I was about to raise the point mentioned by Deputy Browne in relation to who the victim is. In many instances the victim could be dead or not easily identifiable or the victim can be the community. If a joyrider is terrorising a community, there may be no particular victim but everybody in the area might be frightened to be around at certain times of the day because of this activity. If trees are torn down, a community centre destroyed, graffiti left on walls, people being drunk and disorderly in a park adjoining a number of houses or loitering which are the offences we are creating in this legislation the victim is the community at large.
It is important that the community has confidence in our criminal justice system. One of the difficulties I have in relation to the way in which the law operates at the moment is that in many parts of the country, particularly in deprived communities, many people take the view that it is the wealthy who suffer most at the hands of the criminal. In my experience, the poor suffer more at the hands of the criminal; it is the poor who are terrorised and it is in poor areas that one generally finds a couple of people committing these dreadful crimes. One does no see much loitering in middle class or upper middle class areas or riotous behaviour or drunk and disorderly people shouting, screaming and causing havoc. It tends to be in poor deprived areas that people suffer most at the hands of criminals.
There is a perception in these communities that the criminal justice system is such that people when sentenced are in one day and out the next and they become heroes in their community. A week in the "Joy", among some people I know, is a status symbol. They become a character, somebody to look up to and other young people actually admire them. That has been a change in society in recent years. We need to examine very carefully what we are doing. There is no point in having custodial sentences if they are not effective, if they are not acting as deterrents to others and and if they are doing nothing to either punish or rehabilitate the offender.
What worries me is when the Minister says that a community service order cannot be applied in lieu of a fine. I regret that because what will happen is that if one takes Part IV of the Bill and a fine of £300 is imposed, for example, and the offender does not have the money, he or she may petition the Minister who will decide whether or not to reduce the fine. If she does not and the day comes for payment, the person ends up serving a custodial sentence. It would be much more effective if we could have community service orders in lieu of custodial sentences and in lieu of fines. There were 1,200 community service orders last year; the Minister confirmed that during the Estimates debate. The probation service cannot supervise the community service orders and that is part of the problem. A staff of 180 in the probation service is totally inadequate to supervise community service orders because if one puts a high risk person who has been committing crimes for perhaps two or three years on a community service project they will need strict supervision, almost one to one. Three people to one probation officer is as many as one could have because of the type of people one is dealing with and the need for individual attention even to get them to turn up for the work. If community service orders are to be made and the person is not going to turn up to do the work, they are brought into total disrepute.
In relation to what we are doing here we need to have a sense of balance and to be fair and reasonable. One of the difficulties about many of the discussions recently on some high profile cases is that there is a peception that this legislation, and the recent Act, will be a panacea for all our ills. If an unduly lenient sentence is imposed there will be an appeal by the prosecution.
I recently had occasion to talk to prosecution counsel in a case which was made public some time ago. I will not identify the case because it would be unfair to the people involved. I remember the case at the time because it got a great deal of publicity and the general perception from the media, the politicians and the public was that there was a lenient sentence. I remember some time afterwards discussing it with the prosecution counsel and they told me they were quite happy with the sentence in all the circumstances. This is part of the difficulty about restrictive coverage, or perhaps when one party to a crime goes public and the other party's case is not placed in the public arena and then the public sits as judge and jury having heard only one side clearly. It has not heard the other and it believes that the sentence imposed was totally unreasonable.
We need to make it clear that in handing down sentences the Judiciary has a wide range of options at its disposal which includes fines, community service orders, custodial sentences and the payment of compensation. All these come as a parcel of remedies for the Judiciary. When they decide on one sentence as opposed to another — trial judges decision are not read often because it is difficult to get one's hands on that decision — it is important that the trial judges are required to say why they have chosen one course of action over another. They should spell that out so that the public realises that people are not walking free and that there are good reasons and perhaps it is best for the offender and best for the community.
The running cost — and not the capital cost which is additional — of prisons at £110 per day is expensive. There is a view in our community that if we build more prisons and lock up thousands more people suddenly we will solve the crime problem. We will not. There are huge social problems, drug related, alcohol related, related to unemployment and drug and alcohol abuse. There is a wide range of problems. We need to have a wide-ranging comprehensive response to that. I welcome the Minister's commitment on prison review as it is long overdue. We need to ask ourselves what the prisons are for, who should be there, how they should be run and so on. Perhaps the Minister might take the opportunity to comment on the situation regarding Portlaoise prison. I understand from contacts there that it is heavily staffed but is underused and that there is space in Portlaoise for more prisoners. Since, traditionally, Portlaoise prison was the place for terrorist offenders its full capacity for these offenders is not now used. I would like the Minister to comment on whether there is spare capacity in that prison.
I welcome representation for the victim. I am not surprised the Law Reform Commission opposed it since although the Law Reform Commission is not totally made up of lawyers, lawyers take a different view to this. They see the trial as being about deciding the guilt or innocence of the accused. That is the main function of a trial but in rape cases and in sexual assault cases in particular there is a tendency not to report them.
The Rape Crisis Centre has said that about 30 per cent of those who come to it report the case and the remaining 70 per cent do not. That is disturbing. The reason for this is that traditionally the victim was made to feel guilty and was humiliated. Some of the changes in the law have improved that.
The ordeal of the trial for many victims was worse than the rape or the assault. Many of the victims are on record as saying that and they feel that the prosecution counsel does not represent them. The prosecution counsel is there to prosecute and to have the guilt of the accused established by the jury. The victim is just there as a witness and is almost exclusively ignored. Some effort is being made by the prosecution counsel to discuss the case with the victim but the victim should have a choice of counsel in particular, many victims would like to have female counsel and, thankfully, there is now a host of very capable young female barristers and solicitors. There are also good male lawyers, Deputy Shatter among them, but because of the nature of what we are talking about many victims would prefer to have female counsel. The prosecution counsel in any of the cases which I read are nearly always men for some unknown reason.
When I heard the Minster's view on Sunday in relation to this I thought it was fantastic. It is the first time anybody in ministerial office said they approve of it and even if it takes time to establish I welcome her thinking in relation to this. It will improve the situation no end.
Chairman, we are all wandering on and I am probably contributing to it ——