Criminal Justice (Mutual Recognition of Probation Judgments and Decisions) Bill 2018: Committee Stage

This meeting has been convened to consider Committee Stage of two Bills, the first of which is the Criminal Justice,Criminal Justice (Mutual Recognition of Probation Judgments and Decisions) Bill 2018. I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I also remind members and the officials present to switch off their mobile phones as they interfere with the sound recording and broadcasting equipment. We are joined by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and his officials. They are all welcome.

There are just three amendments to the Criminal Justice (Mutual Recognition of Probation Judgments and Decisions) Bill 2018, all in the name of the Minister. Before considering them which we are obliged to do and which will take little time, I invite the Minister to make whatever opening remarks he would like to make.

I thank the committee for ordering its business this morning in a way that allows for a debate on this Bill which is required to implement an EU framework decision. As members will be aware from the debate in plenary session of the House, the purpose of the Bill is to facilitate a person who is under the supervision of the probation service in one EU member state but who lives in another in returning home and undergoing supervision there. The proposals made in the Bill are to increase the chances of social reintegration and the rehabilitation of offenders convicted of offences abroad; to better protect victims by ensuring non-resident offenders comply with probation conditions; and to reduce the unnecessary detention of non-resident offenders by ensuring non-custodial sentences can be enforced in the person's home state. I acknowledge the importance of these objectives. I also acknowledge the support of the House so far in this debate and look forward to our engagement.

Sections 1 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 7
Question proposed: "That section 7 stand part of the Bill."

This section deals with expenses. What is the projected expense associated with the change? I refer to fluctuations in expenses?

It is a demand-led scheme. I do not have the figures, but I will be happy to provide members with information on expenses as the legislation is being implemented. However, expenses incurred shall be sanctioned by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in the normal way.

In the absence of the information sought which is not immediately to hand, is the Deputy happy that any information the Minister may be able to access will be forwarded to the clerk?

It is not the case that there is an absence of information. I do not expect the Chairman to be in a position to require me to indicate the number of cases we will have and how much they will cost.

Of course.

What I can say is what I have already said, that I will be happy to keep members, particularly Deputy Jack Chambers, updated. It does not strike me that this will in any way be a drain on Exchequer funding, if that is the import of the Deputy's question.

It is important, when providing for legislation, that a Department have a projected cost in dealing with matters of public policy. On matters concerning the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the committee has a duty, in exercising due diligence, to ask the question. The Minister's Department has a duty to provide the answer and indicate the projected scale, rather than giving a generic response. It is important in legislating that we ask the question and that the Minister provide an answer.

I will be happy to correct the record in the event that the estimate I put forward does not turn out to be accurate. We are talking about small numbers. It is estimated that there could be fewer than 15 orders. There will be a balance between the number of persons leaving this jurisdiction and the number of those arriving. I am really not in a position to provide full details of the cost, other than to say it will, of course, be borne by the Department in the normal way.

I will be accountable for the matter at the Estimates debate. As I said, we are talking here about very small numbers. I would not like Deputy Chambers or anybody else to say that this will present an inordinate drain on Exchequer funding.

With respect, nobody has said that.

There is no import in what I am asking. It is a legitimate question regarding expenses with reference to this section of the Bill, a question to which the Minister cannot provide an answer. It is important that we ask questions about all aspects of public expenditure.

What are the Deputy's questions?

There are divisions between Government and the Department which give rise to legitimate concerns.

The Chairman said that the Deputy is not making an inference. Will Deputy Chambers give examples of the issue to which he is referring?

I can make an inference about general policy. I have a duty to ask a question about public expenditure where provision is made for an expense in respect of which the Minister cannot provide details. I am entitled to ask that question.

The Deputy is absolutely right that it is reasonable for him to put the question.

There is no inference in what he is posing to the Minister. In the absence of any detailed information, speculative or suggested, on the likely traffic as a result of the passage of the Bill, the Minister might, at the earliest opportunity, see whether there are projected costings that can be shared with the committee.

I already agreed to do so.

That was my understanding and we will work on that basis.

The Chairman and members will acknowledge that this is a standard provision.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 8 to 22, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 23

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 20, line 21, to delete “subject to subsection (6),”.

This is a technical amendment which removes the proviso that section 23(5)(d) is subject to subsection (6) of that section. Subsection (6) does not relate to subsection (5)(d) and, therefore, the inclusion of the text has no effect. The proviso was included in an earlier draft of the Bill and should have been removed when it was found to be unnecessary. The text proposed to be deleted is superfluous.

I agree that the text in question is not necessary.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 23, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 24

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 23, line 21, to delete “subject to subsection (8),”.

This is a technical amendment and is similar to amendment No. 1 in that it removes a proviso, in this case that section 24(6)(d) is subject to subsection 8 of that section. Again, the proviso is unnecessary because subsection (8), which sets out further grounds for refusal to endorse a judgment, does not relate to subsection (6)(d). The purpose of the amendment is to provide greater clarity by deleting text that is superfluous.

I agree that the amendment brings a greater level of clarity to the section.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 24, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 25 to 29, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 30

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 29, line 4, to delete “section 25(1)” and substitute “section 25(2)”.

This is another technical amendment which corrects a cross-referencing error in section 30(1)(a). Section 30 provides that in certain circumstances, where a conditional release order is transferred into the State from another member state, the latter will retain responsibility for any subsequent decisions that may be required. The section concerns only conditional release orders, which are the subject of section 25(2). Therefore, the cross-reference should be to that section rather than to section 25(1), which concerns suspended sentences.

I agree that the amendment is necessary to clear up a mistake in the original draft of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 30, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 31 and 32 agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.