The Bill which is now before the Dáil for consideration must be regarded as a temporary measure in this sense: that the Judiciary Committee, which held its first meeting to-day, is being asked to pass in review the entire legal system of the country with a view to such reform, and reconstruction, as they may think fit to suggest to the Executive Council. Legislation will be necessary upon the report of that Committee, and members of the Dáil will have abundant opportunity for expressing their views thereon. This Bill, then, is a temporary provision, carrying on in the interval between the present and the time when there will be legislation following upon the report of the Judiciary Committee. It provides for the appointment of District Justices, and it proceeds to define their duties. It gives to the Home Affairs Department power to make the necessary adjustments and re-arrangements of the Petty Sessions Districts.
Section 4 is an important section. It provides for the appointment of people to honorary positions called Parish Commissioners. It is a provision for the convenience of the public and for the convenience of the police force. The powers and limitations of these functionaries are set out in the Section. It provides that the Civic Guard shall act in relation to these District Courts as the late police force acted to the Petty Sessions Courts in the past.
Section 7 increases—doubles in fact— the existing fees, which were fixed 60 years ago, and which have not been since revised.
Section 8 confirms the power of those who have been for some time acting in the capacity of District Justices, and validates all their actions.
I do not know what view Deputies may have formed about the honorary magistracy as it existed in this country before the Truce, and before the events which led to the Truce and rendered the Truce necessary. I do not know whether they think it was a very admirable system, a very democratic system, a system ensuring clean, impartial, and impersonal administration of the law. A good deal would depend upon what view they have formed of that system when they come to consider the Bill that is now before them. This Bill provides for a District Justice functioning over, roughly a county area. Responsible, in the sense that he may be removed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Executive Council, he stands alone without roots in the area, and very independent of all sections and of all classes within that area, and, from the nature of his position, very independent of local prejudice. Responsible to the Executive Council, which is responsible to the Dáil, and which in turn is responsible to the people, he will feel that responsibility; he will feel that he is out amongst the people to administer impartial and impersonal justice. Whether the average J.P. of the past felt that or not may be questioned. I am making no general indictment of that body of men. But they were laymen, local men, many of them dependent on the people for their means of livelihood, either having shops or having professions amongst the people, and I do not know that that is just the best position to place a man in who has the duty of administering the law.
This is a temporary provision. I do not want to prejudice or forecast the report of the Judiciary Committee, but one comes into contact with the very definite opinion that the people require cheaper and quicker law, and that the tendency must be towards increased jurisdiction for the courts which are more readily accessible to the people. If such increased jurisdiction were to be extended to Courts of Summary Jurisdiction, obviously the need for professional men, rather than laymen, administering such increased jurisdiction, would exist. I propose to go in some detail into the powers and limitations of the proposed new honorary functionaries to be known as Parish Commissioners.
"A Parish Commissioner shall have all the powers and authorities which immediately before the passing of this Act were vested in a Justice of the Peace in respect of the several matters following, that is to say:—
(a) signing Petty Sessions summonses;
(b) signing Warrants;
(c) administering oaths and taking declarations and affirmations;
(d) committing dangerous lunatics and idiots to Lunatic Asylums under Section 10 of the Lunacy (Ireland) Act, 1867 (30 & 31 Vict., ch. 118);
(e) signing certificates for the admission of pauper lunatics and idiots to Lunatic Asylums;
Provided always that any summons against any member of the Civic Guard shall be signed by a District Justice.
Whenever any person charged with having committed an indictable offence shall be arrested by a member of the Civic Guard such person shall forthwith be brought before a Parish Commissioner, who after hearing such evidence as may be offered, shall remand such person either in custody or in such bail as the Parish Commissioner shall think fit until the next District Court to be held in the Court District where such person was arrested."
It will be noted there that the discretion of the Parish Commissioner is limited. He must remand, and he must remand on bail or in custody. He has not the power of refusing information; he has not the power of discharge over the head or behind the back, so to speak, of the District Justice, but he can remand the person brought before him on sufficient bail or custody. It will be understood that the District Justices administer a rather large area—it might be held at the moment that the area is rather too large, and steps will be taken to meet that point of view. The person may be arrested in a particular town by the Civic Guard, and arrested on an indictable charge, and the District Justice might have held his Court in that town on the day before, and might not be due back for a fortnight. It is evident there must be provision made to meet a situation of that kind, and to enable the person arrested on an ordinary comparatively trivial charge to be remanded on bail. Section 5 deals with the appointment of Clerks—a very burning question. Generally, I am not conscious that the Bill needs any particular advocacy, and I await the criticism which may be levelled at it, but I feel that it is a simple provision to meet the existing situation pending the time when selected experts will have made their report on the entire legal system of the country. I do not think that there ought to be much criticism on the lines that we have not reverted to the honorary magistracy. It is not a time when it is a reasonable thing, or a fair thing, to expect that men living amongst the people, dependent on the people, should undertake that particular duty. That has not been deemed advisable. I formally move the Second Reading.