Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 5 Jul 1990

Vol. 401 No. 2

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Harmonisation of Criminal Law.

Jim O'Keeffe


1 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice if he will outline the progress which has been made under Article 8 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement on the harmonisation of the criminal law applying in the two jurisdictions.

In accordance with Article 8 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, there have been discussions within the framework of the Anglo-Irish Conference on the question of possible harmonisation of areas of the criminal law applying in this State and in Northern Ireland, which might, with benefit, be harmonised. Harmonisation of the criminal law, of course, raises complex questions requiring detailed consideration and can only be achieved over time.

One area of the criminal law on which I expect to bring proposals before the House shortly is that relating to malicious damage to property. A Bill is at an advanced stage of preparation in my Department which will reform the law in this area and replace the Malicious Damage Act, 1861. One effect of the Bill will be that the law applying in the State and in Northern Ireland will be closely aligned and, in this regard account is being taken of discussions on the matter which have been held within the framework of the Anglo-Irish Conference pursuant to Article 8.

Do I take it from the Minister's reply that the only area discussed pursuant to Article 8 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement is that of malicious damage relating to the Malicious Damage Act, 1861? If I am not correct in that would the Minister outline for me the various areas that have been studied? Furthermore would he tell me what further studies have been conducted — following the review of the workings of the conference in May 1989 — which indicated that such further studies of areas of criminal law applying in the two jurisdictions would take place?

It is not only in relation to the Malicious Damage Act, 1861 there have been discussions. There have been exchanges within the Anglo-Irish Conference on other areas in which the law applying here and in the North might benefit from being harmonised. Consideration of those matters is still very much at an early stage. In the main they focus on areas of criminal law where the statute laws applying in both jurisdictions diverge, such as in relation to theft and other crimes.

Might I suggest to the Minister that that particular article of the Anglo-Irish Agreement be pursued more effectively, that the Minister might devote his time and energy to achieving what is intended under its provisions? Furthermore I might suggest to him that, in making progress in this area, he is limiting his scope for action by his continual refusal to establish a criminal law reform commission in our jurisdiction; that, until that is done, either from the point of view of updating our antiquated criminal laws or implementing the letter and spirit of that article of the agreement no progress of any consequence will be made?

I am aware of the Deputy's views in relation to the establishment of that commission. That is a matter for another day. Harmonisation of criminal law generally raises complex questions which will require detailed consideration and will be achieved only over time. It should also be remembered that here, and equally in Britain, priorities must be established for new legislation which take account of the urgency attaching to particular measures and the resources available to undertake such work. There is no point in undertaking an ambitious programme of law reform directed exclusively to harmonisation of the criminal law applying here and in Northern Ireland if the only benefit to be obtained is harmonisation of the law itself. This is particularly the case if such a programme is to mean, as it must, the postponement of the preparation of other legislation. Having said that I would also stress that the question of harmonisation of criminal laws here and in Northern Ireland, in areas where a real need for such harmonisation is identified, will continue to be examined. In the context of a general law reform programme the Deputy should note that there have been 18 Justice Bills enacted since March 1987 and there are four other Justice Bills currently before the Oireachtas. Therefore it will be seen that in the area of law reform generally, the Department have been very active, as have my predecessor and I, in relation to law reform generally.

In the context of the Anglo-Irish Agreement will the Minister now give this House a commitment that he will make an effort to ensure that the letter and spirit of that article of the Anglo-Irish Agreement is fully implemented?

I do not have to give an assurance in relation to that for the future; that has been the position in the past, is at present and will continue to be so in the future.