The question of imprisonment and people serving reduced sentences, to which Deputy Higgins referred, must be addressed by me. I outlined on numerous occasions that the objective of the prison building programme was to ensure that people serve their sentences. Therefore, people will serve their sentences in future.
The purpose of amendment No. 9 in Deputy Higgins's name is to provide that community service may be a sanction for the less serious offence of trafficking. In fact, the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act, 1983, does provide a power to the courts to make community service orders regarding convicted persons and Deputy Higgins will be glad to know that it will be open to the court to apply that power to a person convicted of an offence under this Act. Therefore, having convicted a person and, perhaps, fined them £1,500 or less, the court would be in a position to impose a community service order. Therefore, Deputy Higgins's amendment is unnecessary.
The purpose of amendment No. 10, which is in the names of Deputy Higgins and Deputy Howlin, is to reduce the maximum term of imprisonment which a court could impose following a conviction on indictment from ten years to five years.
The purpose of the Bill, it is worth repeating, is to deal with those who seek to exploit asylum seekers and other immigrants by engaging in the despicable trade of trafficking. This is a matter, as I indicated, which is of great concern not just here. On Second Stage I stated that the link between traffickers and organised crime has also been recognised at UN level and work is progressing on the negotiation of protocols and the draft UN convention on organised crime, which will deal with the smuggling and trafficking in human beings. Furthermore, the Heads of State or Governments of the EU at the European Council meeting at Tampere, Finland, in October 1999 considered the question of trafficking in human beings. The committee will recall that the Taoiseach attended that meeting. The European Council stated its determination to tackle at its source illegal immigration, especially by combating those who engage in trafficking and the economic exploitation of migrants, and urged adoption of legislation providing for severe sanctions against this serious crime. On the basis of a proposal by the Commission, it invited the Council of Ministers to adopt by the end of this year legislation to this end.
The European Council furthermore urged member states, together with Europol, to direct their efforts to detecting and dismantling the criminal networks involved. We can, therefore, anticipate that we will be in a position in the fairly near future of looking at the Bill, when enacted, and checking its conformity with EU legislation which will prescribe a common approach to the criminalisation and punishment of trafficking in human beings.
The effect of the amendments would be to reduce the maximum term of imprisonment which a court may impose following conviction on indictment from ten years to five years. Such a reduced maximum sentence would be insufficient to deal with the traffickers, who may be part of internationally organised criminal groups, and would not be in keeping with the international effort to detect and dismantle the criminal networks involved in trafficking in human beings. For this legislation to be effective against such groups we must provide for the possibility of tough penalties. Of course I would point out that the ten year maximum sentence which the court can impose is not mandatory and it would be open to the judge to impose a lesser sentence where the circumstances of the case so warrant. On the other hand accepting the amendments would mean that the judge, faced with the most exploitative and organised trafficker in human misery, would be restricted to imposing a maximum five year sentence. I feel sure that the Deputies would not wish to impose such a restriction on the courts and I would ask them to withdraw their amendments accordingly.
It is of interest that larceny, fraud, forgery, burglary and a series of related offences attract a maximum sentence of ten years in accordance with the Larceny Act, 1990, and I am of the view that the worst instances of trafficking in humans are commensurate with the worst instances of those crimes of dishonesty. I, again, stress the issue of intent, that is, mens rea. The person must intend to do it. It is not just a question of a person being involved in trafficking accidentally. We are talking here about people who are deliberately, insidiously becoming involved in this offence. I feel that the court should have the power to impose a sentence of up to ten years. However, I stress that, depending on the circumstances of the case, the court can impose a lesser sentence. If the court wants to impose a community service order if it is just a minor offence, in accordance with and in deference to the wishes of Deputy Higgins, that power is there also. I prefer to leave the discretion to the court.