The main purpose of the Criminal Justice Act 2011, as I stated in the Dáil when the legislation was being enacted, is to facilitate the more effective investigation of white collar crime and to reduce associated delays. The Act is targeted at specified serious and complex offences attracting a penalty of at least five years imprisonment, including offences in the areas of banking and finance, company law, money laundering, fraud, corruption, competition, consumer protection and cyber-crime. These offences are listed in Schedule 1 to the Act. The Act also provides that further offences can be specified as relevant offences by ministerial order.
Section 19 of the Act provides for the offence of withholding information. The offence will apply to a person who has information which he or she knows or believes might be of material assistance in preventing the commission of a relevant offence or in securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of another person for such an offence. A person who fails without reasonable excuse to disclose such information as soon as practicable to the Garda Síochána will be guilty of an offence. The offence is punishable by an unlimited fine and imprisonment for up to five years or both.
I accept that the offence of theft under section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001 can be very simple and its investigation may not need the usage of the powers in the Criminal Justice Act 2011. I do not envisage that these powers will be required in simple cases prosecuted in the District Court.
Theft can also be complicated, however, and my advice from the Garda Síochána with regard to the offence of theft is that in some cases theft investigations can be very complex. There may be cases where prosecutions may involve multiple allegations of offences, which can include both theft and fraud. In those circumstances, it is appropriate that the powers under the Criminal Justice Act 2011 are available. It is in the public interest that they be available to the Garda so there is no artificial difficulty where the investigation involves multiple offences and where these powers are utilised. It was necessary to take an all-embracing approach to theft and fraud offences in the 2011 Act to ensure that the Act did not create an artificial barrier to an appropriate prosecution being taken on a future occasion.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
In regard to the section 19 offence, investigations and prosecutions under this section will be subject to the exercise of discretion in the usual way by the Garda Síochána as to the appropriateness of such investigation and prosecution. In addition, an important safeguard in regard to section 19 is that a direction by the Director of Public Prosecutions will be required before a prosecution under that section can proceed. This is the same situation as exists in regard to the similar offence of withholding information under section 9 of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 where the power to prosecute under that provision is cautiously used.
I have no proposals to amend the 2011 Act at this time, particularly when the Act is still at such an early stage of its operation. I will, of course, keep its operation under review.