I welcome the Minister of State to the House and express my appreciation for the amendment made to the Order of Business today in respect of this Bill.
I will make a few points in respect of the Bill. First, I think this Bill needs to be more carefully considered than perhaps it was in Dáil Éireann. They had a debate there and a number of amendments were put down by the Sinn Féin Party, in particular, and Deputy Pringle, but there are other things we have to think carefully about before we wave it through and say we have given it due consideration.
Jury trial is hugely important and a point I made in the limited time I had when the very short Second Stage debate took place here was that we have over the last 30 years made the process of jury trial more and more lengthy. I was not exaggerating when I said I remember both prosecuting and defending criminal cases before juries in Dublin and around the country in which a jury would be empanelled at, say, 10.30 a.m. and deliver its verdict at, say, 7.30 p.m. that evening, very frequently in some cases. That was the way the world worked. Perhaps they would go to two or three cases. This is not so long ago. I am not speaking about the 18th century or something like that. I remember looking at the memoirs or a unionist judge called Day in the 18th century. He kept a diary of his trips out on assizes and it was extraordinary. Having noted what happened at lunch and what kind of food he was given, he would say there were three capital cases in the morning, of which two were convicted and one recommended to mercy. My God, this all took place before lunch in those days.
I do not suggest we go back to a distant age. The spirit of this Bill is important, that is, once a jury trial starts, it comes to a fairly rapid conclusion. The scandal of having jurors sitting in a room wondering what the hell is happening down in a court for two and a half days while lawyers make lengthy submissions to a trial judge is completely wrong.
One has only to look at the George Floyd trial to see how even a murder trial in the US proceeded so fast, although I accept that was probably contributed to by the failure of the accused to give evidence.
The Bill is very well intentioned, but I worry it will have the unexpected and unwanted effect of lengthening even further the process of getting cases on for trial. Legal aid lawyers - I am not saying anything bad about them - will think it is almost their bound and duty to have an outing before a trial judge to try to have bits of evidence excluded and the like. In the nature of things, that will take time.
The next issue will be worth remembering when we debate later sections. Senator Ward has commented on this. The provision that juries should be supplied with transcripts of prosecuting counsel's opening and closing speeches seems to suggest there will never again be a case where a jury goes out, having just heard the judge's charge, and that is it. It seems to suggest we are floating down the river towards a situation where it will take a further three or four days to get together all the transcripts, and compare them to see whether they are correct and everyone is happy with them and whether the judge is happy with the transcript of his or her charge to the jury and so on. I am ringing an alarm bell that this process could become more complicated rather than more expeditious if we are not careful. Nobody ever suggests that a barrister, whether prosecuting or defending, making his or her opening case to the jury should have to provide a copy of that speech. That does not happen too often but it will happen if provision is made for it to be given to the jury. There will be long speeches, and who is going to say something? Will a trial judge say to Mr. Ward or Mr. McDowell, after two or three hours, that the jury has heard enough? That worries me. Once we start introducing documents of proceedings before a jury, we will make the process more complicated. That is a preliminary point on section 1.
Section 11 will make provisions for the rules of court to accommodate all these new changes. Will the Minister of State indicate whether the rules of court are yet even in draft form? Has the rules of court committee for the Circuit Court and the Central Criminal Court been alerted and asked to get weaving about this, or will we pass this legislation rapidly and without giving it enough thought, and then find ourselves waiting for a rules committee, in the fullness of time, to come up with its views as to how it should be implemented? The Minister of State might comment on whether that has been done.
In respect of the early commencement of this legislation, the Minister will be given extensive power among indictable offences to specify offences to which the legislation will or will not apply. Will the Minister of State indicate whether the Department has considered, even at this stage, what offences this will apply to? There is the concept of relevant offences, which is flexible and ultimately depends, in many respects, on ministerial orders being made.
I would like to have a notion as to the intended scope of this legislation and some indication as to what the Department has in mind for the extent of its application. I fully appreciate that the manner in which the legislation was drafted gives flexibility in this regard but, in the context of it starting early, it is a bit like when holding a referendum on something, it is a good idea to publish the ensuring legislation at the same time so that the people know what is likely to happen. Given how long it will be before this legislation is commenced by orders made by the Minister, I would like to have a clear idea at this stage of the extent to which the Bill is intended to apply to what are described as relevant offences and also whether the process for the rules of court being drafted has already commenced or whether that will be six, nine or 12 months after the legislation is drafted.