Judicial Council Bill 2017: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages

I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to the House. This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 148, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad.

For the convenience of Senators, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments and the proposed grouping. The Minister will deal separately with the subject matter of each related group of amendments. Senators may contribute once on each grouping. I remind Senators that the only matters that may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

I invite the Minister to deal with the subject matter of group 1, which comprises amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive.

The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that certain matters can be addressed more expeditiously than others following the establishment of the judicial council. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 provide that both the judicial studies committee and the personal injuries guidelines committee will be required to meet not later than three months following the first meeting of the council. The provision in the Bill as passed by this House was for all of the committees to meet not later than six months after the first council meeting. Having reflected upon the matter, I agreed with the proposal that a shorter period is appropriate for these two committees, which do not involve lay membership, and the consequent need to ensure time for the Public Appointments Service, PAS, process to be brought to a conclusion.

In addition, the amendment in respect of the personal injuries guidelines committee means that it will be able formally to begin its work earlier than might otherwise have been possible. By virtue of amendment No. 3, that committee will now have six months, as opposed to 12, within which to bring its work to a conclusion and submit draft guidelines to the board of the judicial council. This is an ambitious and challenging timeframe, but I have no doubt that the committee will be able to rise to the challenge. I am conscious of the need for it to be adequately resourced if it is to carry out its function in a proper manner.

These are straightforward amendments which seek to ensure a greater level of urgency in the setting up of certain committees provided for in the Bill.

I welcome the Minister's acceptance of amendments in the Dáil to speed up the formulation of the committees in question and, in consequence, to ensure the speedier reporting of the personal injuries guidelines committee. When we first debated the Bill in this House, we were expecting it to be a year and a half to two years before that committee would report back to the judicial council. I hope its report will reflect what is actually happening in this area and the need for a reduction in awards, particularly in the case of soft tissue injuries and whiplash injuries. I urge the members of the Judiciary who comprise the membership of the committee to take cognisance of the public view on these matters.

I invite the Minister to deal with the subject matter of group 4, which comprises amendment No. 4.

This amendment does not in any way impact upon the substance of the provision contained in section 29 of the Bill which was inserted as a result of an amendment proposed by Senator Ruane. The Minister for Justice and Equality of the day will still be required to undertake a review of legislative provisions which impose minimum sentences, whether those sentences are presumptive minimum sentences or mandatory minimum sentences. The Minister will also still be required, within 12 months of the commencement of that review, to make a report to each of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The primary purpose of the amendment is to provide a context for the review, to make clear that its purpose relates both to the appropriateness of minimum sentences in general and the extent to which the provisions in this area are applied in practice.

Will the Minister now speak on group 3, which comprises amendments Nos. 5 to 9, inclusive?

The purpose of these amendments is to confirm that, in all cases, both the name of the judge against whom a complaint has been substantiated and the reprimand issued will be published in the annual report of the judicial conduct committee. They achieve this purpose in a different way from that set out in section 87(4)(l) of the Bill as passed by Seanad Éireann. That section incorporates an amendment proposed by Senator Clifford-Lee requiring the annual report to include information on the judge concerned for each case in which a reprimand was issued by the judicial conduct committee. My amendment moves this requirement to subsection (6), largely for structural reasons. Subsection (6) provides that the name of the judge concerned and the reprimand issued shall be published where a judge fails to co-operate with a panel of inquiry under section 71 or does not fulfil a reporting requirement under section 79(13).

Amendment No. 8 will include section 79(2)(b) in that list. This is the section under which a reprimand is issued to a judge against whom a complaint of alleged misconduct has been upheld. As a consequence of this amendment, it is no longer necessary to retain section 87(4)(l). Nor is it necessary to retain subsection (7), which allowed the judicial conduct committee a measure of discretion as to whether or not the name of a judge to whom a reprimand was issued should be included in the annual report. Lest there be any doubt on this point, I emphasise that the effect of my amendment is that the name of a judge to whom a reprimand has issued and the reprimand itself will always be included in the annual report. I acknowledge Senator Clifford-Lee's previous comments in this regard.

Question put and agreed to.
Question, "That the Bill do now pass", put and agreed to.