On a point of order, is not the taking of this Bill a departure from the order of the House made on the recommendation of the President? As far as I know, an order cannot be varied without the consent of the House. The President already secured the approval of the House to take item 7 after item 10.
Courts of Justice Bill, 1931—Second Stage.
It was arranged after question time to-day that items up to number 6 should be taken first, followed by items 8, 9 and 10, and after that to number 7. When item number 8 was reached the Minister in charge was not present and the House agreed to take the Estimates. We are now reverting to item 8, to which the House agreed.
I contend that it is not in order to vary an order already made by the House if the Minister responsible was not in the House or could not be found when we came to item number 8. Item number 8 should follow in the order made by the House and that order should be adhered to.
The House may by agreeing vary the Order Paper in any way that it wishes.
Was the House asked to vary it?
Yes; it did so by agreement.
It is quite accurate, as Deputy Davin stated, that I was not in my place when this Bill was called for the first time to-day. That was owing to the fact that the business in front of it took a much shorter time than I anticipated. I happened to be in my room at the time. I was not hard to find, and when I got word I came to the House immediately. As far as this Bill is concerned the House will recollect that a Joint Committee of the Dáil and Seanad was set up some time ago and brought in a report. The terms of the report recommend that the age of certain Circuit Court Judges for retirement should be raised to 75. We considered that question and came to the conclusion that it would not be wise or politic to increase the age of certain judges to as high as 75; that it would be wiser to increase the age merely to 72, which is the same retiring age as that fixed for High Court Judges. Accordingly this Bill purports to raise the retirement age of Judges of the Circuit Court to 72. The raising of the age to 72 leads to a rather curious situation. A judge might now retire at the age of 70, as in fact one Circuit Judge has done within the last few weeks, and become eligible for reappointment under this Bill, or under any other statute which would give effect to the recommendations of the Joint Committee. It would appear rather unfair to a judge retiring under these circumstances that he should not have the same advantages in law as he would have had if his age limit had been reached a very few months after it actually was reached. That is to say, if his age limit had been reached at the period at which the whole general Bill dealing with the recommendations of the Committee—very important and far-reaching recommendations—were being given effect to.
So accordingly we are dealing with this particular matter, the raising of the age of certain judges, as a peculiar item. The other large general question, which really means the reforming of a great deal of our present judicial system, will, of course, be a very large and comprehensive measure, and will take of necessity, in the present state of the programme, some little time to prepare. The age of retirement is dealt with in Section 2 of the Bill. In Section 3 of the Bill the question naturally arises, and must be dealt with, as to how the pension of a judge who retires and is reappointed should be dealt with. We propose to deal with it in this fashion, that the whole period when he was a judge of first appointment or a judge of second appointment should be taken into consideration for his pension, and that any period of interregnum, if I may use that phrase, will not be taken into consideration.
This is really a very small, limited matter as compared with the whole question, which we had hoped the Minister would be able to deal with in the Bill amending the Courts of Justice Act.
You must give me a little time.
I think we did our work, and we worked, you might say, overtime. The work done by that Committee covered a great deal of ground, and we were ready for the Minister several months ago. He has had the report now for several months.
I did not get it until Christmas.
Christmas is some months now, and I think that Bill is very much due, which will deal not merely with the question of a few of the judges, but will deal with the whole matter. I have a suspicion that one of the reasons for the delay is not the Department of Justice, but the Department of Finance, and that we are going to have trouble with the Department of Finance in order to get a proper legal system working in the country. Be that as it may, I want to comment now upon unnecessary delay in this matter and to remind the Minister that the Circuit Court Rules cannot possibly come into force or be passed by this House until we have disposed of a complete Courts of Justice Amending Bill.
As to the question of continuing judges, the attitude of the Committee in the matter was, generally speaking, that judges are very often better by mature experience, and that we have a great many of very distinguished cases where judges who were pretty old made better judges the older they got, and on those grounds we do not see there can be any objection to the passing of this particular Bill, which is really only a small matter, and to the question of pensions. The principle upon which pensions are awarded to judges on, perhaps, a slightly more generous scale than in the ordinary courts is because otherwise they may be open to corruption, and so that, coming towards the term of their office judges would be as unbiassed as they ought to be. In those circumstances we have no objection to this Bill except for what it does not contain.
I wish to endorse what Deputy Little has said. So far as he and I are concerned we are parties to a joint report which has recommended that the existing ages of High Court judges should be raised from 72 to 75, the existing ages of Circuit Court judges be raised from 70 to 75, and the existing age limit of the District Justices from 65 to 67. In voting for this Bill I wish it recognised that I stand, as Deputy Little stands, on the report that after twelve months we have compiled, and which has been approved unanimously by every section of this House and by every section of the Seanad. It is a unanimous report on this particular point. It may not have gone as far as Deputy Little and the Party he represents would like, nor as far as the views I hold, but we have agreed to these views and I am going to stand over the agreement and stand for the findings of the Committee on that as well as on every other point.
Deputy Little has referred to the inconvenience caused by the delay in introducing the Circuit Court Rules, and he has pointed out a fact to which I think there can be no answer: that you cannot have those rules until you have legislation. To bring in a series of rules now, patchwork or otherwise, and another series of rules in a few months would be, as Deputy Ruttledge, Deputy Little and myself pointed out to this House, an utter waste of time and energy, and a very considerable expense, so that I do hope that the Minister for Justice will see his way, at as early a stage as possible, to introduce a Bill founded on the recommendations of the Committee, to amend the existing Courts of Justice Act in points in which it has become absolutely essential for the administration of justice in this country that they should be amended. With regard to the Bill, I am sure I speak for every representative when I say that it meets with their entire and unanimous approval. I appeal to the Minister for Justice to put it through as quickly as possible, because the Circuit Court in Cork is hung up, and must remain hung up until it is passed. It should be put through the remaining stages without further delay and it will meet with everybody's wishes.
If I may express a layman's opinion and not differ at all from the attitude Deputy Little has taken up with regard to this Bill, I should like to enter a protest against accepting generally the principle that as a judge gets older he gets better. There was a feeling of disappointment amongst connoisseurs who had bought brandy of 100 years old because of the fact that it had not improved in quality. It had, in fact, attained to its zenith some years before, and then deteriorated. In view of the fact that this is only a temporary measure to meet a temporary situation, and that the whole thing will be reconsidered when the Court of Justice Act comes before the Dáil, our attitude is the same as that of the lawyers, and we are not prepared to oppose the Bill.
I must say that I am half way as between Deputy Little and Deputy MacEntee. I would hardly go as far as Deputy Little and say that judges improve as they keep growing older, but certainly some judges, as we know in our experience, have been very fine judges indeed and have shown no signs of deterioration up to a great age. On the other hand, you find other judges who have deteriorated much more rapidly, and we have unfortunate examples of judges, long past their time, asleep on the bench when they ought to be hearing cases. If you look at any particular individual you might say: "Oh, he is good to 80," and draw the conclusion that because he is good to 80 everybody is good to 80. That would be a very erroneous conclusion indeed. What we would really have to decide is the age limit at which you could really put the weakest link of the chain, because all litigants are entitled to have competent judges on the bench to hear their cases, and you should not take as examples men who have carried their faculties unimpaired to a great age. You should rather consider the possibility of a man being on the bench whose faculties will go before the age of 75.
On the question of the Rules of Court, I must say that twice there were brave efforts made to introduce Rules of Court into this House for the Circuit Court, and the Rules Committee certainly did their best. They spend a great deal of time in preparing a set of rules. They were turned down. They were given suggestions as to what way they should work. They brought in another set of rules, and that also was turned down. There has been, therefore, no defect at all in anything that has been done by the Rules-making Committee. Any delay that there is cannot be attributed, I think, in common fairness, to them.
Taking the general question, that printed report came to me roughly about Christmas. That is the first time that I saw the report, the first time that I had any knowledge of the contents of the report. This is, as I say, going to be a big measure. It is a measure that must be very carefully drafted. It is a measure that will take time; it is not a measure which can be rushed. The Joint Committee, I think very wisely, did not rush the measure. I think that the drafting of the measure and the full consideration of it should not be rushed. I do not think that there should be any great delay, but to introduce a measure, say, at the end of six weeks, which is roughly the time since I got that report, to expect to have a measure drafted and fit for introduction in that extraordinarily short period, is, I think, a piece of optimism on the part of Deputy Little that I think expressed a little bit more than he really felt.
Might I ask the Minister how long he thinks would be reasonable?
It is impossible to fix a period for these things. It depends a good deal on the congestion in the draftsman's office and on a good many other things—recommendations that there be new judges appointed—that will have to go, of course, before the Department of Finance. There are a whole lot of things of that nature which must be fully considered and which cannot be rushed. I am as anxious as the Deputy is, or as Deputy Wolfe is, that this matter should be brought in within as short a space of time as it can really effectively be brought in.
Deputy Little spoke of corruption. I do not know what he meant by that. If he wishes to impute that there is corruption in the Courts of Justice Act, will he explain himself?
Is Deputy Connolly introducing a new Bill?
I am quite certain that Deputy Little did not say any such thing.
There was a question of corruption. That is not quite fair.
The Deputy is woolgathering.