Judicial Council Bill 2017 [Seanad]: Second Stage

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

I am pleased to be here to debate the Judicial Council Bill 2017, important and long-awaited legislation and, as the House will know, its early enactment is a priority for the Government.

The primary purpose of the Bill, as published, is to provide for the setting up of a judicial council. Such councils are generally seen as having an important role to play in safeguarding the independence of the Judiciary. They also provide a vehicle for addressing matters such as further education and training as well as matters pertaining to discipline. In keeping with this approach, the Bill affirms the independence of the proposed judicial council and provides that one of its key functions will be to promote and maintain excellence in the exercise by judges of their judicial functions. Furthermore, the Bill will establish a complaints regime, which will address instances of misconduct by judges, which do not warrant the invocation of Article 35.4.1 of the Constitution. As Members will know, that article relates to the removal of a judge from office for stated misbehaviour or incapacity.

Before dealing with the content of the Bill, I would like to comment on some amendments, which were made to it during its progress through Seanad Éireann, the first of which concerns personal injuries guidelines. Originally, it was not envisaged that the judicial council would have a role in setting personal injury guidelines. However, when the second and final report of the Personal Injuries Commission was published in July last year, it recommended that the judicial council should have a role in compiling guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury. The Government recognised the clear opportunity presented by their recommendation to give the council a key role in this important task. Accordingly, the Government has proposed a package of amendments to the Bill to provide for the setting up of a personal injuries guidelines committee within the framework of the judicial council. One function of this committee will be to develop personal injuries guidelines for adoption by the judicial council. Another function involves the review of adopted guidelines at least once every three years and, if necessary, the preparation of amendments to the guidelines.

In drawing up the guidelines, the committee will be empowered to consult widely with external stakeholders, including the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, and to obtain information about court decisions in this jurisdiction and in other comparable jurisdictions. A number of factors will be taken into account in drawing up the guidelines, including the level of damages awarded in personal injuries actions by the courts in this State and by courts in other jurisdictions. Guiding principles drawn from those set down in recent Court of Appeal decisions, which affirm that modest injuries should attract moderate damages, will also be relevant, as will the need to promote consistency in the level of personal injuries damages awarded.

In carrying out its task, the personal injuries guidelines committee will have access to relevant domestic and international expertise. To complete the circle, so to speak, provision is also made for the courts to have regard to any guidelines, which might be in being when a personal injuries action comes before them. Where a court departs from those guidelines, the reasons for that departure must be stated in the decision.

The membership of the committee consists solely of seven judges. This membership configuration is both for reasons of efficiency and to avoid any impression that the committee is being captured by vested interests. The membership arrangement respects the independence of the Judiciary and facilitates the undertaking of the work of the committee in a dispassionate and objective way.

Provision has also been made for the training function of the judicial studies committee to include a specific reference to training in assessing damages in personal injuries cases. I will return to the issue of training more generally in a few moments, but for now I would like to move to another core area of this Bill, that of sentencing guidelines.

Deputies will recall that there had been a strong public desire that there should be genuine and demonstrable consistency in regard to the imposition of sentences in criminal cases. While it has to be acknowledged that guidelines developed by the Judiciary are increasingly being used as a technique for structuring sentencing discretion, it was felt that confidence in the criminal justice system would be enhanced by the production of formal guidelines. In that context, amendments were proposed, which provide for the establishment of a sentencing guidelines and information committee rather than the sentencing information committee originally proposed in the Bill. I acknowledge the role of Deputies in this respect, particularly Deputy Ó Laoghaire.

The sentencing guidelines and information committee will consist of eight judges and five lay members. The Government following a recommendation from the Public Appointments Service on foot of a selection process will appoint the latter. The committee will draft sentencing guidelines and submit those guidelines for review by the board of the judicial council, prior to their adoption by the council itself. The sentencing committee may, for the purpose of performing its functions, have access to court documents relating to criminal proceedings. The committee may also draw upon external expertise in preparing draft sentencing guidelines. The most critical element of this sentencing package specifies that a court shall, in imposing a sentence, have regard to sentencing guidelines relevant to the proceedings before it, unless the court is satisfied that to do so would be contrary to the interests of justice. As is the case with the personal injuries guidelines, the reasons for departing from the sentencing guidelines are to be stated by a court in its decision.

I want to touch briefly on one other area, which concerns the hearing of a complaint in public. The Bill, as published, provided that a hearing of a complaint before a panel of inquiry should be conducted otherwise than in public unless the judicial conduct committee directed that, in order to safeguard the administration of justice, it should be conducted in public. A similar arrangement applied in respect of a hearing conducted by the judicial conduct committee in regard to a complaint that had been the subject of an investigation by a panel of inquiry and in respect of which a report had been submitted to the judicial conduct committee.

Such arrangements did not sit well with contemporary understandings of accountability and transparency. The Bill now specifies that the default arrangement is that a hearing will be held in public, unless the judicial conduct committee directs that, in order to safeguard the administration of justice, such a hearing should be conducted in private.

Part 1 deals with matters of a general nature such as definitions and repeals. A significant definition is that of judicial misconduct. In broad terms, this means conduct which constitutes a departure from acknowledged standards of judicial conduct and which brings the administration of justice into disrepute. Standards, in this context, should have regard to certain principles which are essentially those commonly referred to as the Bangalore principles of judicial conduct.

Part 2 concerns the judicial council itself and provides for its establishment. In addition to the function of promoting and maintaining excellence in the exercise by judges of their judicial functions, the council will also be tasked with promoting and maintaining high standards of conduct among judges, the efficient and effective use of judicial resources, continuing education of judges, respect for the independence of the Judiciary, as well as public confidence in the Judiciary and the administration of justice. The council also has functions relating to sentencing guidelines and personal injuries guidelines which I have already discussed in some detail. The council will consist of all members of the Judiciary. It is anticipated it will generally meet on an annual basis with the Chief Justice acting as its chairperson.

Part 3 deals with the board of the council and its committees. However, it does not deal with the judicial conduct committee covered by Part 5. The board will be responsible for the performance of the council’s functions on a day-to-day basis. It will be chaired by the Chief Justice. It will include among its members the presidents of each of the courts, five judges elected from each of the courts and one judge who will be co-opted from each of the courts on a rota basis. The board will hold a minimum of four meetings per year and may also establish committees to assist it in its work from time to time.

The judicial studies committee will have a role in facilitating the continuing education and training of judges, which will be broader than the role currently undertaken by the current committee of the same name on these matters. The existing committee does not, of course, have a statutory basis. It will be possible for the council to appoint persons who are not judges to be members of the judicial studies committee.

Judicial support committees will be available to each of the courts to advise and assist the council in the performance of its functions, insofar as matters relevant to the court to which the committee relates are concerned.

Part 4 deals with staffing and funding issues.

Part 5 is a core element, creating the formal structures which will provide an open and coherent mechanism to allow for the investigation of complaints of judicial misconduct which falls outside the framework of Article 35 of the Constitution.

At the heart of Part 5 is the provision relating to the establishment of the judicial conduct committee, the function of which is to promote and maintain high standards of conduct. The Chief Justice will chair the committee. In addition to the presidents of all of the courts, there will also be three elected judges on the committee, along with five lay members who will be appointed by the Government after an appropriate Public Appointments Service selection process has been completed.

In keeping with the need for transparency in the investigation of complaints, the committee is required to publish the procedures, which are to be followed in the making, the investigation and the determination of a complaint. The committee may refer complaints for resolution by informal means or for investigation by a panel of inquiry. Where a panel of inquiry finds that an allegation in a complaint has been proved, the recommendations for the reprimand of the judge concerned may include the issuing of advice, a recommendation as to the pursuit of a specified course of action such as attendance at a training course and the issuing of an admonishment. The judicial conduct committee may accept, with or without modification, a recommendation made by a panel of inquiry. It may also reject such a recommendation.

A final provision relates to the annual report of the judicial conduct committee. The Bill sets out an extensive range of statistical data which must be included in that report. This will provide a useful perspective on the committee's work and will also provide a means of evaluating the effectiveness of the proposed complaints regime. In keeping with the transparency provisions to which I referred earlier, the annual report will contain the name of any judge who fails or refuses to co-operate with a panel of inquiry.

I thank Members for their attention and I look forward to hearing their observations on this Bill. I am grateful to Opposition spokespersons and the Business Committee for facilitating the taking of this Bill this morning.

The Judicial Council Bill has been about 20 years coming. The origins of this Bill can be traced back to a report prepared by a working group on a courts commission established in 1999. It was asked to report to the then Chief Justice, Liam Hamilton, on the question of judicial conduct and ethics. One of its recommendations was the establishment of a judicial council to promote efficiency and excellence in the Judiciary, as well as dealing with judicial misconduct and how complaints could be made and dealt with against members of the Judiciary. Subsequently, the Chief Justice established a committee which led to a report prepared by the next Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Ronan Keane. His committee produced a report, known as the Keane report, which concluded that the existing structures for dealing with concerns as to judicial misconduct were inadequate. It set forward reasonable details of proposals for legislation.

In 2001, the then Government brought forward a proposal which also sought to amend the Constitution to deal with the issue. That did not get support in the Dáil. As a result, the proposal was dropped. Subsequently, draft legislation was prepared and a scheme of a Bill was published to give effect to the 2000 report by the then Fianna Fáil Government in August 2010.

There has been considerable delay in respect of getting this legislation into the Houses of the Oireachtas and debated here. Not all of the blame rests on the political system. The Judiciary was slow in responding to it as well.

While I welcome the fact we are now debating the Judicial Council Bill, it is unfortunate all Stages will be dealt with in one Dáil sitting. I will not object to it as there is an urgency to get this done and, in general, I am happy with the proposals contained in the legislation. However, the Dáil should have been given more time to deal with this Bill, considering it has been 20 years in the making, yet Members who make the law of the country only get one day to deal with it.

As the Minister said, it is extensive legislation which sets out the establishment of a judicial council, as well as establishing several committees to deal with important aspects of judicial behaviour and performance of judicial functions. Its origins are in respect of assessing how we deal with judicial misconduct. The only provision available to the State to deal with judicial misconduct is contained in the Constitution which allows for the Oireachtas to impeach a judge for a stated misbehaviour. Fortunately, that has never been done. However, it is clearly the case that there are occasions when judges engage in misconduct. Currently, the only possible remedy to deal with that, which is not set out on any statutory basis, is that a complaint can be made informally to the president of the court who then is without any power or real jurisdiction over the member of the Judiciary and cannot impose a sanction upon that judge for judicial misconduct.

We have been lucky with the judges we have had. There are few examples of judicial misconduct. All judges abide by the oath they take in advance of taking up office. Nonetheless, that does not mean that we should not have a procedure in place and there have been examples of judicial misconduct in the past.

The procedures set down in the legislation are beneficial in how we deal with judicial misconduct. I had the opportunity and benefit of meeting advisers from the Minister's office in respect of these proposals. It is a complicated mechanism which involves complaints being made, panels of inquiry being established and determinations being made by the judicial conduct committee. The ultimate sanction which can be imposed under this legislation is that the Minister can be required to bring a motion before the Dáil seeking the impeachment of a judge. The legislation in respect of judicial conduct is well set out and coherent.

There is also the section which deals with judicial studies and supports. We have three arms of government, the Judiciary, the Executive and the Legislature. There is no doubt that the Cinderella sister is the Judiciary. The resources devoted to it are considerably less than those devoted to the Executive and the Legislature.

It is an extremely important arm of our Government and deserves to have more resources invested in it. Judges must produce very detailed written judgments. We operate in a common law system and our law develops, to a large extent, through written judicial decisions.

I welcome that the legislation establishes a judicial studies committee. We also need a judicial support committee, as indicated, and we must recognise that greater resources must be provided to support judges. Elected Deputies can hire two people to support them. I do not know how many people Ministers get but they have a whole Department behind them. Judges are lucky if they get one person to support them and they have little support when it comes to drafting judgments, which takes a considerable amount of time.

Being realistic and straight, the reason we are rushing this legislation through is that it includes guidelines for awards in personal injury cases. This recommendation was made by Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns when he chaired the Personal Injuries Commission, the first recommendation of which was that a Judicial Council should be established to compile guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury. That is set out in the legislation and we will come to deal with it on Committee Stage because I have tabled a number of amendments on the matter.

The objective and hope is that when we get this judicial guideline committee and guidelines from the judges, the effect will be to lower awards in certain types of personal injuries actions. We need to recognise, however, that there is a difference between what the Houses of the Oireachtas do and what the courts do. The Houses, by definition, deal with issues generally so we are correct in trying to deal with the general issue of personal injuries awards for low level injuries. We have tried to deal with that through a raft of legislation. We deal with it in the generality and do not take into account the specifics of each individual's injury. On the other hand, when a court is dealing with an issue, it cannot deal in generalities but must deal with the specifics of an individual's injury. We must be aware that injuries which people sustain can be specific to them. I agree that the awards handed out by Irish courts for low level injuries such as whiplash are too high and need to be reduced. One never hears, however, that awards for serious injuries, for example, paraplegia, are lower in Ireland than the awards in the UK.

I hope this process will be effective in setting out guidelines for personal injuries awards and, if it comes in and is effective, I hope we, in this House, will see the objective behind all of this, namely, a reduction in premiums from insurance companies, realised. It is also important to note that awards are being reduced at present by the Court of Appeal. I expect that when the personal injuries guidelines are established, they will, to a large extent, reflect the reductions that have been happening as a result of the decisions of the Court of Appeal.

There is, finally, the issue of sentencing guidelines which was pushed by Deputy Ó Laoghaire and Sinn Féin. We must be careful with sentencing guidelines. We try to be general with sentencing when drafting laws. We must recognise that a judge imposing sentence must consider that every criminal operates differently and every crime is separate. A judge, in imposing a sentence, must take a variety of factors into account such as whether the offender was a repeat offender, the impact on the victim and any mitigating factors, for example, whether it is a first offence. This is not a simple issue where we can simply say that a person convicted of a particular crime gets five years while someone convicted of another crime gets two years. Those are my preliminary points.

This is significant, landmark legislation for a number of reasons. One of my main priorities in this area has been the introduction, for the first time, of a legislative basis for sentencing guidelines. I will return to that but this is a significant moment for sentencing policy. It is also significant in respect of its provisions dealing with the awarding of general damages in personal injury cases. I concur with many of the reflections of Deputy O'Callaghan. The Bill does not deal with the whole picture, or anything like it, but I hope it will have a real impact. The legislation is of value and Sinn Féin will support it.

As Deputy O'Callaghan and the Minister have reflected, this Bill has been long anticipated, not only by Members of the House but also by many judges of various courts who have outlined, at various stages, the need for legislation in this area. There was a lack of accountability, support, assistance and structures to ensure quality educational and training support as well as disciplinary procedures. Those were very clearly lacking and identified as a significant absence by international bodies. We are finally, 20 years after it was first anticipated, moving towards a judicial council model. That is important.

It is important that the judicial council will have real structures of accountability, creating the potential for findings of misconduct to be made against judges and providing consequences therefor, up to, in the most serious instances, the Minister bringing a motion to the Houses of the Oireachtas for the removal of a judge. The vast majority of judges are of the very highest quality and one hopes that such circumstances will never arise. That said, it is important that this procedure is available to the judicial council because that power exists in the Constitution.

The Bill includes provides for training and education for members of the Judiciary. This is an issue because certain judges have shown a lack of understanding or poor understanding of particular areas or displayed attitudes that have dated poorly. It is right and proper that provision is made for education and training as a form of reprimand as well, right up to the most serious consequence I just outlined.

Deputy O'Callaghan noted that Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns recommended the establishment of a judicial council to deal with personal injury awards. A number of issues arise in that regard. The establishment of the council is welcome as awards for damages are clearly too high in some cases. The intervention of the European competition authorities underlined the fact that while premiums are high, the profits of insurance companies are also high.

That is a good point.

Expensive premiums cannot all be attributed to what is happening in the District or Circuit Courts. The insurance firms' profits topped €227 million last year. Industry profits have surged by 1,300% with 17 general insurance providers making combined operating profits of €227 million. Profits have jumped from €16 million in 2016 with cover for drivers proving particularly profitable. The 17 firms in question mopped up €125 million from private and commercial motorists as premiums jumped by 70% in the four years to 2016.

While this legislation is a part of the solution, we need to go further. Some of the measures needed are probably beyond the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality, although some if them fall within its remit. In many respects, insurance companies have been operating in a manner that is akin to a cartel and those anti-competitive practices need to be tackled. People must be forced to account for the reasons that premiums have increased. A great deal more reform is needed in that area but this legislation is of value nonetheless.

The area of sentencing guidelines has been a significant priority for Sinn Féin for a number of reasons. I accept the points Deputy O'Callaghan made and I do not disagree with him. I hope, when he examines the amendments, that he will accept that they strike a careful balance. Nobody would envy the Judiciary the job of devising sentences because that process requires much consideration. That applies both to minor and serious crimes. It is important, however, that there is high public confidence in and understanding of the approach taken to sentencing. We have often seen inconsistent, inappropriate and, in some cases, inadequate sentences. That undermines public confidence in sentencing overall.

The sentencing guidelines and information committee will have to undertake research because research in this area has been inadequate. Existing research shows that there are significant inconsistencies. RTÉ's "Prime Time Investigates" programme did its own research but other academic research has shown that sentence lengths range from between 14 days and five months in assault cases, from between 30 days and nine months for cases of theft, and from between two and 12 months for road traffic and burglary cases. The application of the Road Traffic Act has been frequently shown as demonstrating wild variations from District Court to District Court as well.

Serious concern has been expressed at the sentences handed down in the District Courts for crimes involving rape and sexual offences. That indicates a failure to understand the gravity of the violence against the victim. This issue has been identified by judges themselves. Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh, a judge of the High Court, stated that the lack of sentencing guidelines in rape cases was "somewhat bizarre". She stated:

One judge’s substantial could be four years and another’s could be 14 years. It is somewhat bizarre that an area that is so sensitive has so little in the way of guidance for a trial judge.

This is in the interests of ensuring members of the public and victims of crime have confidence in sentencing. It is also in the interests of lawyers and judges. I believe this will be a very successful regime. In the context of the model in Britain, guidelines have been drawn up for about 250 individual categories of offences. These have ensured a high degree of consistency and compliance. To give an example, in cases of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, 96% of sentences fell within the range. Cases involving grievous bodily harm saw 92% of sentences fall within the range while it was 99% in cases of common assault.

The legislation in Britain makes provision for judges to depart from the guidelines, as does this legislation. That is right and proper. In addition, the sentencing guidelines will be drafted by judges in co-operation with expert non-judicial persons. I believe the guidelines will be of a high quality but it impossible to account for every set of circumstances. No set of guidelines can do that. It is right and proper, therefore, that the judge should be in position to depart from those guidelines. It is also right and proper, however, that judges should state reasons when they depart from the guidelines.

This is a significant change, which will certainly enhance public confidence in the judicial system and sentencing policy of this jurisdiction. I thank the Minster for engaging with this issue. I also thank his officials, including Regina Terry and others, who have engaged very constructively. The amendments made to the Bill closely reflect what we had sought. This is an important Bill, which contains three or four crucial elements and we will support it. I agree with Deputy O'Callaghan that taking all Stages at once is not the ideal way of passing legislation. I will not object, however, because this is important legislation. I could say the same of legislation coming before the House next week. I appreciate that we are approaching the recess but it is not ideal. This is, nevertheless, important legislation in respect of insurance and providing for proper monitoring, accountability and support of the Judiciary. It is crucially important in respect of having sentencing guidelines that will ensure members of the public and victims of crime have confidence in our sentencing policy.

The Labour Party supports the Bill on which my colleague, Senator Bacik, has already spoken. I see no reason to rehearse her comments in welcoming the Bill. In the interests of brevity and to ensure we can pass the Bill in the short time available to us, I merely wish to seek further clarity on section 18(7)(b) which states that the personal injuries guidelines committee may "consult with such persons as the Committee considers appropriate, including the Personal Injuries Assessment Board". Is there scope to consult as wide a range of stakeholders as possible, including those advocating for insurance reform?

In a similar vein to Deputy Ó Laoghaire, I seek to interrogate further the relationship that exists between the insurance company and the person purchasing a product, such as car or house insurance. A thorough solution has not been provided regarding the increase in premiums. We have not had complete transparency on the profits derived by insurance companies on this island. Those companies justify increases in premiums by stating that there has been an increase in claims and the settlement of claims. That needs to be further interrogated as well because it has a knock-on effect on the damages awarded. I would be grateful if the Minister responded to that in broad terms. My party welcomes the Bill.

I also welcome this Bill, which has been an astonishingly long time in gestation. We could go back to the report of the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Ethics which advised in December 2000 that a judicial council be established. We are going back two decades now. A problem with judges and the Courts Service is that movement is at a glacial pace. It is striking that the Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Clarke, has asked for more resources at all levels of the Courts Service, including support for training judges. I have asked many questions over the years on road safety, specifically the lack of efficiency in producing records needed by An Garda Síochána and the Road Safety Authority.

It is amazing that this legislation has taken so long. The former Deputy and Minister, Mr. Dermot Ahern, published the first heads of a Bill in 2010, a decade ago and an interim Judicial Council has been in place since 2012. The aims set out by the judges were excellence in exercising judicial functions, the efficient use of resources and continuing education. That is an important point because it is astonishing that it took us until today to establish a system of lifelong education for judges. We could argue that Deputies and Ministers need the same type of continuous in-service training but it is especially important for judges as society changes. The draft Bill of 2010 included the first provisions on conduct and ethics.

There has been no avenue of complaint for members of the public who might have been upset at lenient sentences or the general conduct of a few judges. Having said that, having a strong, independent and well-resourced Judiciary is a hallmark of democracy. I note that the measuring tape, as it were, for the judicial systems of all countries is the Bangalore principles of judicial conduct, which I have referred to previously. These were endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 2003. The six core values that we expect in our Judiciary are independence, integrity, propriety, equality, competence and diligence and impartiality. These are the values that we need to see throughout the judicial system.

As always our excellent Library and Research Service presented us with a very good background paper. I know the Bill has been amended since then. However, it is interesting to look at the Judges' Council of England and Wales. The 39-member Canadian council oversees about 1,100 judges and not all the members are judges, as proposed in the Bill before us. There is a council in New South Wales. Of course in the United States judges are elected. Some people might say that for us to become a true democracy we should have the election of some judges, which is characteristic of parts of the American system. The United States has had the judicial ethics model since 1924. Many would believe all the people should have a decision on such a senior role in the State. I have often felt the same about the Governor of the Central Bank, for example. In the past few days, four of the highest positions in the European Union were decided by backroom deals, as Matt Carthy, MEP, said yesterday. Perhaps there is scope for a more democratic system.

The Bill proposes to repeal sections 10(4) and 36(2) of the Courts (Supplement Provisions) Act 1961, which allowed the Chief Justice to investigate the administration of justice at the District Court level. The Court and Court Officers Act provides for funds for training of judges but did not lay out any fundamental improvements in that regard.

We need the improvements proposed for council itself to address the complaints procedure, which takes up the bulk of the Bill, as well as the committees on conduct, training and so on. They are all very valuable and important improvements. Many people feel we need more fundamental reform. For example, why should professional guilds like Law Society of Ireland and the Honourable Society of King's Inns have a fundamental role in and control over education and apprenticeship into the legal system? As with most professions, why are the university law departments not at the centre of the training of not just lawyers generally, but also of judges? Why has that not been considered?

Judges need to representative of society. There tends to be a self-perpetuating legal elite. It can be seen with some families down through the decades. We need a broader base. I welcome that in recent years at long last gender balance has been achieved in the solicitors' profession. I would prefer a single profession of lawyer. Reform of the archaic English system of barristers and solicitors should be on the agenda of a future government.

I have experience of being in court helping to support people with local issues. I have been very impressed with the judges in the Flood-Mahon and Moriarty tribunals, and the Priory Hall case. The judges' performance has been courageous and exemplary. It is often a pleasure to read the reports published by members of the Judiciary, such as the reports of the Morris and Charleton tribunals. Those reports, which were fluent and to the point, were very important for this House. We have gratitude for our Judiciary in that regard.

I believe I already spoke to the Minister about correspondence I had with the Chief Justice regarding legislation. At one seminar the Chief Justice said we should try to avoid introducing legislation that will be litigious and to have a litigation stress test for all legislation. The Chief Justice, Mr. Frank Clarke, has proposed more regional development in the lower courts to allow specialisation by judges in addition to judicial training about the book of quantum, insurance costs and so on. The Chief Justice made an interesting point about records of evidence and the records of courts. He said that except in indictable cases, the records are generally not there. We also need to look at that area.

I have one negative comment. I understand that the Minister, Deputy Ross, asked at a recent Cabinet meeting that judges should provide declarations of interest. In respect of Members of this House everybody knows what our business interests are, who are directors, landlords, farmers, teachers, etc. The Minister, Deputy Ross, made a reasonable proposal and it needs to be considered. We should know the interests of people carrying out such a fundamental role.

The filibuster being carried out in the other House on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill is very disappointing. That reflects all the worst elements of an elite legal class determined to prevent encroachment on its sacred turf.

People often talk about courts' sitting times and the length of the working day. Next week people will talk about Members of this House being off on our holidays. Of course, we will be going off to intense constituency work. Mr. Ahern used to engage in a two-month-long door-to-door campaign in Dublin Central. We will all be out and about because we know a general election is not too far away. We always would be anyway because it gives us a chance to do what we regard as real representative work outside the Chamber. The Chief Justice has commented on the supports judges have. Additional resources are important. The closure of the courts system in August and September is regrettable.

With those caveats, I welcome the Bill and I commend the work the Minister and his colleagues have done in finally bringing the Bill before the House. It represents a good step forward.

I am happy to speak on this important Bill, especially since at long last it has made its way out of the jungle of amendments and delays in the Seanad.

I mean a jungle of paperwork.

I am not saying the Seanad is a jungle. It is a jungle of paperwork leading to delays. We have heard so many times the Bill is-----

It does not say much for the Deputy's speech if he is withdrawing aspects of it already.

Tús maith, leath na hoibre. I am not withdrawing anything. If the Minister wants to play it that way, I can play it to. It would suit the Minister better to give us some sense of security in Tipperary and not to have people sleepless in their homes and afraid of their lives. They cannot go to bed and have to lock the doors with gangsters marauding around with free rein. We do not have gardaí or anybody else to support us. I can drop my script if the Minister likes. When they come before the courts they get free legal aid - 100 times some of them - and no sentences. It is a laughing stock. Anyone going into courts in Tipperary or anywhere else any day of the week will see the carry-on. They can be seen scoffing and laughing at the gardaí. It is easy for the Minister to be laughing and commenting about me when I say a word. It is a jungle out there. There is a free rein in the jungle for the marauding gangsters and vagabonds who want to terrorise our people.

Here we are 20 years later trying to change legislation and, as Deputy O'Callaghan, said we only have an hour or two in the final days before the summer recess. It is rushed and not properly debated. Rushed legislation is bad legislation.

The Minister must give protection to the people of Tipperary that Deputy Cahill, I and others represent. They are frightened out of their wits. They have met the Minister and his predecessors, begging to be respected. They are entitled to live with some modicum of dignity, peace and happiness in their own homes. They are paying their taxes and working hard from dawn to dusk, whether they be farmers, local authority workers, doctors, solicitors, nurses or anything else. They are living in fear that their houses will be broken into at 3 a.m.

I support the Garda, I am attending a care in the community function tonight and I salute the Garda. I salute the gardaí in Cahir and Cork who recovered a horse in Cork yesterday that was stolen from Cahir at the weekend. That horse was used by a family for therapeutic measures and it was stolen but thanks be to God the Garda did great work on this occasion.

If only the Garda had enough members and if there were enough gardaí in Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir we would not have the epidemic that is happening there. We will be like Drogheda and Longford. The Minister rubs his hand in glee as if he did not know there were not a shortage of gardaí. There is not a garda in those places. They have three, four or five gardaí on a unit in Clonmel. It is the biggest inland town in the country and those Garda units have to cover the town of Carrick-on-Suir and all the villages in the area as well. It is disgraceful.

I wish them well in Kilkenny and the chief superintendent down there is a good Tipperary man, Dominic Hayes, and they have 12 on every unit. Why are we discriminated against in Tipperary? We fought for Irish freedom. The first shots in the War of Independence were fired in Tipperary and here we are back to being treated like this. We have to mind ourselves. Will we have to arm ourselves and defend ourselves? That is what it is coming to under the Minister's watch and under the watch of previous Ministers for Justice and Equality. I do not have any animosity against the Minister but the people deserve respect and when vagabonds are brought to court it is a jungle because they make a joke of it, they are sneering at the judges and they are given free legal aid willy-nilly. They can get free legal aid 100 times over and the people who are being robbed and attacked pay for that with their taxes. Then they go into the luxury of jails that are like hotels to learn more about crime before they come out again. They are starting as young as eight and ten years old now in the drug cartel in Clonmel delivering the drugs and they have immunity because they are children. It is shocking. The Government knows who is doing it and the Garda knows who is doing it. Lives are being lost to suicide and everything else but the Government does not care. Members of the Government laugh at me instead.

The Bill seeks to establish a judicial council, which will be independent in the performance of its functions and will promote and maintain excellence and high standards of conduct for judges. That is badly wanted. Like Deputy O'Callaghan and others, I compliment the vast majority of judges who do an excellent job but they need upskilling and reskilling. The Bill will also provide means of investigating allegations of judicial misconduct and in this context a judicial conduct committee, which at long last will have lay representation, will be established. Furthermore, it will facilitate the ongoing support and education of judges through a judicial studies committee and through the establishment of judicial support committees. That is badly needed, as other Members have alluded to, because we cannot just appoint them as judges and then leave them off to paddle their own canoes. They need upskilling, reskilling and continuous education and Deputy O'Dea and others have been calling for that for years. The criminals have all the education and all the tools of the trade.

An important point is that we know that the Council of Europe's anti-corruption monitoring body, group of states against corruption, GRECO, published a compliance report on Ireland in these matters in 2017. It concerns Ireland's compliance with a 2014 evaluation report on corruption prevention in respect of Members of the Parliament, judges and prosecutors. The original evaluation report contained 11 recommendations, not 100. If we were carrying out the evaluation we would have 100 recommendations and we would not implement any of them but this came from Europe. The 2017 compliance report found that Ireland had fully implemented only three of the recommendations and had only partly implemented a further three recommendations. The Government only went half way with the 11 recommendations, which is shameful. GRECO concluded that Ireland's low level of compliance with the recommendations was "globally unsatisfactory." Those are not my words, they are the words of GRECO.

That being said, GRECO also noted with some concern the suggested lay majority of an appointments commission for the Judiciary included in the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017. While it accepted that the Bill is subject to much debate, it questioned whether it is in line with European standards aimed at securing judicial independence in respect of the appointment and promotion of judges.

Further concerns were also noted at the time by the Minister on the original form of the Bill. The Minister noted two matters in particular, namely the need for the so called secrecy provision in the Bill to be removed and the need to establish a public register of financial interests for members of the Judiciary. Why can we not have that? We must have that because I have seen cases and I have been in the Four Courts when people have made allegations against judges for their involvement with banks and they are hearing cases those banks are involved in. It should not be happening. There should be no ifs, buts or ands. We should know if an eminent justice has investments in a financial institution and he or she would then have to recuse him or herself from hearing the case. It leads to rumours and potentially to falsehoods being perpetrated if we do not know, so there should be a clear register so that we know what is what and who is who. As I said, the Minister noted two matters in particular, namely the need for the so-called secrecy provision in the Bill to be removed and the need to establish a public register of financial interests for members of the Judiciary. At the time, the Minister said on the secrecy provisions that: "It is fair to say that some of the provisions intended to protect the confidentiality of the complaints process do not sit well with current understandings of accountability or transparency." He also said that he was considering amendments which might be made to these provisions. Perhaps the Minister can provide an update on these matters for those of us who did have the pleasure he had in sitting through the endless hours of Seanad debate on the Bill.

On a separate matter, when the Minister of State at the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy D'Arcy appeared before the Seanad at the end of June, he highlighted a key amendment, namely amendment No. 21. As I understand it, following the model related to both the sentencing information and guidelines committee and the judicial conduct committee, provision is also being made for the committee to prepare draft personal injuries guidelines and submit them for review by the board of the judicial council. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, said the amendment specifies that the first draft of the guidelines must be submitted to the board no later than 12 months after the establishment of the committee. To assist it in carrying out its functions, the committee will have broad powers to obtain any information it might need. This is very much to be welcomed. It may also consult appropriate persons and bodies, including the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, and conduct research into the level of damages awarded by the courts in the State and elsewhere.

I do not want to delay the Bill unduly but it is bananas out there and other Deputies have alluded to this. We see the profits the insurance companies are making. They tell us the claims are driving up premiums but we see the huge percentage profits they have made in recent years. It is time we grasped the nettle and it is time we took a leaf out of the book of our old colonial power across the pond. We can see that they have fixed penalties and fixed awards for certain matters. What is going on here is nonsense. It is the same with free legal aid. We should have a system where it is two strikes or three strikes and a person is out. We see criminals with previous convictions who have served prison sentences for the most heinous of crimes getting free legal aid 68, 90 or 103 times. It is farcical. It would not happen in the real jungle so we have to deal with that and protect our people.

Under the amendment, the judicial conduct committee is also mandated to prepare material for inclusion in the annual report of the judicial council on its activities. These amendments were very welcome. Indeed any measure that strengthens the capacity of the Judiciary to deal more effectively with scurrilous or unfounded personal injuries claims is to be welcomed.

We will have an opportunity later in the afternoon to revert to some of the important points that have been raised by Members but in the meantime I merely wish to acknowledge the contribution of Deputies to this debate on Second Stage so far. The extent of participation and the diverse views offered demonstrate to me the importance of the issue and underline the concerns Members have on a range of issues pertaining to the Judiciary, to the Bill and to the need for a Judiciary which at all times adheres to the highest standards of probity and which at all times retains the trust and confidence of the public at large, which is served by judges.

Judges have a vital role to play in our society and when our citizens come before the courts they have a legitimate right to expect that the highest standards of integrity, independence and impartiality will at all times prevail. The relationship we have with our judges as a society is complex, as it is an institution that derives strength from the confidence we repose in it to act at all times without fear or favour. In turn, we feel secure in the knowledge that we can trust judges to adhere to the highest possible standards.

A number of points were raised in the course of the debate. We all acknowledge that judicial independence is recognised as being a core value within our society.

This Bill will foster that culture of independence.

A number of Deputies referred to resources. I agree with Deputies Broughan and O'Callaghan that this is an issue that requires a greater level of consideration than perhaps has been given to date. I also agree with them regarding the need for a complaints regime of the kind provided for under this legislation.

Deputy Sherlock referred to section 18 and the need for consultation. This is an issue to which we will revert on Committee and Remaining Stages this afternoon . I very much agree with the Deputy's comments. The wording of the section should meet is concerns. I very much welcome the remarks of Deputy Ó Laoghaire on sentencing.

Question put and agreed to.