When I appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights on 9 December 2003, I addressed in some detail, with reference to the activities of criminal gangs, the measures I intended to bring forward to enhance the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences. My address in this respect is available on the website of the Houses of the Oireachtas but I will be happy to make a copy available to the Deputy.
I intend to provide for those measures that require legislative provision in the criminal justice Bill, which I expect to publish during the current session. The measures, the heads of which I have already outlined to the joint Oireachtas committee, will include: a statutory power to preserve a crime scene; a general power in relation to the issue of search warrants; increased detention powers of up to 24 hours for arrestable offences; some amendments to the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act 1990, in particular to reclassify saliva as a non-intimate sample; extending the power of the prosecution to appeal in limited circumstances, in particular concerning points of law; and general provisions, mostly of a technical nature, to improve efficiency in the prosecution of offences.
I informed the joint committee that I am considering a number of further proposals for inclusion in the Bill. These include a provision making it an offence to possess an article in circumstances where a reasonable suspicion may be drawn that the possession is for the purpose of committing a serious offence, and a provision on the admissibility of statements made by witnesses who subsequently refuse to testify or retract their original statements.
I also informed the joint committee that while I see serious practical evidential difficulties in creating an offence of membership of a criminal gang, I am examining the issue in conjunction with the European Union's instrument entitled Joint Action on Participation in a Criminal Organisation, adopted in December 1998, and the 2000 UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime, in the context of giving effect to these instruments in Irish law. Each of these instruments contains provisions on contributing to or participating in the activities of a criminal organisation. I am also examining relevant legislative provisions in other jurisdictions aimed at the activities of criminal gangs. I will bring to Government any proposals I may have in this matter with a view to including them in the forthcoming criminal justice Bill.
It will not be a simple task, however, because I note that in Canada the provisions which were held up to me as models which I should follow, are the subject of considerable controversy as to whether they are effective at all. As Deputies have said, simply introducing sections in Bills to deal with the problem is not the real issue. Consequently, I want to make the law effective in order to counter the problem. I am enthusiastic to get on with that process.
The issues surrounding the establishment of a DNA databank are currently under consideration by the Law Reform Commission, following the referral of the matter to the commission by the Attorney General as a matter of urgent public interest. As soon as I receive the Law Reform Commission's report I will act upon it, if I am in agreement with its findings. I may be in a position to include a related matter in the Bill.
I understand that the joint Oireachtas committee is expected to publish its report on the administration of justice in the near future. I look forward to examining that report and will be prepared to take whatever action may be appropriate on foot of it, including bringing forward further proposals for legislative reform, if the report so recommends.