Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 3 Nov 2021

Vol. 279 No. 11

Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to bring the Bill before the Seanad today. It is a relatively short Bill but it is significant.

The need for the Bill follows from the 2019 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Wayne Ellis v. Minister for Justice and Equality. In this ruling, the Supreme Court struck down section 27A(8) of the Firearms Act 1964, which provides for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years' imprisonment for a second or subsequent offence of possession of a firearm or ammunition in suspicious circumstances. The court found that it is not constitutionally permissible for the Oireachtas to specify a mandatory minimum sentence that only applies to a limited class of persons, namely, those who have committed a second or subsequent offence for one or more listed offences. The court held that the application of a mandatory minimum sentence to a distinct category of persons in such cases amounted to the administration of justice and, under Article 34 of the Constitution, justice may only be administered by the Courts, not by the Oireachtas.

From a policy perspective, the Bill only has one purpose, which is to rectify the constitutional infirmities identified by the Supreme Court in the Ellis case. This is achieved by the repeal of all sentences on the Statute Book that provide for a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment for a second or subsequent offence. I am advised that it is not necessary to repeal the specific firearms provision that was struck down in the Ellis case. I am advised that the practice is not to repeal such provisions as they are already deemed void.

This Bill repeals all other penalties, including those linked to firearms and drug offences, which involve mandatory sentences for second or subsequent offences.

It is important to note that the Ellis judgment only deals with mandatory minimum sentences for second or subsequent offences. It does not affect provisions in statute which provide for presumptive minimum sentences where there is judicial discretion. In addition, the ruling did not mean the automatic release of offenders who may currently be in prison having been convicted of an offence which has a mandatory minimum sentence for a second or subsequent offence. Instead, the Supreme Court ruled that the appropriate course of action in such cases was for the offender concerned to receive a new sentencing hearing. It is also worth noting that in giving its judgment in this case, the Supreme Court made the important general point that sentencing always involves a consideration of the following factors by the Judiciary: the gravity of the offence; the circumstances in which it was committed; the personal situation of the accused; and mitigating factors. These important sentencing principles are unaffected by the Bill.

I will now outline the Bill's main provisions. The first three sections refer to pre-1922 legislation that is still in force in Ireland. These older Acts contain unusual provisions with a type of mandatory sentence for repeat offenders which have now been identified as being in conflict with the judgment in the Ellis case. Amendments are being made to ensure that the offence referred to in each section operates in line with judicial discretion and does not provide for a mandatory sanction which is more punitive for persons who have committed second or subsequent offences.

Section 1 amends section 49 of the Dublin Police Magistrates Act 1808 and mandatory penalties for second or subsequent offences relating to the concealment of stolen goods. Section 2 amends section 40 of the Illicit Distillation (Ireland) Act 1831 and penalties for second or subsequent offences relating to illicit making of malt and distillation of spirits. Section 3 amends section 32 of the Refreshment Houses (Ireland) Act 1860 and penalties for second or subsequent offences relating to wine licences for refreshment houses.

Section 4 amends section 15 of Firearms Act 1925 which provides for penalties for the offence of possession of firearms with intent to endanger life. Section 5 provides for the amendment of four separate provisions in the Firearms Act 1964, namely: section 26, which provides for penalties for possession of a firearm while taking a vehicle without authority; section 27, which provides for penalties for use of firearms to assist or aid escape; section 27A, which provides for penalties for possession of a firearm or ammunition in suspicious circumstances; and section 27B, which provides for penalties for carrying a firearm with criminal intent.

Section 6 amends section 27 of Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 which provides for penalties for a range of offences relating to the misuse of drugs. Section 7 amends section 12A of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 which provides for penalties for shortening the barrel of a shotgun or rifle and similar offences. Section 8 amends section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 which provides penalties for the commission of a scheduled offence where a person has already been convicted on indictment of a scheduled offence within a specified period.

Section 9 is a technical amendment to section 24 of the Parole Act 2019, which sets out provisions on the eligibility for parole. Section 24(12) of this Act makes reference to section 27(3F) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, which provides for the mandatory minimum sentences for second and subsequent drug offences. This reference is in the context of specifying the minimum term of imprisonment to be served before a person may become eligible for parole. Section 9 removes this reference from the Parole Act 2019.

Section 10 addresses transitional issues in the form of the retrospective application of this Bill in certain circumstances. By way of background, the normal position under section 27 of the Interpretation Act 2005 is that any repeals or amendments of existing criminal penalties by way of new legislation only apply to offences committed after the new legislation has been enacted. Therefore, the proposed repeal of mandatory minimum sentences in the Bill as published would not apply to persons who have committed an offence before enactment but who have not yet been charged, persons currently before the courts or persons who have been convicted of a relevant offence and are currently serving a sentence. I am advised that in these circumstances, there is potential for further litigation in the case of persons who may have committed offences or may have been convicted before the enactment of this Bill, which could potentially engage the penalties for mandatory minimum sentences for second or subsequent offences that are to be repealed by this Bill. Such litigation would potentially involve continued legal uncertainty and legal costs. In these circumstances, the Attorney General has advised that the State must be clear and explicit on the issue of retrospective application of the repeal of sentences in the Bill.

The net effect of section 10 is to ensure that persons who have already committed an offence, persons who have been charged with an offence or persons who have been convicted of an offence will also be subject to the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for second or subsequent offences. In any case where such persons will be sentenced, the mandatory penalties for second or subsequent offences will not be a sentencing option. In any case where such persons are already serving a sentence, they will have been able to seek a fresh sentencing hearing. It is also important to note that section 10 provides that the repeal of sentencing provisions in the Bill applies in all cases with the exception of those that have reached final judgment, that is where a case has already proceeded to appeal stage and been finalised or where the time for the appeal has expired. This approach is consistent with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

Section 11 is a standard provision providing for the Short Title and commencement.

I look forward to hearing the contributions of Senators. There will of course be an opportunity on Committee Stage to discuss in more detail any aspects of the Bill that Senators wish to explore further.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit ar ais go dtí an Teach. Fianna Fáil is delighted to support the Bill, which addresses the constitutional issues that emerged in the Supreme Court judgment in the Wayne Ellis case in 2019. In that instance, the Supreme Court found that the Oireachtas could impose mandatory prison penalties but only if they applied to all persons. It is not constitutionally permissible for the Oireachtas to specify a mandatory sentence which only applies to a limited class of persons, such as a person who had previously committed one or more listed offences. The court held that the application of a penalty in such cases in the administration of justice and under Article 34 of the Constitution may only be administered by the courts. A number of other similar legislative provisions provide for mandatory minimum sentences for second or subsequent offences contained in firearms and misuse of drugs legislation. It is essential that other laws containing similar provisions should be repealed.

It is important that this legislation passed quickly as it has been advised that no further sentencing hearings should proceed until the relevant legislation has been amended. The DPP has given instructions to that effect. It is critical that no delays should occur with this legislation after, of course, it has been properly scrutinised. It is important that the free flow of the courts system is not blocked by this. However, the Supreme Court ruling does not have any impact on laws which provide for presumptive minimum sentences where there is judicial discretion. The Minister of State referred to this legislation as small but significant, which is a very accurate description.

It is important that we proceed with haste with the Bill. It is limited in scope and targeted at discrepancy that has been highlighted. I look forward to its speedy passage through the House.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit agus roimh an mBille. Tá an-bhród orm a rá ar son Fhine Gael go bhfuilimid i bhfabhar an Bhille seo. Is ceart agus cóir dúinn mar Oireachtas a bheith ag éisteacht i gcónaí leis an Ard-Chúirt, ach go háirithe, agus leis na cúirteanna go léir agus a bheith ag féachaint ar an méid atá déanta acu, go háirithe ó thaobh na hAchtanna ó na Tithe seo agus conas mar a chloínn siad leis an mBunreacht.

It is very important that we take on board the decision of the Supreme Court in the Ellis case. I will not rehearse what has been said about that case, but the Supreme Court has identified a very clear issue there. Sometimes in these Houses we like to talk about imposing particular sentencing regimes and saying that certain mandatory sentences must be in place, which we should be slow to do. It is very important that we trust the Judiciary, which is made up of individuals who are beyond reproach, incredibly experienced and well trained in their own professions when they come to the Bench. On the whole the Judiciary in this country is very functional, which is not something that cannot be said of every European state even. Obviously, we are particularly aware of the difficulties that exist in Poland, for example.

Here, we have a Judiciary that acts well, in accordance with law and with fairness to all sides. It is therefore appropriate that in the legislation that we put forward in this House, we should give the Judiciary the discretion to deal with cases as it sees fit. Notwithstanding the importance of certain mandatory sentencing regimes, as Houses, we should generally be slow to impose mandatory regimes. Therefore, it is appropriate that this Bill undoes some of the mandatory elements that we had put in place in legislation.

I cannot help but remark on the fact that this Bill very closely mirrors a Bill I put forward earlier this year, the Criminal Procedure and Related Matters Bill 2021, which was a reaction to the Ellis case and sought to undo some of the elements that were in place, particularly in relation to the modern legislation like the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act, the Criminal Justice Act and the Misuse of Drugs Act. I will not pretend that I did as good a job as this Bill does. Certainly, this Bill has uncovered legislation that I did not even know was in force, such as the Dublin Police Magistrates Act 1808, which I suspect nobody outside this room has either heard of in the last 50 years, or had any reason to deal with. I looked up section 49 of the Act, which reads, very succinctly:

And ... that any person in whose dwelling-house, out-house, shop, warehouse, cellar, yard, or other place within the said police district any such stolen goods or chattels or any receiver of stolen goods shall be knowingly and wilfully harboured or concealed shall, upon being convicted by due course of law of so knowingly and wilfully harbouring or concealing such goods and chattels or any such receiver of stolen goods, for the first offence forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds, and for every subsequent offence the sum of two hundred pounds, or, if he or she shall be unable to pay the same, shall be committed to prison, without bail or mainprize, for any time not less than three or more than six calendar months for the first offence, nor less than six nor more than twelve calendar months for every subsequent offence; such forfeiture to be recovered by civil bill in the court of the recorder of the city of Dublin.

Of course, the court of the recorder of the city of Dublin no longer exists. Therefore, the notion that we are repealing this legislation is entirely appropriate. I was going to say that it is timely, but it is long past time. In that context, it is worth acknowledging the ongoing statue law revision project within the Office of the Attorney General. It is important that we particularly look at pre-1922 statutes, many of which are still on the Statute Book. The Dublin Police Magistrates Act 1808 and the Illicit Distillation Ireland Act 1831 are still in force today, and until this Act passes, which, on one level, is absolutely ridiculous. I encourage the Office of the Attorney General to continue at pace its work repealing that legislation that is no more in effect. I recall that when I worked in these Houses as a member of staff many years ago, there were two or three Bills that went through at that stage that dealt with the most archaic legislation from the 16th century and 17th century relating to brick burnings and requirements for taxis to carry a bale of hay at all times, and that kind of nonsense. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate that we proceed to undo that legislation and consign it to history, where it belongs.

I do not propose to speak to a large extent on this Bill because, as the Minister of State said, it is largely a technical one, but it does good things from the point of view of bringing the law in accordance with the Constitution, and addressing the issues that have been identified by the courts and some other issues in terms of the Bill. In the context of making further amendments, I might suggest some amendments on Committee Stage arising from my own Private Members' Bill. Perhaps the Minister of State will have regard to them.

On the whole, what has been done here is a very positive piece of streamlining of our law so that we both bring it into accordance with the Constitution, and equally, and perhaps almost as important, reflect the decision of the Supreme Court in the Ellis case - and I may be paraphrasing and putting words in the judges' mouths in this regard - to give greater power and discretion to the very effective Judiciary that we have to make decisions in the way that it sees fit in relation to any person who is being sentenced before the court.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Previous speakers have said that this is a positive legislative initiative. I would add that it is an essential initiative. It stems from the case of Mr. Ellis, who entered a guilty plea in the Circuit Criminal Court. The trial judge at the time, Judge Ring, suspended one of the counts relating to a five-year sentence. It is worth noting that Mr. Ellis came before the court with 26 previous convictions. That is commonplace in the criminal legal system. The scourge and challenges which recidivism place on us all should get a proper airing on a day like this. We have little or no say in bringing this legislation in, because the highest court in the land found that section 27 of the Firearms Act 1964, as amended, was repugnant to the Constitution. When a provision is repugnant to the Constitution, it is up to the legislators to legislate and respond. On this day, we should note the huge challenge of the scourge of repeat offenders, and the fact and harsh reality that many of the people who are convicted of more serious criminal offences before the court come from a couple of postal addresses in this country. They are not given the same chances in life. They almost follow their family, parents and grandfathers into criminality. At times, it is weirdly like a badge of honour for some. They have been let down by the State. They have never got a second chance. The prison system does not support them adequately when they are in custody, or else they would not reoffend upon release.

The DPP challenged Judge Ring on the grounds of undue leniency in the Circuit Court. One sees here a wonderful playing out of the courts, in a sense, in all their brilliance, and in ways, unpredictability. The High Court judge, Mr. Justice Twomey, upheld the appeal of the DPP, and the three judges in the Court of Appeal did likewise. Ultimately, the case went to the Supreme Court, under Ms Justice Finlay Geoghegan, which held, by unanimous decision, that the Oireachtas had "impermissibly crossed the divide" in the constitutional separation of powers because it sought to determine the minimal penalty which must be imposed by a court not on all persons convicted of an offence contrary to section 27A of the Firearms Act 1964, as amended, but only on a limited group of such offenders identified by one particular characteristic, namely, that they had previously committed one or more of the listed offences.

As legislators, we should accept that when we are in the legislative business, we are not immune from such challenges. We should accept that as part of the business that we are in, such challenges happen. This is a classic example of the dynamic interplay of the separation of powers in our country, whereby Article 15(2)(1) of the Constitution vests with the Oireachtas the sole and exclusive power of making laws for the State, but we are to be cognisant of other countervailing rights, such as those set out under Article 34(1), which states that: "Justice shall be administered in courts established by law by judges appointed in the manner provided in this Constitution", and Article 38(1), which provides that: "No person shall be tried on any criminal charge save in due course of law." That is where the legislation fell. It was very well intended, but due to the protections afforded us, the highest court in the land has given us clear guidance in its decision that the legislation was repugnant to the Constitution.

It is a great example of how we should not take offence at, or take the hump with, the intervention of the court. We should recognise it as a classic example of the democratic State working in all its splendour. Central to the workings of this democratic State, and the central axis and backbone, is Bunreacht na hÉireann. I have cited the relevant articles. While Bunreacht na hÉireann is a living document which breathes and changes by the decade, particularly in light of the jurisprudence of implied rights, there are certain fundamentals, like the independence of the Judiciary.

We are lucky when compared with other EU member states such as Poland. We have a robust, independent Judiciary which is doing its job well. It is vigilant and we should be grateful for its vigilance. We have a Legislature which also takes its job seriously. From time to time, unintended consequences can be produced when the Legislature legislates. That is the safely valve and those are the countervailing rights. It is the beauty of the dynamics of the Constitution of Ireland, which is the central infrastructure of a working, organised State and rule of law.

The Minister made reference to the settled jurisprudence of sentencing law. It is very well settled and it is a fine and complex science. By and large, judges get it right but, from time to time, there is an unmerciful outcry in the media when judges seem to get it badly wrong. However, like everyone else, they are human. I hope there are enough resources for the Judiciary to constantly train its members in the challenging legal science of sentencing law. Of course, the gravity of the offence must be considered but several other factors, some of them mitigating, come into play when passing sentence. When the Circuit Court judge in the case in question was passing sentence, it was adjourned on a number of occasions and she was looking at different reports. The learned trial judge ruled that a suspended sentence was appropriate on one count. After a long and transparent run through the courts, the system has now made an unequivocal and unanimous judgment. It is up to us, as legislators, to run with the ball, to respect the import of the judgment in the Supreme Court and legislate accordingly. That is the process we are a part of today.

Gabhaim buíochas, a Chathaoirligh Gníomhaigh. Ba mhaith liom ar dtús báire fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Stáit don díospóireacht. The Minister of State is welcome to the House for the debate. I have listened intently thus far. I have a Second Stage speech, which is primarily technical in nature. I suppose I can sum it up by saying that much like my Sinn Féin colleagues in the Dáil, we support this important legislation and will work with the Minister of State and our colleagues as it progresses through this House to help ensure it is as good as it can be. My colleagues have acknowledged and said that this legislation stems primarily from the Ellis case. That has been outlined by the Minister of State and other colleagues so I do not need to rehearse its technical importance.

I want to make a couple of observations and points, respectfully. I agree with the sentiment as to why this legislation is necessary and important, as my Sinn Féin colleagues in the Dáil argued when the Bill progressed through that House. The heart of the matter must be about supporting communities and victims of crime, and ensuring that people are kept safe. That must be the crux of considerations. In taking on board all of the legal and technical points that some of our more learned friends have made already during this debate, we must also be alert to the needs of communities and the lived experiences out there. We must ensure that the Garda is involved at every level and that community policing is front and centre in tackling repeat offenders. We must also ensure that communities feel safe, able and emboldened to help all of the relevant agencies to come together and tackle the scourge of criminality on our communities and also in understanding why some people have become criminals and how they have been exploited, in some instances, to be repeat offenders.

I do not know if I picked something up wrong, but I take issue with the notion of defining postcodes. There are statistics that point to the presence of repeat offenders in certain postcodes but that does not suggest for one minute that there is not criminality in other postcodes, that repeat offenders are not engaged in criminal activity in other areas, or that some of those who are overseeing the repeat offences and criminality are not sitting quite comfortably in certain postcodes, while other postcodes endure the suffering. The point of Second Stage is to have these sorts of debates and talk about legislation in its broadest sense. I have a feeling that my colleague, Senator Ruane, will home in on some of those issues, given her own experience of working with communities, not least on the front line.

I again make the overarching point that we are clear that this legislation needs to be supported. It needs to become a fact. However, we also need to ensure that we in this House are fluid and that we can adapt, understand, appreciate and work to the needs of communities. We must understand the lived experience out there. Ultimately, we must be sure and clear in our conviction that we want to enable all of the relevant agencies and parts of this State to tackle the scourge of criminality and to keep our communities safe.

I thank the Minister of State for being here. I welcome the Bill, which represents a step forward towards a fairer and more caring judicial system that is built on the ideals of justice and rehabilitation, rather than simply punishment. I have spoken at length in the past of my strong beliefs that a culture of rehabilitation and education should be put firmly at the heart of our justice system because the way in which we treat our penal system is a reflection of us as a broader society. We should, therefore, work towards creating a system which best supports reintegration into society. I believe the best way of fostering such a system is by respecting the separation of powers which underpins our Constitution. Article 34.1 of the Constitution establishes the courts as the administrators of justice in Ireland, the reason being that while laws can be simple and straightforward when legislated, their application to the complexity of life requires for each case to be considered on its own merits in order for justice to be fairly administered. The principle is made clear in the detail underlining the Ellis v. the Minister for Justice case. The issue at the heart of that case was that having heard the evidence presented before her, the judge sentenced Mr. Ellis to a five-year, fully suspended sentence. Outlining the reasoning for her judgment, she wrote that Mr. Ellis was undertaking credible measures to reform himself and was therefore entitled to a degree of leniency. However, due to the legislation which this Bill rightly seeks to repeal, she was barred from delivering her suspended sentence. It begs the question of how many more judges wish to suspend the second sentences based on the circumstances of the case before them.

The Ellis case serves to illustrate the importance of respecting the separation of powers. When we enter the Chamber and pass legislation, we can never fully imagine the individual circumstances of each case. We should instead trust and support the Judiciary to be understanding and fair in its sentencing, based on the specific facts of each case, rather than binding judges to a pre-legislated set of minimum sentences.

In its recommendation for the Bill before us today, the Supreme Court set out how it reaches a just and fair sentence. It considers the gravity of the offence, the circumstances in which it was committed, the personal situation of the accused and any mitigating factors. The Supreme Court also highlighted that, regardless of legislation binding judges to a sentence, prior convictions or the lack thereof will always form part of the consideration when a judge is reaching an appropriate sentence. For that reason, I support today's Bill to remove mandatory minimum sentences for second offences but I believe that this Bill is a genuine opportunity for us to go further and create a more understanding and rehabilitative justice system, first by removing the bar on temporary release under certain Acts. For example, the same Firearms Act 1964 which this Bill seeks to amend still contains a bar on temporary release for those convicted under the Act. In practice, that would mean that if Mr. Ellis was subsequently imprisoned due to a suspended sentence being overturned, the judge would be barred from allowing him temporary release to continue undertaking the credible measures to rehabilitate himself which led to the delivery of the suspended sentence in the first place.

Shockingly, this is also the case with the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. Should a person who was showing signs of rehabilitation only to relapse temporarily be convicted under the Misuse of Drugs Act, the judge in the case would be barred from allowing the individual to continue his or her rehabilitation through temporary release.

Second, the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Firearms Act still carry presumptive mandatory sentences. While the legislation before us allows us to get rid of the current two-strikes-and-you-are-out system of sentencing, I believe this Bill is an opportunity to challenge the presumptive mandatory sentences that still exist and that continue to bind judges when sentencing, despite the individual mitigating circumstances of each case. Repealing mandatory minimum sentencing with regard to drugs and firearms offences would be in line with recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission in its 2013 report on mandatory sentencing. In making the recommendation to remove mandatory sentencing for drugs and firearms offences, the commission noted that the offenders most likely to be the subject of mandatory minimum sentences are usually individuals whose involvement in the drugs trade comes about through circumstance and for whom any statutory minimum sentence is unlikely to act as a deterrent. Particularly in cases involving the misuse of drugs and firearms offences, these minimum sentences often only further dissuade those who have little or no intention of committing a crime in the first place.

If the State is to persist in legislating for minimum sentences, the law could simply become a reactive instrument. If the Government is serious about lowering the number of convictions relating to the misuse of drugs and firearms, the Government should focus less on minimum sentences and more on anti-poverty and community policies. Continuing to be seen to be tough on drugs by raising minimum sentences only serves to further punish and stigmatise communities that desperately needs investment and support.

I welcome the Bill as an opportunity for the Government to create a justice system that is based on rehabilitation rather than punishment. I firmly believe that the Bill represents an opportunity for us to implement the recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission and the Irish Penal Reform Trust to remove the bar on temporary release and presumptive minimum sentences for those convicted under the Misuse of Drugs Act or in respect of firearms offences.

Under a sentencing Bill, which I successfully amended in the previous Oireachtas, it was accepted that there would be a review on sentencing guidelines carried out within two years. That two years has now lapsed. Is there an update from the Department on this review?

I thank the five Senators who contributed to the debate. I now invite the Minister of State to make his concluding remarks.

I thank the Senators for their contributions. The Senators will be aware that the Bill is limited in scope and is designed to rectify the constitutional infirmities identified by the Supreme Court with regard to repealing second or subsequent mandatory sentences, mainly in the area of firearms and the misuse of drugs. As I noted in my introductory remarks, the Supreme Court ruling does not affect the provisions in statute that provide for presumptive minimum sentences where there is judicial discretion, and that issue is not addressed by the Bill.

I note the following revisions to the criminal law amendments provided in this Bill. First, in all of the laws that are being amended in this Bill there will still be very serious penalties in each law being amended for offences relating to drugs, firearms and other offences. Second, the Bill will reduce legal uncertainty and litigation risks arising from the Supreme Court judgment in the 2019 Ellis case. I note that the principles set down by the Supreme Court were adhered to in a further ruling this year on a section of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. Third, while legislation providing for mandatory minimum sentences in second or subsequent offences is now deemed unconstitutional, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that previous offences are always taken into account by the Judiciary when it comes to sentencing, it is just that they must be considered as part of the overall judicial discretion within sentencing. Fourth, the court has not struck down the concept of mandatory minimum sentencing that applies to all persons under the law, it has just struck it down as it applies to a subset of persons, in this case those who have committed second or subsequent offences. The court has also not struck down the concept of presumptive minimum sentences, which set up a legal presumption that a particular sentence will apply, by also allowing judicial discretion for certain exceptional circumstances where presumptions may not apply.

I thank the Senators for their contributions. Senator Gallagher spoke to the importance of this Bill and the need for it to move in a brisk manner.

Senator Ward made a number of positive comments, including the importance of streamlining the law and bringing it in line with the Constitution. I agree with his point about trusting the Judiciary. We have an experienced Judiciary. Reference was also made to identifying the archaic legislation that is still out there and seeking to have that removed by the Oireachtas.

Senator Martin correctly pointed out that we need a robust and independent Judiciary which is probably properly resourced. A review is under way in respect of the needs of the Judiciary in the future, including the numbers of judges and the various supports required. I listened also to Senator Martin's comments on the scourge of recidivism. He made the point that a lot of recidivism is people ending up back in prison in circumstances where there is lack of support or where they come from areas of poverty, which often fuels a great deal of crime. We need to tackle those causes by getting in there and supporting communities where crime has taken hold within communities. These are certain aspects of what we are trying to do within the youth justice strategy, with a number of programmes under that.

Senator Ó Donnghaile said the priority must be to keep our communities safe. I very much agree with him on that point.

Senator Ruane made some extremely important points, especially about rehabilitation and reintegration, and that sentencing should not simply be about punishment because, ultimately, the latter achieves very little. I do not have an update on the review on sentencing, but I will certainly get one for the Senator. I will seek to have a look at the situation regarding temporary release for those convicted of firearms offences.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 9 November 2021.
Sitting suspended at 2.57 p.m. and resumed at 3.47 p.m.