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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 18 Dec 2018

Vol. 262 No. 6

Criminal Law (Extraterritorial Jurisdiction) Bill 2018: Second Stage

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

I am very pleased to introduce the Criminal Law (Extraterritorial Jurisdiction) Bill 2018 to the House. The Bill is significant for two main reasons. The first is that it will enable Ireland to prosecute violent crimes committed abroad by Irish citizens and residents in certain states. The second is that it is the final legislative action that is required to enable Ireland to ratify the Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women and domestic violence. The main aim of the convention is to protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence. The convention also aims to ensure the design of a comprehensive framework, policies and measures for the protection of and assistance to all victims of such violence.

Violence in any form should not be tolerated in a civilised society but evidence tells us that violence in a domestic setting presents a unique set of challenges, insofar as it so often happens behind closed doors. We know that it happens in Ireland. Most in this House know someone who has been a victim of domestic violence, but it is often the elephant in the room, something that is not to be spoken about. In a recent pan-European Eurobarometer survey on perceptions, attitudes and awareness of gender-based violence, published in November 2016, 77% of the Irish sample regarded domestic violence against women as either "fairly" or "very" common in Ireland. That is the reason the Istanbul Convention is important. It is a significant legal instrument in the fight against domestic and sexual violence.

The Government agreed at the time of the signing of the Istanbul Convention to an action plan that contained outstanding legislative and administrative actions that were identified as being necessary to enable Ireland's ratification of the convention. Those actions were incorporated into the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence which was published in 2016. Significant work has been done on these actions to date. The Domestic Violence Bill 2018 was enacted on 8 May. It addresses all aspects of domestic violence, threatened violence and intimidation in a manner that provides protection for victims.

It also addressed a number of evidential issues to protect child and adult victims of sexual assault from any additional trauma arising out of the criminal process. The Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2017 was enacted on 5 November 2017. It provides for a wide range of measures to protect and inform victims during the progress of their case through the criminal justice system.

Under the Istanbul Convention, Ireland is required to make provision for extraterritorial jurisdiction regarding convention offences. While there are some provisions on the Statute Book already in respect of murder, manslaughter and some sexual offences, this short Bill is necessary in order to fully extend extraterritorial jurisdiction to all convention offences. The Bill is a priority for the Government. It complements other recently enacted laws already mentioned that have also given effect to our obligations under the Istanbul Convention.

Senators may note that the provisions of the Bill do not just apply to situations where the victim of a crime is a woman or a victim of domestic violence. While the primary aim of the convention is to tackle violence in these circumstances, this Bill does not limit the scope of extraterritorial jurisdiction in this manner. For equality reasons, the offences under this Bill will apply equally to women and men.

I will outline the Bill's key provisions. Section 1 defines the key terms used in the Bill, the most notable being the term “relevant offence”, which is used in the offences created under section 3. A relevant offence under the Bill is defined as: assault causing harm, assault causing serious harm, threats to kill or cause serious harm, coercion, and harassment under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997; sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault under the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990; rape and rape under section 4 of the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990. Another key definition is “convention state” which is defined as a state, other than Ireland, that is a party to the Istanbul Convention. Only acts committed in another convention state are covered by the Bill, with the exception of murder and manslaughter, which already had limited worldwide jurisdiction.

Section 2 is technical in nature and aimed at excluding the provisions of the Bill in circumstances where section 3 of the Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Act 1976 applies. This Act deals with certain offences committed in Northern Ireland. The provision is necessary to avoid confusion as to the basis for claiming jurisdiction over an offence committed in Northern Ireland.

Section 3 sets out offences under the Bill and various provisions relating to double jeopardy and proof of citizenship or residency, as the case may be. Section 3(1) provides that it is an offence for any person to commit a relevant offence on board an Irish ship or on an aircraft registered in the State. Section 3(2) provides that it is an offence for any person to aid, abet, counsel or procure another person to commit a relevant offence on board an Irish ship, on an aircraft registered in the State or in a convention state. The aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring must take place in the State, on board an Irish ship or on an aircraft registered in the State. Section 3(3) provides that it is an offence for an Irish citizen or resident to commit a relevant offence in a convention state, with a requirement that the offence must also be an offence in the place it occurs.

Section 3(4) provides that it is an offence for an Irish citizen or resident to aid, abet, counsel or procure another person to commit a relevant offence in a convention state. The aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring must take place in a convention state with a requirement that it must also be an offence in the place it occurs. Section 3(5) provides that it is an offence for a person who is ordinarily resident in the State to commit murder or manslaughter in any place outside the State. Murder and manslaughter committed by an Irish citizen outside the State is covered already by section 9 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Section 3(6) provides that it is an offence for a person to aid, abet, counsel or procure another person to commit murder or manslaughter in a place outside the State. The aiding, abetting counselling or procuring must take place in the State, on board an Irish ship or on an aircraft registered in the State. Where the person who aids, abets, counsels or procures another to commit murder is an Irish citizen or resident, the aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring can take place outside the State. Section 3(7) to (12), inclusive, relate to procedural and evidential matters such as the place that proceedings may be brought, evidence relating to proof of citizenship or residency, and the matter of double jeopardy.

Section 4 amends the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008 to ensure the provisions of that Act are applicable to the Istanbul Convention. Section 5 provides for the short title and commencement of the Bill.

The Bill marks a significant addition to our ability to investigate and prosecute crime committed abroad by Irish citizens and residents. It also means that we will be in a position to ratify the Istanbul Convention in the very near future. This will send a strong message that this country takes violence against women and domestic violence very seriously and that our laws are sufficiently robust to tackle both. I hope Senators will support the Bill and that we can have it enacted as soon as possible to allow for swift ratification of the convention next year. I thank Senators for facilitating this debate. I look forward to listening to their views on this matter. I commend the Bill to the House.

I thank the Minister. I certainly welcome the Bill. It is long overdue. As the Minister stated, the Bill will enable Ireland to ratify the Istanbul Convention which was signed on 5 November 2015. I understand that much of what enables us to ratify the convention has been included in the Domestic Violence Act 2018. That was one of the greatest achievements of this House since I entered it. I welcome this. I will not speak a lot on it. We are very much on the one page in regard to the heinous crimes of domestic violence and sexual violence. We have to do everything we possibly can to protect women from all forms of violence and to prevent, prosecute, and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence. I hope we will continue to do that.

The enabling of international co-operation in this Bill is particularly welcome and necessary. We also need to have a much more integrated approach between the North and the South. I very much advocate an all-island policy on domestic and sexual violence because I cannot see how we can really address the problem without such an approach. I spoke about this at Stormont recently. Adopting good practices from both jurisdictions would allow us to tackle the problem in a more meaningful way.

Obviously, we can enact and ratify all we like, but unless we have the resources to back up the actions, we are going to fail women, children, and men who suffer the crime of domestic violence. I encourage the Minister to ask the Government to look again at the resources available and at the cuts being made, including those in my area in respect of organisations such as the Mayo Rape Crisis Centre and Mayo Women's Support Services. There is work they cannot do because they do not have the resources.

I ask the Minister to come to the Seanad in the new year to review the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act in order that we might look at how much of it has been implemented, how much training has been done, what further training is required and what resources need to be allocated.

I welcome the Minister. He is advancing a very important and long-awaited Bill that will allow for individuals committing particular offences abroad to be liable to prosecution under Irish law. This legislation is important in itself in the spirit of international co-operation, but it is also very important as it is the final step Ireland needs to take to allow us to ratify the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the Istanbul Convention. This convention is internationally recognised as a blueprint for good practice in respect of domestic violence against women, men and children and the wider issue of violence against women.

It is wonderful that we will be able to move forward with ratification. We signed up back in 2015 following a very long campaign from the Irish Observatory on Violence Against Women and many other NGOs and, while progress has at times felt painfully slow, significant changes have happened, both in the Legislature and among the public. Following the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, we have seen the passage of the Domestic Violence Act 2018. I agree with Senator Conway-Walsh that it was one of the key moments of co-operation across the Seanad when we managed to strengthen that Bill. We insisted that there be not just a definition of consent but the recognition of the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour. This was very significant and I am sure the Minister recognises that it strengthened the legislation. It can help us to lead good practice internationally and it is a moment of which to be proud. There are a number of other aspects of the Domestic Violence Act that are very important but into which I will not go now. It is their implementation that is important and we need to monitor it to ensure the measures are put effectively to work.

I commend the Minister; his predecessor, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald; the many individuals, NGOs and civil society groups such as the Irish Observatory on Violence Against Women, Women's Aid, the National Women's Council of Ireland, SAFE Ireland, the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and all the other groups and individuals like Ellen O'Malley Dunlop who advocated and continue to advocate for better policies, resources and legislation to combat domestic violence in Ireland. They have all called consistently for the ratification of this legislation.

Once Ireland ratifies the convention we will begin to be examined for compliance with its standards. We have just come to the end of 16 days of opposing violence against women, which ran from 25 November to 10 December. This year a Change the Conversation campaign provided a stark and sobering reminder of how pervasive domestic violence and intimate partner violence remain in Ireland. One in five women has suffered intimate partner violence and domestic abuse and nine out of ten women who are killed are killed by someone known to them, with 56% killed by a partner or ex-partner. That is a crucial point. It often happens that, after people have left violent situations or dangerous, abusive situations, they are particularly vulnerable and State supports need to be strengthened in this area. Some 50 calls are made every day to the national freefone number for victims of such violence.

Implementing the Istanbul Convention is an opportunity for us to bring about the systemic and institutional change we need to facilitate the protection of women and the accountability of perpetrators. It is critical to match our response to the scale and complexity of the violence. It is important that, in a year when we have seen an avalanche of women, men and children sharing their stories and experiences of abuse and control, and an international wave of women who have spoken out to expose abuse, the people who do this are met with supports and resources. It is crucial that the resources are placed behind the implementation of the Istanbul Convention. I am sure the Minister will have this conversation at Cabinet level and that he will champion the provision of resources to ensure those who seek to exercise their rights and to access supports promised under the convention will be met with those supports. There is no better source of information for State agencies than the experience of those who have had to work through these situations, with personal experience or having supported those who experienced domestic or sexual violence. Survivor experiences and voices must be allowed to influence and shape policy and practice. It is vital that there be community monitoring of Ireland's compliance with the convention standards, with front-line providers, communities and affected women having a role.

Research is also needed such as that being carried out as part of the SAVI 2 study. The Minister might indicate an expected date for it. It is crucial to have the statistics to place alongside the experiences. I hope we move quickly from the passing of this Bill to the speedy ratification of the Istanbul Convention and the Minister might give us a date for this also. Work will then be needed to monitor it, to communicate it and to engage with the public. This is already happening and people are talking about consent because they realise how important it is. We need to expand the understanding of things such as consent and what a respectful relationship means, as well as of what people can expect in terms of supports. As the Minister said, the issue needs to be transformed from a silent one to one that is of public concern. As well as a date for ratification, the Minister might also tell us what messages he will be bringing to the Cabinet about resourcing and the implementation of the Istanbul Convention. He might also let us know what proposals he has for expanding public awareness to ensure we make the convention, not just a blueprint, but a new set of structures and supports for women, men and children in Ireland.

I welcome the Minister. He has probably done more time in this House than all the other Ministers put together. We will hear from him again tomorrow and on Thursday.

He does not need to be reminded.

I hope we will make some progress in completing Committee Stage of the Judicial Appointments Bill. I commend the Minister on a comprehensive speech and I am delighted that this last legislative requirement, which is quite technical but far more serious than that, will enable us to ratify the Istanbul Convention. I am delighted we will facilitate its passage through this House and I hope our colleagues in the Lower House will not delay its passage. As Senator Higgins and others pointed out, the ratification of the Istanbul Convention is extremely important. It will mean us manning and womanning up to our international obligations. We have signed up to this and need to ratify it.

When Irish citizens commit crimes abroad we should be able to prosecute them when they come back, without any extradition being involved. We should be able to bring them before the courts as if the crime had happened on our soil because crime is now a borderless activity. People are far more upwardly mobile and can hop on and off aeroplanes and boats in the way they get on trains and buses. This legislation is extremely important from thaty perspective.

Many victims of domestic violence see this country's ratification of the Istanbul Convention as a vote of confidence in them and a recognition by society of the challenges and difficulties they have faced. Domestic violence is abhorrent and it happens too often and in too many circumstances in this country.

This legislation will bring us into line with best international practice, which is extremely important. I spoke to the Minister on this particular issue five to six weeks ago, on the very same day that my colleague, Senator McFadden, and I had a Commencement matter on this issue. We shared time. The Minister was committed to dealing with this issue in a timely manner and I am delighted that this side of Christmas we may move to Second Stage and that this House will not oppose it and there will be no division on this Bill. In the good traditions of Seanad Éireann we tend to unite on a matter which is of national importance. This Bill is of national importance and it does feed into our signing up to our international obligations. I hope the best interests of the citizens of this country will unite us all and that we will be behind the Minister in the very important work he is doing in getting this legislation over the line. I will look forward in late January to early February where we can move on to Committee Stage and pass this legislation. I urge and encourage our colleagues in the Lower House to expedite the passage of this legislation as quickly as possible. We can then ratify the Istanbul Convention.

In the environment we are in, with the #MeToo campaign and women speaking out against misogyny, domestic violence and inappropriate activity, behaviour and commentary towards women, Ireland will then be very much playing its part in the international campaign against domestic violence.

I had not intended to speak but this is something about which I feel very strongly and I will only take one minute. This is very badly needed legislation and I am very proud that it has been initiated in the Seanad.

One in four women experiences physical or sexual violence from a partner. I speak regularly in the House about equality and there can be no real equality between women and men unless women who are experiencing gender-based violence are fully supported by State agencies and institutions. That is what the Minister is doing and I commend him for raising this issue in the House and trying to deliver this legislation. It is bringing us one step closer to ratifying the Istanbul Convention. The Minister has been a stalwart for women's rights and equality and I commend and thank him for bringing this Bill to the House.

I also had not intended to speak but it is important that we do in welcoming the Minister and this Bill. I commend him for his proactivity. As Senator McFadden said, this Minister has, in the traditions of Ministers for justice, been very strong in his approach to equality and diversity but also in putting in place legislation that protects women, for which I commend him. We may disagree on some issues but I am very proud of this Minister, not just in this Department but also when he was in opposition and was Fine Gael spokesperson.

We have international obligations that we must ratify and uphold. The contributions of other Members of the House recognise the importance of the Istanbul Convention. As Senator McFadden said, one in four women is affected. That is not a statistic. They are women, members of our own family, in our workplace and communities, who require us to not just look after them but to protect them. That is why this is important.

When I hear sometimes that this is technical legislation, it does not do justice to what we are doing here. We signed up to the Istanbul Convention in 2015. That was a stepping stone in getting to today. That took leadership from us in the Oireachtas, from a Minister in a Department and from a Government. I want to welcome this Bill. We in this House are very supportive of the Minister in bringing the Bill into this House to have it initiated here. We are saying to those who think it is okay or who think they can get away with any type of offence, whether sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault or rape - all are relevant - that they will not. I sit on the joint policing authority in Cork city and county and at one level it is disturbing but on another it gives one a sense of where we are at. One sees the number of incidents of domestic violence or violence against women being reported increasing every week and month. That means people have the confidence to come forward, seek help and retribution and be able to tell their story. I commend the Minister for the work he is doing and support the Bill.

I sincerely thank Senators, not only for facilitating this debate in what is a very busy week for Seanadóirí but also to acknowledge their input and views on what is important legislation.

The primary aim in ratifying the Istanbul Convention is to combat violence against women and violence in a domestic setting. It is an issue about which I acknowledge we all feel strongly. In particular, I welcome the broad support for the Bill, as evidenced by the contributions of Senators Conway-Walsh, Higgins, Conway, McFadden and Buttimer.

I say to Senator Conway-Walsh that I am happy to keep the Senate informed on the issue of the commencement order for the domestic violence legislation. I would be very happy to engage with Senators on any interim commentary or submission that Senators would like to make on the outworking of the Bill. In the same context, I expect to receive the report of the review group in the area of sexual offences, with reference to court practice and procedure, which is on an advanced course of preparation under the chairmanship of Professor Tom O'Malley. I set up the group following concerns expressed within this jurisdiction during the early summer on the consequential fallout of a certain rape case north of the Border. I expect to have the report in January, following which I will set out an implementation plan. I hope we will have an opportunity to address it here also to listen to the views of Senators on it.

On the issue of resources raised by Senators Conway-Walsh and Higgins, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is the primary statutory funder for sexual violence services. This year, the national provision for frontline domestic, sexual and gender-based violence was €23.8 million which is an increase of €3.4 million on the 2015 level, or 17%. In that regard, I acknowledge the decision of the Government early today to appoint a former Member of the Oireachtas, a good colleague and a former Minister, Pat Rabbitte, to the position of chair of Tusla. I am confident that he will do a very good job. I look forward to working with him in my capacity as Minister for Justice and Equality.

Senator Higgins spoke about funding regarding the consequences of the Istanbul Convention and the appropriate suite of measures in the form of a legislative programme, to which Senator Buttimer referred, which brought us to this point in time. I agree with Senator Higgins that the issue of resources is of crucial importance. Of the €1.72 million allocated to the victims of crime this year, grants totalling €686,000 were awarded to 34 domestic violence organisations to support and assist them in the provision of support and court accompaniment to victims of crime. Yesterday I had an opportunity to engage with one of the many groups involved in this area and acknowledge the voluntarism and the outreach in an area that is of crucial importance. COSC has a non-pay budget allocation of €2.2 million.

COSC has allocated €950,000 for the What Would You Do? national awareness campaign. The campaign messaging moved from an awareness-raising objective to an educational one. I agree with Senator Higgins that if there are issues regarding the campaign or any aspect of it on which Senators would like to engage with me by way of observations or suggestions, I would be happy to accommodate them. In addition, an allocation of €500,000 from the Dormant Accounts Fund, provided under the dormant accounts action plan, is being utilised to provide key additional localisation for the national campaign. COSC also allocated €870,000 for the delivery of the uniform national domestic abuse intervention programme - the Choices programme. COSC also provided funding of €22,000 this year for the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre for a sexual violence awareness and prevention programme for young people. I again acknowledge the work of numerous advocacy groups in this area, most of which I have had the opportunity to meet over the course of the year.

Senator Higgins also referred to implementation and compliance. Once the convention is ratified, Ireland will be monitored by the Group of States Against Corruption, GRECO, a Council of Europe body. Senators will be aware of the engagement here with the Seanad and the Houses of the Oireachtas by GRECO, and I am aware that submissions have been sought and that face-to-face engagement is entered into on occasion. All of those engagements are really important for stakeholders. The Istanbul Convention mandates the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, GREVIO, to monitor the implementation of the convention. GREVIO is similar to GRECO and I know that the Senators have engaged with it to some extent.

It is very interesting.

We can talk about the GRECO report in a separate debate. I can tell the Minister that the Senators are all very quiet now.

The Minister to continue, without interruption.

The Leader should let the Minister answer.

The Minister to continue, without interruption.

They are very quiet about the GRECO report.

It was all going very well until now.

It is all in here. The information came through and it-----

The Minister to continue, without interruption.

I did not mean to touch a nerve with Senator Boyhan, but I obviously-----

The Minister did not.

The Leader was possibly goading the audience.

I have made a freedom of information request to the Minister's Department, the information relating to which I will share with the House tomorrow.

I obviously did touch a nerve. In the spirit of Christmas, however, I hope we will have an opportunity to engage constructively on any similar related item of legislation which we are anxious to pass through the House in a timely and appropriate way.

To Senator Higgins I say the National Women's Council of Ireland last week called for this convention to be ratified in advance of, or certainly by, International Women's Day on 9 March. I hope for the co-operation of the Senators to facilitate the progression of this Bill through all Stages in this House.

Senator Higgins also mentioned the SAVI study. I was very pleased, in the context of some of my more important achievements this year, to have announced the second sexual violence prevalence study. The expert scoping group is considering the availability of data and the survey, as announced, will be of significant scale. It will be a complex and extremely sensitive piece of work. I was very pleased that the Government adopted my proposal in the form of a memorandum in late November. The Cabinet approved the undertaking of the national survey, which will commence next year. It can also be repeated every decade by the CSO on the publication of the report of the scoping group. The CSO has estimated that the preparatory work required early next year will cost in the region of €150,000. The Department has provided for this in the budget. I understand the survey is of such importance and magnitude that it may take a number of years to complete. The timescale involved will be worked out by the CSO in 2019, with the preparatory work on the survey. I am happy to engage with Senators on it. I assure Senator Higgins and others that this work will commence next year.

I thank the Minister. I look forward to engaging with him on that matter.

I thank Senators for their valuable contributions. I hope we can work together to ensure the Bill will be enacted as soon as possible. I have taken note of some of the issues raised by Senators and look forward to the Committee Stage debate.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 22 January 2018.