Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 25 Mar 1982

Vol. 333 No. 4

Statute Law Revision Bill, 1981: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Bill continues the process of removing from the Statute Book enactments which have become obsolete, irrelevant or unnecessary for one reason or another. The repeal of archaic enactments is no mere academic exercise. Its essential importance lies in easing the labours of all who have occasion to consult the law, whether as legal practitioners, administrators, businessmen or private citizens. It facilitates the compilation of an up-to-date index of the statutes in force and this, I trust, will be one of the chief results of the present Bill. It would also facilitate the production of a new set of revised statutes, a long-term operation which one would hope, nonetheless, to set in train in the reasonable future.

This Bill is the result of much patient research into the whole surviving body of statute law down to 1922. In this sense it is unique in our jurisdiction. An earlier statute, the Statute Law Revision (Pre-Union Irish Statutes) Act, 1962, revised —as its title implies—statutes of Irish Parliaments down to the Act of Union of 1800. The Bill now before the House undertakes a further review of such statutes, but this is only a small part of its scope. In the main, it is concerned with the repeal of unnecessary English and British statutes.

Before going further, perhaps I should explain the use of the terms "English" and "British" as applied to the statute law. The term "English Statute" refers to the statutes of the Parliament of England passed in the period 1226 to 1707. The term "British Statute" has commonly been used to describe statutes passed since the Union of England with Scotland in 1707, and that description is followed in the heading to Part III of the present Bill. Our Interpretation Act, 1937, gives the term the narrower meaning of "an Act of the Parliament of the late United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland," and, of course, all the statutes in Part IV of the Schedule fall within this category.

The italicised notes in the second column of the Schedule, which do not form part of the Bill, explain the reasons for the repeal of the enactments concerned. Terms used in these notes to indicate why a given enactment is being repealed are explained in the explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill. In the great majority of cases the reasons for the repeal will be self-evident even on a cursory view of the statute. Where further explanation seemed desireable it is added. May I, at this point, assure any Deputy who is interested in any particular matter in the Bill that I will be happy to arrange that an official from my office or from the Statute Law Reform and Consolidation Office will be available to give him a full explanation or supply him with such information as he may require?

Section 1 of the Bill gives life to the Schedule by providing for the repeal of the listed enactments, to the extent set out in the third column of the Schedule. It will be noted that, in Parts I and II, the enactments for repeal are termed "statutes" whereas in Parts III and IV they are referred to as "Acts". The reason is historical. The term "statute", which is nowadays used as equivalent to "Act", was at one time taken as meaning all the enactments of one Session of Parliament, each enactment being referred to as a Chapter of the Statute, because the royal assent was given to them collectively. However, "Act" has long since been used to refer to each enactment separately and, when old statutes have been given short titles by modern enactments, the title always used the word "Act".

As a further historical aside, may I recall one instance in our recent statute law in which the word "Statute"—and not "Act"—has been used in a Short Title, namely, the Statute of Limitations, 1957. The practical, if possibly pedantic, explanation is that the expression "statutes of limitation" has always been in common, as well as legal, currency.

Section 2 sets out limitations on the effect of the repeals. The section is a form common to statute law revision Acts and may possibly be thought to be excessively cautious, in view of the explicit terms of section 21 of the Interpretation Act, 1937, subsection (1) of which states:

(1) Where an Act of the Oireachtas repeals the whole or a portion of a previous statute, then unless the contrary intention appears, such repeal shall not——

(a) revive anything not in force or not existing immediately before such repeal takes effect, or

(b) affect the previous operation of the statute or portion of a statute so repealed or anything duly done or suffered thereunder, or

(c) affect any right, privilege, obligation, or liability acquired, accrued, or incurred under the stattute or portion of a statute so repealed, or

(d) affect any penalty, forfeiture, or punishment incurred in respect of any offence against or contravention of the statute or portion of a statute so repealed which was committed before such repeal, or

(e) prejudice or affect any legal proceedings, civil or criminal, pending at the time of such repeal in respect of any such right, privilege, obligation, liability, offence, or contravention as aforesaid.

Nonetheless, the section is a useful reminder of some important safeguards, notably that existing rules of law and equity and established practices and procedures, which may have derived from, or been confirmed by, any repealed enactment are not affected by the repeal.

Part I of the Schedule is the result of a further revision of the pre-Union Irish Statutes which, as I have said, were the subject of the Statute Law Revision Act of 1962. This was made necessary by the proposed repeal of pre-Union English statutes which were ordered to be observed in Ireland by royal writ or ordinance, that is, orders of the King in Council, or afterwards applied to Ireland by a statute of an Irish Parliament, such as Poynings' Act, 1495. Where, therefore, an English statute is listed for repeal in Part II of the Schedule, its "Irish" counterpart is listed in Part I.

The supposedly exhaustive Irish Statutes at Large (1310 to 1800) published by authority in 20 volumes omits all pre-1310 writs and ordinances and a considerable amount of post-1310 legislation as well. Recourse has therefore been had to the Irish Record Office Series of Early Irish Statutes published in four volumes, the first three edited by Henry Berry and the fourth by James Morrissey in 1939. A footnote at the bottom of the first page of the Schedule gives the references.

Part III of the Schedule deals with statutes extended to Ireland by Irish statutes after the comprehensive Poynings' Act, 1495. Those still enforceable are the Maintenance and Champerty Act, 1634, which relates to the illegal involvement in other persons' litigation for the sake of monetary gain and similar abuses, and Yelverton's Act, 1781, which applied a number of English statutes of which only those relating to the calendar now remain.

The only statute in this group which calls for mention is the Act of Union. This Act was passed by both the Irish and the British Parliaments, although I am informed that only the British version was signed by the Crown. Be that as it may, the Irish version was repealed by the Statute Law Revision Act of 1962. The present Bill finally strikes the British version from the statute roll of this state. I trust that nobody—here or in any other place—will misunderstand our purpose: it is merely to expunge dead wood from the Statute Book.

Part IV of the Bill deals with British statutes since the Union which applied to Ireland. A word of explanation may be helpful in regard to one class of those statutes: namely, those concerned with the former United Kingdom Parliament. The Electoral Act, 1963, repealed most of the statutes relating to that parliament, although on a strict view it should be said that few of them applied to the Oireachtas of 1922 or the present Oireachtas established by the Constitution of 1937. They could not apply except by express adaptation, since the Oireachtas was in each case, a new institution. However, by way of abundance of caution most of them were repealed, and for consistency others—relating in the main to eligibility of holders of certain offices for membership of the House of Commons—are now proposed for repeal. They were all recommended for repeal by the Final Report of the Joint Committee on the Electoral Law, 12 July 1961.

Deputies will, I feel sure, agree that this Bill, being a purely technical measure, is entirely non-controversial, though, as I hope I have indicated, a highly desirable piece of proposed legislation. It is as such that I commend it to the House and ask that it be given a Second Reading.

I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on his appointment to the Department of Justice and wish him every success in this onerous job which I have had experience of. I promise him my consideration and my understanding while he is in charge of that very difficult office. As the Minister stated, this is a non-controversial Bill but, nonetheless, it is highly desirable. It raises questions as to future statute law revision and whether there should be a time limit, say 30 or 40 years, on Acts unless they are expressly renewed. That suggestion might be worthy of consideration. It would be remiss of me not to express loud words of praise of the officials of the Department who have worked so well over a long period to bring this important Bill before the Dáil. They deserve great credit for their hard work. Indeed, the work required some scholarship as well as legal knowledge. As this was a Bill I had intended promoting I do not think it would be reasonable of me to delay its passage through the House.

I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Minister on his appointment and wish him the best of luck in carrying out the onerous tasks that lie ahead of him. I welcome the introduction of the Bill which highlights the difficulties under which the legal practitioners here operate compared to their counterparts in the United Kingdom and other countries. In those countries legal practitioners have available to them comprehensive and up-to-date textbooks which are issued regularly and are a key factor in the efficient and speedy disposition of the practice of the law. Arising from the fact that we have a small population, relatively speaking, we have always had a difficulty in this regard because it was a costly operation to produce up-to-date legal textbooks that would put on hand readily to practitioners, business people and members of the public a comprehensive and up-to-date statement of the law in a particular field.

This measure will not in any way help to make up the lack that has been felt by practitioners here for quite a long time. Although welcome in its effect, nonetheless it is negative in its operation in the sense that it is directed towards cutting out dead wood in the system rather than introducing a codification that would be necessary if we were to reach a situation where summaries of the Irish law would be available to practitioners and members of the public. We inherited the basis of Irish law in 1922 from the old English legislation and to a very large extent that forms the basis on which we operate here as amended by legal decision and Acts of the Oireachtas. The number of textbooks forthcoming has been few and they are far between. I would urge the Minister to take an interest in this matter in the time ahead and to ensure that funds are made available as far as possible to enable textbooks to be produced giving the up to date position of Irish law, a statement of Irish law.

The key encyclopaedic work that is relied on in England is of course Halsbury's Encyclopaedia of English Law and practitioners here have perforce to have recourse to that. It is not very satisfactory because English law has taken off in one direction since 1922 and in many respects our own law has taken off in a different direction although in many ways the two have operated in parallel. I do not know if it would be possible to establish a commission that would lead to the publication of a comprehensive encyclopaedia of Irish law at present. I realise it would be a costly operation but it would be a once-off operation and if the funds could be found to do that it would be well worth while. Meantime, as an interim measure I would say that facilities at least should be given for the preparation of coda of law in each particular field so as to provide a simple and up-to-date statement of the position in the various branches of the law.

I should like to thank Deputy Mitchell and Deputy Taylor for their kind words of welcome and for the recognition by Deputy Mitchell that it is a difficult Department. I shall certainly endeavour to do what is best in the national interest and what is required in particular areas of responsibility in that Department. This is legislation which was prepared for the House in Deputy Mitchell's term of office. There is no conflict about the matter; it is a very technical piece of legislation. Individual Deputies may be interested in examining particular features of the Bill and the particular statutes that have been repealed. If they wish to do that officials of my Department and from the law office will be made available to them.

I note what Deputy Taylor has said and I shall certainly take his comments into consideration in any examination I make of the position. I may add that this Bill is intended to go some distance along the line of thought the Deputy is pursuing. He was not present for the beginning of my Second Stage speech when I mentioned that this Bill first of all repeals archaic enactments and will facilitate the compilation of an up to date index of statutes in force. Apart from the fact that statutes may be archaic it will remove many obsolete and irrelevant statutes from our law books. That must be in the interests of the student of law and the practitioner and the general public. In that respect—and I am sure Deputy Mitchell by his acquiesence today agrees with me—it is a very positive start at this time. We had a 1962 Act which did much the same thing and 170 enactments were repealed at that time. I was interested in the Deputy's remarks and will certainly bear them in mind in any further consideration being given along the lines the Deputy suggested particularly where the codification of law is concerned.

Could the Minister give any indication of when the index of statutes in force might see the light of day?

At the moment I am not in a position to give that indication.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 30 March 1982.