Criminal Justice (Suspended Sentences of Imprisonment) Bill 2016: Committee and Remaining Stages

Sections 1 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

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.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also welcome the passage of the Bill, which received widespread welcome on Second Stage. No one has tabled an amendment to it. We all recognised the importance of its passage in order to ensure the effective implementation of suspended sentences.

This is a technical Bill. As we were in the last term when the Cathaoirleach was just a spokesperson on the other side of the House, the Seanad is happy to facilitate the passing of legislation. I encourage the Minister of State and the Tánaiste to initiate Bills in this House. We would be delighted to debate and legislate in respect of such Bills. Seanad Éireann has a proud record of raising issues that, although they might not necessarily get headlines, are important to many communities.

I wish the Minister of State well in his endeavours to improve the plight of people in direct provision. As a policy, direct provision should be abandoned, but we are a long way off that. While the Minister of State was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, he initiated 19 significant reports. Some were ground breaking. He is now in a position to implement a number of them. Last night, I spoke with a former Minister of State, Senator Ó Ríordáin, about a couple of issues. There was a meeting today on Traveller ethnicity. These are important issues on which I had the privilege to work with the Cathaoirleach and the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, as part of the justice committee. It would be wonderful if some of those policy positions became a reality during this Government's term, and it would be fantastic if it were this Minister of State driving them.

The Senator was starting to meander a small bit.

Only a small bit? It was a big bit.

It is as well that we have the Cathaoirleach for when we meander. I promise that I will not. Sinn Féin supports the Bill.

I wish to reference a matter that we have discussed at length, namely, section 15(4)(a) of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2016 on gender and cultural diversity. In terms of judicial appointments, judges would be empowered as a result of being a broader representation of society.

I thank the Minister of State for attending the House. Fianna Fáil is happy to support the Bill. As a practising lawyer, I welcome that it will come into effect. It will help all involved in the criminal justice system.

I will briefly meander, if the Cathaoirleach will allow, and echo the sentiments expressed by Senator Conway on the direct provision system. I will raise this matter with the Minister of State shortly in terms of the bifurcated system of subsidiary protection and asylum and ask for an update. I will correspond with him about that.

I thank Senators for their co-operation. I also thank the Minister of State.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 3.10 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.