On behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, who regrets that she is unable to be present, I thank the House for giving its time and consideration to this Bill. As the Tánaiste outlined on Second Stage, although this is a relatively short and technical Bill, it is important legislation and I thank Senators for their general support for it.
The Bill specifically addresses the High Court finding of unconstitutionality in respect of certain provisions of section 99 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 relating to the revocation of suspended prison sentences. It does this by explicitly ensuring that there is an opportunity for an appeal against conviction or sentence for a triggering offence prior to consideration of the revocation of a suspended sentence. The Bill also makes a number of procedural changes to related elements of the suspended sentencing regime in order to enhance its operation and effectiveness.
The overall effect of this amending legislation is to ensure that procedural and sequencing aspects of the suspended sentencing system can operate correctly in the interests of the courts system and those who come before it. The suspended sentencing regime is an important tool in the judicial system and its intended rehabilitative effect is significant for the benefit of the offender concerned and, by extension, society in general. The system allows the convicted person a second chance by effectively entering into a contract of good behaviour and undergoing a period of probation instead of serving a period of imprisonment.
Suspended sentences are, however, meaningless unless they can be enforced. Their effectiveness depends on this. Section 99 of the 2006 Act provides two mechanisms to activate a suspended sentence. One relies on a proactive approach from the authorities concerned, such as the Garda, in the event that a condition of the suspended sentence is breached. This process effectively operates on a case-by-case basis. The other mechanism is court driven and somewhat automatic and allows the court to revoke a suspended sentence where a person has been convicted of a subsequent triggering offence.
It is important to replace the impugned provisions - subsections 99(9) and (10) - that allow the automatic court-driven process to operate, subject to specific provision for an appeal of the triggering conviction or sentence that this amending legislation builds into the procedure. Restoring this mechanism will ensure that the courts system can properly and efficiently operate the suspended sentencing regime, which it is ultimately responsible for implementing, in a self-contained manner. The Bill also ensures that the court that originally gave the suspended sentence will decide on its revocation following any appeals process in respect of the triggering conviction or the related sentence. In this way, the court will have the full and final picture when considering the revocation or part revocation of a suspended sentence.
The amending legislation before us will serve to correct the deficiency identified by the High Court as regards section 99 of the 2006 Act and will improve the overall operation of the suspended sentencing regime. I am pleased to commend the Bill to the House.