Criminal Law Review

Questions (224)

Michael Creed

Question:

224. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will consider introducing reforms to the area of public prosecutions to facilitate plea bargaining by those considered to have committed a crime; the legal obstacles presently to this approach; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10465/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

Plea bargaining and the factors that might be relevant to its operation in this jurisdiction were reviewed by the Law Reform Commission in its 1996 Report on Sentencing. The Commission decided against making any recommendations on legislation in the area of plea negotiations.

The current practice is set out in the Director of Public Prosecutions' Guidelines for Prosecutors. I refer the Deputy to chapter 10 of those Guidelines. These Guidelines are available on the Director of Public Prosecution's website.

The criminal law already makes a limited allowance where the defendant enters a guilty plea. Section 29 of the Criminal Justice Act 1999, together with some more specific provisions such as section 27(3D)(b) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, provide that an early plea of guilty should, as a general rule, be taken into consideration by the court when determining the appropriate sentence (in cases other than where the sentence is fixed by law). I have no plans for legislation to alter the current arrangements.

Criminal Law Review

Questions (225)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

225. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason persons are still being imprisoned for non-payment of fines; the reason their fines are not being deducted at source by either the Revenue Commissioners or the Department of Social Protection; and the way he intends to end the situation where significant numbers of prison places are taken up by fine-defaulters. [10467/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

There is no legislative provision for the deduction of fines either by the Revenue Commissioners or the Department of Social Protection, nor does the Government have any plans to legislate to allow for such deductions to be made.

Instead, as the Deputy will be aware, the Government recently approved the drafting of the Fines (Amendment) Bill 2012, the Scheme of which is available on my Department's website (www.justice.ie). The Scheme provides, inter alia, for the introduction of attachment of earnings to recover unpaid fines from a person's earnings. The Scheme also recasts a number of the key provisions in the Fines Act 2010, including those relating to the payment of fines by instalments (section 15). Whereas under the 2010 Act, a person had to apply to the court to be permitted to pay a fine by instalments, the Scheme provides that this will become an automatic right. Given this significant change to the nature and scope of the instalment provisions in the Act, it is not my intention to commence section 15 until after it has been amended. I hope that it will be possible to enact the Fines (Amendment) Bill during 2013.

I can also advise the Deputy that the number of persons in custody at any one time for non payment of fines is but a fraction of the overall prisoner population. To illustrate this point, on 25 February 2013, 22 people (0.05%), out of a prison population of 4,261 in custody that day fell into this category.

I am also committed to pursuing alternatives to custody. The Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011 requires judges when considering imposing a sentence of imprisonment of 12 months or less to first consider the appropriateness of community service as an alternative to imprisonment. It is expected that these measures, taken together, will all but eliminate the need to commit persons to prison for non-payment of fines.

Business Regulation

Questions (226)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

226. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the efforts he has undertaken to reduce service costs such as legal costs on business. [3242/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011, which has completed Second Stage and is due to commence Committee Stage during this Session, gives legislative expression to the commitment in the Programme for Government to "establish independent regulation of the legal professions to improve access and competition, make legal costs more transparent and ensure adequate procedures for addressing consumer complaints".Furthermore, as a sectoral objective under the EU/IMF/ECB Troika Memorandum of Understanding, it supports the objectives of structural reform, national competitiveness and early economic recovery, building on the relevant recommendations of the Legal Costs Working Group and the Competition Authority. The Bill is, therefore, a key component of the Government's strategy to reduce legal costs in this country by way of increasing our competitiveness, both sectorally and nationally.

The Legal Services Regulation Bill makes extensive provision, particularly in Part 9, for a new and enhanced legal costs regime that will bring greater transparency to how legal costs are charged along with a better balance between the interests of legal practitioners and those of their clients. The Bill sets out, for the first time in legislation, a series of Legal Costs Principles. These are contained in Schedule One and enumerate the various matters that may be taken into account if disputed costs are submitted for adjudication. These cost transparency measures will apply to barristers as well as to solicitors.

Under the Bill it will no longer be permissible to set fees as a specified percentage or proportion of damages payable to a client from contentious business. It will no longer be permissible to charge Junior Counsel fees as a specified percentage or proportion of Senior Counsel fees. Legal practitioners will be obliged to provide more detailed information about legal costs from the outset of their dealings with clients. This will be in the form of a Notice written in clear language which must be provided when a legal practitioner takes instructions. Among other things, the Notice must, as set out in Section 90 of the Bill, disclose the costs that are involved, or, where this is not practicable, the basis upon which such costs are to be calculated. A cooling-off period is to be allowed for the consideration of costs by the client. When there are any significant developments in a case which give rise to further costs the Bill provides that a client must be duly updated and given the option of whether or not to proceed with the case in question.

The Bill also provides that a new Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicator will deal with disputes about legal costs – at present these are dealt with by the Office of the Taxing-Master. The new Office, headed by a Chief Legal Costs Adjudicator, will modernise the way disputed legal costs are adjudicated with greater transparency. The Office will be empowered to prepare Legal Costs Guidelines. It will establish and maintain a publicly accessible Register of Determinations which will include the outcomes and reasons for its determinations about disputed legal costs. Two new Taxing-Masters have been appointed by public competition under the enhanced qualification criteria of Part 14 of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 to prepare the way for these modernisation measures.

Taking account of developments and the pressures being experienced by legal practitioners in other open common law jurisdictions the Bill seeks to address the danger of Irish law firms and legal practitioners operating at a cost disadvantage. Several types of new alternative business structure models have been, or continue to be, rolled-out in England and Wales, Scotland, Australia, Germany, Netherlands and parts of Canada in direct competition with Irish legal service providers - for example, solicitors, accountants and insurers practising as one business or "multi-disciplinary practice" providing their complementary services in a pooled and more cost-effective setting. In other provisions the Bill lifts existing restrictions on direct professional access to a barrister and on barristers who share premises or costs from advertising themselves as such a group. The Bill also allows that a barrister in employment may provide legal services for his or her employer. The Bill, therefore, contains numerous measures aimed at opening up the provision of legal services to more responsive and more competitive legal service models building on the enormous advances that have been made in supporting business technologies.

Through its extensive legal costs transparency provisions and its provision for modern and more competitive business alternatives, the Legal Services Regulation Bill is providing an opportunity to ameliorate the cost to business and other consumers of legal services while also creating new business opportunities for the legal services sector. I am confident that this concerted approach to reducing legal costs will be of lasting benefit to all consumers of legal services and contribute to our early national economic recovery.

Equality Issues

Questions (227)

Seán Kenny

Question:

227. Deputy Seán Kenny asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views regarding section 37 of the Employment Equality Act and section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act 2000, as to whether they are the cause of inequality of access within the education system here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10664/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 is not relevant to access to education. However, I refer the Deputy to my reply below to Parliamentary Questions No. 54456 of 4 December 2012, No. 2999 of 22 January 2013 and No. 4077 of 5 February 2013. The position is unchanged since then.

"The Government has undertaken in its Programme for Government to ensure that people of non-faith or minority religious backgrounds and publically identified LGBT people should not be deterred from training or taking up employment as teachers in the State.

I have previously expressed concern about the potential impact of section 37 of the Employment Equality Acts on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. This section is designed to allow schools and other institutions to maintain their religious ethos. It was examined by the Supreme Court in 1996 when the Employment Equality Bill of 1996 was referred to it under Article 26 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court found that it is a reasonable balancing in legislation of the different rights involved, including chiefly the right to earn a living and the rights to freedom of religion and association. I am concerned however that, in practice, the balance is not a fair one and that in practice this provision can operate in a way that is unfair to LGBT persons. I consider that an extensive consultative process and formal assessment of the options should be undertaken. It is therefore my intention to ask the new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commissioners to examine the issue as a priority and to report on their views and recommendations to the two Ministers centrally concerned, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn and myself as the Minister for Justice and Equality and to the House. I am committed to bringing forward Government proposals for any necessary anti-discrimination amendment to this provision once this consultation process is completed ."

Concerning Section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act 2000, I refer the Deputy to my reply below to Parliamentary Question No. 53036 of 27 November 2012. My position remains unchanged.

"Equal status legislation aims to strike a necessary and appropriate balance between the right to the free profession and practice of religion, recognised by the Constitution and the principle of equality and has done so by providing a qualified exception, of limited scope, in Section 7(3) of the Equal Status Act 2000. A denominational primary or post-primary school may, under this provision, admit pupils of one religious denomination in preference to others and may refuse to take someone who is not of that denomination if this is essential to protect its religious ethos. Application of this provision is, moreover, subject to review by a court or tribunal, such review being on an objective basis and having regard to the need to reconcile the various constitutional rights involved. I have no plans at present to amend these provisions of the Equal Status Act. "

Visa Applications

Questions (228)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

228. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will provide an update on the application for a partnership visa in respect of a person (details supplied); the average timeframe for a review to take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10668/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am informed by officials in the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that the person concerned submitted an application for a residence card under the provisions of the European Communities (Free Movement of Persons) Regulations 2006 and 2008 (the "Regulations"), as the partner of an EU citizen.

The person concerned was informed by letter dated 12 February, 2013 of the decision to refuse the application for a residence card under EU Treaty Rights. The person concerned was given 15 working days from 12 February, 2013 to seek a review of this decision, and no request for a review has been received to date. I am further informed that the current time frame for consideration of reviews under EU Treaty Rights is approximately six months.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to the INIS by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response from the INIS is, in the Deputy’s view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Visa Applications

Questions (229)

Michael Creed

Question:

229. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he has received an application for resident status here under the immigrant investor programme from a person (details supplied); the current status of this application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10677/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Immigrant Investor Programme operates on the basis of strict confidentiality during the application process and in line with the rules approved by the Government for its operation communication can only be conducted with the applicant or his/her legal or financial representative. The Deputy will therefore appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the status of an application or indeed on whether such an application has been made.

Gambling Legislation

Questions (230)

Niall Collins

Question:

230. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the monetary limits in respect of stake and payout set out in the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 will be amended by way of statutory instrument or other ministerial prerogative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10696/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am considering alterations to the maximum prize funds for lotteries coming within sections 27 and 28 of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. Section 33 of the National Lottery Act 1986 sets out the procedure to be followed in the event of the alterations to those sections, i.e. they are to be made by Statutory Instrument.

Apart from the situation mentioned above, I have no plans to amend any other provision in the 1956 Act relating to stakes or prizes. However, I remind the Deputy of my intention, announced in September 2011, to introduce a comprehensive new Bill on gambling. The General Scheme of the new Bill is at an advanced stage of development in my Department and I expect to bring it to Government soon, for approval to have a Bill drafted. The new Bill will entail the repeal of existing legislation on gambling, including the 1956 Act, and its replacement by the new Bill.

Magdalen Laundries Issues

Questions (231, 232, 233, 235)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

231. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the Magdalen laundry redress mechanism will be placed on a statutory footing. [10700/13]

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Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

232. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the Magdalen laundry redress mechanism will include an independent appeals mechanism. [10701/13]

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Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

233. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if surviving women wishing to avail of legal representation, for example, women who wish to remain anonymous, that this will be allowed within the Magdalen laundry redress mechanism. [10702/13]

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Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

235. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if it his intention to withhold access to redress from surviving women of the Magdalen laundries who have previously received supports from the Residential Institutions Redress Board for abuses suffered whilst in an industrial school. [10704/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 231 to 233, inclusive, and 235 together.

The Government is putting a comprehensive scheme of supports in place to underpin a process of healing and reconciliation for the women who were admitted to and worked in a Magdalen Laundry, and including the laundry operated at Stanhope Street Training Centre.

This scheme, the detail of which is being examined by retired High Court Judge and current President of the Law Reform Commission, Mr Justice Quirke, will be established soon. Judge Quirke has been asked to examine how, taking into account the McAleese Report, the Government might best provide supports (including health services such as medical cards, psychological and counselling services and other welfare needs) for the women who need such supports as a result of their experiences.

Judge Quirke has also been asked to advise on identifying the criteria and factors to be taken into account (such as work undertaken in the Laundries for no remuneration). He will advise on the operation of the Fund and, in particular, the nature and amount of payments to be made out of the Fund. A decision will be made on its detailed operation when he reports back in 3 months time.

Women who have already received payments under the Redress Scheme are not being excluded. There is one small area of possible overlap. Under the Redress Scheme, women who went straight from an industrial school to a Magdalen laundry may have received a redress payment for the period in the Magdalen laundry up to the age of 18. Judge Quirke has been asked to keep this in mind.