Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Questions (547)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

547. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her further plans for legislative reform to help fight white collar crime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20981/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The term 'white collar' crime is not formally defined. It broadly describes a range of non-violent crimes that people in positions of responsibility and trust commit for their own personal gain. It can cover fraud, embezzlement, insider trading on the stock market, bribery, corruption and regulatory offences in specialist fields such as financial activity, occupational health and safety, environmental protection, and food safety. My Department has responsibility for legislation addressing some aspects of white collar crime including fraud and corruption. Other aspects, such as insider trading, Companies Acts offences and environmental offences fall within the responsibility of other Government Departments.

There is extensive legislation on the statute book addressing white collar and corporate crime and amendments to this legislation are also considered in the light of the experience of law enforcement agencies such as the Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in operating the legislation and in light of relevant court rulings. Where there is an identified requirement for additional legislative provisions to further enhance existing provisions in the law, I will not hesitate in bringing forward proposals.

I would draw the Deputy's particular attention to the Criminal Justice Act 2011, as a recent example of such developments in white collar crime legislation, and one which represents an important step in delivering on the Government’s commitment to tackle white collar crime. Its main purpose is to facilitate the more effective investigation of white collar crime and to reduce associated delays. The Act provides for new procedures to facilitate Garda access to essential information and documentation to assist in current and future investigations of white collar crime. The Act is targeted at specified serious and complex offences (“relevant offences”) attracting a penalty of at least 5 years imprisonment, including offences in the areas of banking and finance, company law, money laundering, fraud and corruption. The Act will provide vital assistance to the Gardaí in the completion of current investigations as well as providing assistance to them in investigations undertaken in the future.

Another recent provision of relevance to white collar crime is Part 5 of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013. It makes provision for the selection of up to 15 jurors to serve in a criminal trial which is likely to last more than 2 months, with 12 jurors to be selected to consider the verdict. These provisions, which give effect to a recommendation of the Law Reform Commission’s recent Report on Jury Service, are of relevance to lengthy trials involving fraud or other complex financial matters where there is a risk of jurors becoming unavailable during the course of a protracted trial.

While the breadth and diversity of the issues faced in addressing serious, organised and white collar crime are such that no one piece of legislation could effectively address it in all its facets, the overall body of legislation in place is comprehensive and, as I have outlined, is continuously under review and development in light of operational experience and other relevant considerations.

In terms of forthcoming legislation, the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889 to 2010 will be replaced by the Criminal Justice (Corruption) Bill which will be published in the coming months. The Bill will:

- replace and update the offences of giving and receiving bribes contained in the old legislation

- address the bribery of foreign public officials

- provide for the liability of corporate bodies for the corrupt actions of their directors, employees and agents

- include discrete offences outlawing trading in influence

- take account of the Mahon Tribunal recommendations to criminalise the making of payments knowingly or recklessly to a third party who intends to use them as bribes

The Bill is also intended to enhance the ability of the DPP to bring prosecutions by providing presumptions of corrupt gifts or payments such as:

- where an interested party makes a payment to a public official;

- where a public official has a lifestyle or property out of proportion to their official income and declared interests; and

- where an official accepts a gift in breach of ethical or disciplinary codes.

Penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment and unlimited fines are envisaged for persons convicted on indictment. It is also intended to allow a judge to order a public official convicted of an offence to forfeit their office and exclude them from seeking public office for a period of years. These forfeiture provisions will apply to all elected and senior office holders as well as a wide range of civil and public servants.