Wednesday, 4 February 2004

Ceisteanna (139)

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

230 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Defence his plans to amend Defence Acts to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. [3347/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The opportunity to amend the Defence Acts is availed of when legislation sponsored by other Departments and which has a bearing on the Defence Forces is being formulated. This is particularly so in the area of amendments to civil and criminal law relating to the provisions prescribing the punishment for certain civil offences which are also offences against military law as prescribed in the Defence Acts. Generally speaking, the punishments for offences against military law, whether awarded by court martial or otherwise, are in line with punishments prescribed under civil law for similar civil offences.

The most recent amendment of the Defence Act 1954, which was sponsored by my Department, was in 1998. The Defence (Amendment) Act, 1998 provided for the re-organisation of the headquarters of the Defence Forces and for the appointments of Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, and Deputy Chief of Staff, Support, and related matters. The Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Bill 2002, which was published in January 2002 and which is sponsored by my Department, contains a proposal to amend section 114 of the Defence Act in relation to redress of wrongs-complaints submitted by serving members of the Defence Forces.

In the circumstances, the Deputy will appreciate that amending the Defence Acts is a continuous and ongoing process in endeavouring to keep them up to date as far as is possible. My Department is in the process of preparing a draft Restatement of the Defence Acts 1954 — 98, which includes the Courts Martial Appeals Act 1983, and it is hoped this will be completed in the near future.

In July 2001, the Deputy Chief of Staff, Support, convened a Military Law Review Board to review the current provisions of the Defence Act 1954, as amended, to ensure that the military law justice system is both expeditious and fair to the individual, contributes significantly to the maintenance of discipline within the Defence Forces and complies with the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The board report, together with legal advice from the Attorney General's office, is now under consideration within my Department with a view to deciding upon the most suitable approach to be taken to the recommendations, in light of the general legislative programme of the Government. As the Deputy will understand, in advance of a decision being taken with regard to these recommendations, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.