortunately, that did not prove possible in the timeframe involved.

I can tell Senator Jillian van Turnhout that I can guarantee that we will have another civil law (miscellaneous provisions) Bill sometime in the next 12 months to address a number of other issues, in respect of which I have got bees in my bonnet, that I want to reform and that affect important areas but to which we could not devote a Bill on its own. There are one or two further amendments to the Insolvency Act that we did not have ready for the Seanad that I expect we will introduce in the Dáil, which means that this Bill will revisit this House for a short time following its progress through the Dáil. I am not sure whether the Attorney General will put up with my adding any subject matter to it. I do not think we will do this.

I thank Senators for their very careful and detailed consideration of all the provisions in the Bill. At its heart, the Bill is important, from its starting point. It will have a dramatic impact on the courts system and we are effecting very important reforms. For 20 years the jurisdictional basis of the courts and civil proceedings has remained unchanged. No notice has been taken of the increase in the cost of living. The reality is that today the District Court has, because of the increase in monetary values, a far more restrictive jurisdiction than it had in 1991, which is bizarre based on current values. In the Bill we are increasing its jurisdiction to €15,000 across the board generally. It is only €6,000 now. Had we simply dealt with cost of living issues, it would be in the region of €10,500. That indicates the extent to which the value of monetary disputes has diminished in the District Court during the years. The same applies to the Circuit Court. It has had a jurisdiction generally in the region of just over €38,000 since 1991. Based on inflation, even to keep step with 1991 values, it should be in the region of approximately €65,000. We are increasing it to €75,000 to take cognisance of the fact that this is important to the stability of the jurisdiction for a number of years and to take account of what are the appropriate capacities in both courts. The effect of this will be that a substantial amount of work currently undertaken by the Circuit Court will now be done at District Court level. It will save substantial legal costs for those who have to resort to court proceedings. Some of the litigation that currently takes place in the High Court will, when the Bill becomes operative, be undertaken at Circuit Court level. For those who need to use the court system in civil matters, there will be substantial savings in legal costs. The other impact will be to free the High Court from some work in which it currently engages where there are disputes over sums of money below €75,000 which will in the future be addressed in the Circuit Court. The add-on impact will be fewer appeals to the Supreme Court. It will take some time for this to impact on the system because the cases initiated before these changes take effect will have to continue within the court system in which they have been taken.

It is my objective - this is why I am very anxious we complete the legislative process before the summer vacation - that the relevant provisions in the Bill will come into force very early in order that when the courts are open in October after the summer vacation, they will operate under the new financial jurisdictional limits. That is very important. The jurisdiction of the Circuit Court is being increased to only €60,000 in the case of personal injury actions. We will have a new approach in the context of jurisdiction, which is in the public interest. It will mean that we will better utilise the court structure. The exciting development for the court structure is that before we get too far into the autumn, we will have the referendum to establish a general court of appeal, which I hope will have the universal support of all sides of the House and will be supported by the public. This will be another brick in the wall of the reforming agenda that we are seeking to implement in the public interest, which is important.

I thank Members of the House for their assistance and co-operation and dealing in a very considered way with the additional matters we have now included in this legislation. I am sorry that I will be imposing on them again on matters that will arise in the Dáil that we could not have ready in time for the Seanad.

Several colleagues have said they would like to make a brief comment. I ask them, please, to be brief because the Minister is due in the other House for a vote.

I thank the Minister and his officials for initiating the Bill in the Seanad. This is appreciated. We had a really good, considered debate on many aspects of it. What the Minister has said about the changes to the jurisdictional limits is right. It is important that we see a greater volume of work moving downwards through the system which will lead to greater efficiencies generally and a better service for litigants. I know that family law practitioners are concerned about the reporting provisions, but there is a general understanding that we need greater transparency in family court proceedings. I hope the Bill has achieved the right balance. We have had good debate on other aspects of it, too, particularly on Senator Jillian van Turnhout' amendment. The Minister is right that there will be great support in both Houses for the referendum on the court of appeal. There may be a different view in the other referendum which may be held on the same day.

I diplomatically did not mention that issue.

The Minister's diplomacy was noted.

I congratulate the Minister and his officials on bringing the Bill to the House. It is a very important Bill, one that is probably overdue, but the courts and civil and criminal law are an evolving process which from time to time needs to be renewed. On Second Stage I spoke about many aspects of the Bill that I welcomed. I hope it will have a positive impact on all practitioners and the general public who are anxious to see the courts more transparent and open and working more efficiently.

I thank the Minister for his presentation of his proposals. More importantly, I thank him for listening. It is fair to say, without trying to flatter him, that he is one who comes here, listens, engages and I hope benefits from voices in the Seanad. He also greatly helps us to tease out legislation. The Bill, as he said, contains more than the Title suggests. There are many important proposals. I am interested in what he said about future proposals, that, from a time perspective and given the busy nature of the Attorney General's office and his Department, it is not always possible to bring forward a Bill and deal with a precise issue, but we should aspire to have individual, not large miscellaneous provisions Bills.

We should wherever possible aspire to ensure the Bill will deal with the issue suggested by the Title and not huge miscellaneous provisions. Everything in the Bill is important and will make a real difference to people. That is what legislation should be about. I thank the Minister and his officials and look forward to him coming to the House with further proposals long into the future in this Oireachtas and beyond.

While I echo the thoughts of previous Senators, I will hold the Minister to a promise he gave me on Committee Stage when I raised the serious issue of Dolphin House and the facilities available in it. He said he would raise it with the Courts Service on our behalf and I would appreciate it if he got back to me after he has had that discussion.

Last but not least, I echo the thanks of the House to the Minister and his officials. The changes in family law and court proceedings are very important. I acknowledge not only the Minister's engagement with us but also with NGOs. Perhaps in looking back later people might see that not only has he engaged in the House on his reforming agenda but he also has been willing to listen to views from all sides. I thank him for this engagement. I hope one day to succeed with an amendment I tabled. Therefore, I have set a challenge for myself. When the Minister comes to the House, it is very encouraging and worth the effort we put in as Senators knowing that he will engage robustly but also appropriately, as we should on all legislation. I thank him for this.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 5.40 p.m. and resumed at 6.30 p.m.