I want to say a word on the Final Stage. It is unnecessary to say that it is a disgraceful procedure we are adopting here this evening. I only hope that too many members of the public will not get to know about it.
Civil Liability Bill, 1960—Committee and Final Stages.
The usual thing that happens in the courts now.
There is only one thing that I want to say about the Civil Liability Bill. It relates to the manner in which the Bill will be administered or can be administered in the courts. In recent times—this is a matter in which the Parliamentary Secretary should be interested—when it comes to dealing with negligence actions arising out of motor driving cases, a practice has grown up, apparently between the authorities and the Garda Commissioner or some other authority, under which it is not now possible to get any measurements taken or any statements in respect of an accident that has occurred unless there be loss of life or very serious injury to the person.
It has become the experience of solicitors, when they want to institute proceedings in negligence actions, to find there is no Garda evidence available to assist the court in determining who was negligent and who was liable for damages. This Bill will be greatly hampered in its operation, I believe, if the practice which is growing up is permitted to continue and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able—during the time he is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Justice—to exercise some influence so that there may be available to the courts, whose duty it is to administer justice, the services of a member of the Garda in all cases.
I do not know whether that is becoming a common practice but I am told also that in certain other cases the Garda who investigates an accident may make a sketch and then make a report to his authorities. A copy of the report he makes to the authorities will not be given to either side in the negligence action. The reason, I am told, is that the report is regarded as a confidential document, confidential and privileged as between the Garda and his superiors. Difficulty has been experienced in getting the Garda in those circumstances to make any statement to solicitors on either side, to attend any consultations or to give any information right up to the day on which a High Court action is taking place.
Since the Garda are paid out of public funds and since individual Gardaí would have no objection whatever to making the fullest possible information available to the interested parties, the practice of restricting the supplying of that information should be discontinued. It greatly frustrates the administration of justice. People may find only when all the costs of High Court proceedings have been incurred that, on the morning of the court, when the Garda attends under subpoena, there have been grave miscalculations on their part due to the absence of information which was all the time in the possession of the Garda who was then present. This is not fantasy. It is a matter which I have been asked to raise and I know of my own knowledge, in relation to the first point I made, that reports are not being made in a number of types of accidents, reports which up to recently were freely available. In regard to the second matter, the refusal of the Garda authorities to give copies of Garda reports——
Might I ask where is all this in the Bill?
We are dealing here with questions of negligence and if the courts are to be in a position to know who is negligent or in what degree they were negligent, they must have the fullest information. The fullest information will be available only if the Garda authorities permit the practice which was in operation for many years up to recently to be revived and to continue.
I cannot see any reference whatever to the Garda authorities in the Bill.
With respect, Sir, we have not had the advantage of going through this Bill in detail. If we had had a Committee Stage, it would have been abundantly apparent that inextricably mixed up with the various provisions is the having in court of evidence, particularly evidence of the impartial kind which the Garda Síochána alone can provide. So far as the Parliamentary Secretary can influence the position, I hope he will do so.
May I be equally irrelevant in saying that whereas I do not agree with Senator O'Quigley that the Garda should be forced to investigate and make a report on an accident where there seems to be no likelihood they will have to bring a prosecution, I agree that where they do in fact act on a report, there is no reason why they should not make that report available to the parties in civil proceedings when asked to do so. Certainly, in many cases, proceedings are held up for an unnecessarily long time waiting for the Garda to give a report which could be very helpful and could possibly have the effect of putting an end to the proceedings altogether by causing the plaintiff to withdraw or causing the defendant to settle very quickly. It would be a great help if the police could supply these reports, and I do not see any reason why they should not.
Against such a formidable array of opinion, I would naturally be intimidated. I can, however, assure the House this is a matter we have been considering. Indeed, I think the case made by the Senators is a valid one. There is, however, another side to the story. But I will certainly undertake that the whole position will be fully considered and what has been said here will be given more than due regard when we come to take a decision on this matter.
That is the quid pro quo.
May I, in conclusion, thank the House for the manner in which they have received these Bills and dealt with them? I would suggest to the various Senators they need not be unduly alarmed or perturbed at the expedition with which we have dealt with these Bills here tonight. I think the detailed consideration and examination they got in the Dáil—and, in the case of one of them, in a Special Committee —and the manner in which generally they have been prepared and finalised were such as to ensure that they will be valuable and useful pieces of legislation.