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Select Committee on Legislation and Security debate -
Wednesday, 2 Oct 1996

Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1996: Committee Stage.

I welcome the Minister for Justice and officials of the Department of Justice who are with us today for the purpose of commencing the Committee Stage debate on the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. This Bill is one of a number of important pieces of justice legislation currently before this committee, with which we will be dealing over the next few weeks. They include the Garda Síochána Bill, the Criminal Law Bill and the Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Bill. Members will be aware that we have a pretty heavy programme of legislation for this session and doubtless there will be more as matters are referred to us by the Dáil.

The Bill before us amends the law relating to certain matters of criminal procedure so as to expedite the processing of these matters in the courts and to reduce the amount of time spent by the Garda on court and court related duties. It extends the maximum period for which a person may be remanded in custody and provides for the issue of search warrants where specified serious offences have been committed. It also amends the powers of the Director of Public Prosecutions under the Criminal Justice Act, 1951 and makes provision for certain technical amendments.

I wish to congratulate the Government Departments involved in the massive drugs find in Cork harbour over recent days. It was the greatest capture over recent years as far as drugs are concerned. Many lives have been saved by this find.

I am sure the Minister will be referring to that. Members may wish to refer to it in the course of the debate on the amendments.

Section 1 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, before section 2, to insert the following new section:

2.—Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, is hereby amended by the substitution of the following subsections for subsection (5):

‘5.—If at any time during the detention of a person pursuant to this section there are no longer reasonable grounds for believing that his detention is necessary for the proper investigation of the offence to which the detention relates, he shall, subject to subsection (6), be released from custody forthwith unless he is charged or caused to be charged with an offence and is brought before a court as soon as may be in connection with such charge or his detention is authorised apart from this Act.

(6) If at any time during the detention of a person pursuant to this section a member of the Garda Síochána, with reasonable cause, suspects that person of having committed an offence to which this section applies, other than on offence to which the detention relates, and the member of the Garda Síochána then in charge of the Garda Síochána station has reasonable grounds for believing that the continued detention of that person is necessary for the proper investigation of that other offence, the person may continue to be detained in relation to the other offence as if that offence was the offence for which the person was originally detained.'.".

This amendment replaces subsection (5) of section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 with two new subsections. It arises in the context of discussions which my officials had with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Members will know that this miscellaneous Bill is the first of such Bills that I want to introduce during my term in the Department of Justice. I want to create a system where an annual criminal justice Bill is passed in order to allow for amendments to outdated practices and laws.

I have done what I can in this legislation. I could leave this legislation open for the next six months or the next year and I would still receive more recommendations and suggestions to amend the existing law. I decided that I had to have a cut-off point, but I remind Members that we will have similar legislation in 1997 in which we can have more much needed amendments to provisions of our criminal law. We will also have similar legislation in 1997 where we can introduce more of the amendments needed because much of our criminal law has become outmoded and outdated. At this stage, however, I wish to include these amendments as quickly as possible because I have been advised that the present situation is damaging to criminal prosecutions. This is one such amendment which the DPP has highlighted for me.

Section 4(5) of the 1984 Act specifies that where a member of the Garda Síochána has enough evidence to prefer a charge against a person who has been detained under the provisions of that Act "he shall without delay charge that person" unless the continued detention of the person is necessary in connection with an offence other than the one for which the person was arrested.

This has given rise to difficulties, especially in two areas. First, it appears that this can be interpreted too rigidly and members of the Garda Síochána may proceed to prefer a charge before the matter is fully investigated. Second, an issue has been made in court in some cases that evidence should be declared inadmissible because it was acquired while a person was detained after there had been sufficient evidence to prefer a charge. Generally, the courts have concluded that the section, in effect, should be interpreted widely and that a person need not be charged while an investigation continues which could have a bearing on the evidence which might be sufficient to ground the charge.

The approach I propose in this Bill is that the detention should be strictly related to its being necessary for the purpose of the investigation and that the person should be released when the detention is no longer necessary for the investigation of the offence, rather than where there is enough evidence to charge, unless the person is to be brought before a court in connection with the charge or is to be detained in relation to another offence. The amendment in reality does little more than restate the law as interpreted by the courts but should have the advantage of making the position clear to those operating the provisions.

I proposed a similar amendment which was agreed by the committee when the power of detention under section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996 was debated. It would not have been appropriate in that Act to amend the relevant Criminal Justice Act, 1994. I am, therefore, taking the opportunity to do this in a broader way under this legislation. I trust it will be approved by the committee.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1a:

In page 4, paragraph (a), to delete lines 1 to 12 and substitute the following:

"‘(1) Whenever a person is brought in custody to a Garda Síochána station by a member of the Garda Síochána, the sergeant or other member in charge of the station may, if he considers it prudent to do so and no warrant directing the detention of that person is in force, release him on bail and for that purpose take from him a recognisance, with or without sureties, for his due appearance—

(a) before the District Court at the next sitting thereof in the District Court Area in which that person has been arrested or at any subsequent sitting thereof in that District Area during the period of thirty days immediately following such next sitting, or

(b) in the case of the District Court in the Dublin Metropolitan District, before the next sitting of that Court or at any subsequent sitting thereof during the period of thirty days immediately following such next sitting.',".

Amendment agreed to.

On a point of order, I contacted the Bills Office to express my concern that the spokespersons and other Members of the committee only received the Minister's amendments this morning. I am sure we will not have a problem with the sizeable amendments put forward by the Minister, but, in fairness to those who have to debate them, it would be more helpful to committee members to have better notice than one hour. I submitted my amendments last Friday and the Government has had notice of them since then. By contrast, I have not had a similar courtesy extended to me from the Government.

On a point of order, my amendments were submitted last Friday. It is for the Bills Office to decide when to make them available. We should take this up with the Bills Office because I am annoyed that Members have only received them today. Some minor amendments, such as amendment No. 1a may not have been submitted until yesterday evening, but the remainder were submitted last Friday.

On a point of clarification, the staff of the committee has been in contact with the Bills Office to express dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, the Bills Office is under pressure due to a heavy workload at the commencement of this session. Following negotiations it has now been agreed and established that spokespersons will at least get priority in ensuring that the amendments are circulated as quickly, efficiently and speedily as possible. The Bills Office and I regret what has happened. We hope that the new structure which has been set in place will allow at least for the spokespersons to receive the amendments. Perhaps the spokesperson will then be able to dispatch the amendments through the convenors. We will do out utmost to ensure that everybody gets as length a period of notice as possible.

Section 2, as amended, agreed to.