Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Ceisteanna (1)

Jim O'Callaghan

Ceist:

1. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to amend the Succession Act 1965 to ensure that perpetrators or their families cannot benefit in cases of familicide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12314/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Justice)

The Minister will be aware of the bravery of Mary Coll and Jacqueline Connolly in speaking out about the tragedy which befell their family. The testament to their bravery is truly remarkable. I think he will agree it demands a comprehensive response on the part of the State. As Alan Hawe was the last to die, the laws of succession currently mean that Clodagh Hawe's family faces a number of potential claims against the family's estate. What action has the Minister taken to address this issue?

I thank the Deputy for his question on this sensitive and important issue. Regrettably, we have become all too aware of issues connected with familicide as a result of appalling and tragic events recently which have been discussed in the public domain. I would like, at the outset, to take this opportunity once again to express my sincere condolences to the Coll family on the tragic loss of Clodagh, Liam, Niall and Ryan. I extend those condolences to other families who have been affected in such devastating circumstances.

As Deputy Collins will be aware, my Department is working with the Office of the Attorney General to finalise amendments to Deputy O'Callaghan's Private Members' Bill on the prevention of benefit from homicide. As the Deputy will appreciate, there are a number of complex legal issues to be addressed in the amendments, which require thorough examination by experts in this field of law. I am also aware that the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality will engage in pre-legislative scrutiny on that Bill on 27 March. I look forward to receiving the committee's draft report, and any recommendations it may have, in due course.

As Deputy Collins has acknowledged, the provisions of Deputy O'Callaghan's Bill do not extend to the circumstances which have arisen in the murder of Clodagh Hawe and her family. As I have already announced, following my engagement with the Coll family, I am putting in place arrangements for a study to be conducted in relation to such cases. The study will be carried out to determine the most appropriate multi-agency protocols and supports, as well as any legislative or other changes that may assist in cases of familicide. The study will also examine the experience of domestic homicide reviews in other jurisdictions and make any recommendations that may be deemed appropriate. The terms of reference for the study will be finalised shortly. I hope to proceed with the appointment of the person to lead the study as soon as possible.

I have also asked officials in my Department to examine options in relation to the succession-related aspects in the context of amendments to Deputy O'Callaghan's Private Members' Bill in consultation with the Attorney General's office.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

This is a complex area of the law and I want to ensure that we avoid any unintended or unforeseen consequences. Nonetheless, if the matter can be addressed through an amendment to that Bill it is my intention to bring any necessary proposals to Government as a matter of priority.

As I mentioned, my Department is already engaged in consultations with the Attorney General's office on possible reform options. In this context, I would of course welcome any input from the joint committee as part of its pre-legislative scrutiny of Deputy O'Callaghan's Private Members Bill and I look forward to co-operation from colleagues across both Houses in progressing this matter.

The Minister will be aware that the Coll family has specifically requested that the Succession Act of 1965 be updated to address the lacuna that exists with regard to murder-suicide. He referenced the Bill my colleague, Deputy O'Callaghan, has put forward, the Civil Liability (Amendment)(Prevention of Benefits from Homicide) Bill 2017, which is currently on Committee Stage. As the Minister knows, the Bill is a recommendation of the Law Reform Commission and it predates the peculiarities of the case we have been discussing. This has been a high-profile yet extremely sensitive case, which has been discussed on a number of occasions on the Claire Byrne programme and by the family members on live television, which people should not have to do. Can we get a categorical assurance from the Minister that every effort will be made to ensure that the passage of this Bill will not be delayed unduly for any reason whatsoever?

I wish to assure Deputy Collins, the House and the public that I share his concern but this is a most complex area of law. I am very anxious to ensure that there are no unintended or unforeseen consequences. It is important to consider the matter in the wider context than just the recent case which has been discussed in this House. For example, one could possibly imagine a similar case arising in the circumstances of long-term domestic violence where natural justice and public sympathies might lie with the perpetrator rather than the victim. Another example worthy of consideration is where a perpetrator had a child from a previous relationship and the rights of that child need to be considered. I merely give these examples to illustrate the need for careful legal analysis before we pass any law.

Notwithstanding that, I assure Deputy Collins that a number of options are under consideration. One possible course of action might be to amend the 1965 Succession Act to provide that, in cases such as these, the joint tenants of property would be deemed to have held the property immediately prior to their deaths as tenants in common. I assure the House that there is no stalling of legislation here, there is no undue delay, rather there are complex issues. I am sure Deputy O'Callaghan will acknowledge that.

The Minister will also be aware that the family of Clodagh Hawe made a number of other requests. They have requested amendments to the Coroners Act and that a special investigation unit for familicide and family annihilation be set up. They have also asked that information gathered in the course of an investigation be shared with the next of kin as expeditiously as possible. They have also proposed that, at the conclusion of an inquest in a case of familicide, the book of evidence be published. Have these requests been given careful consideration? They are complex requests, as we know, and the whole area is quite detailed, as the Minister said. This is against the backdrop of the fact that, since 2000, there have been 27 cases similar to this and involving murder-suicide. Could the Minister give a comment about the other requests the Hawe family have made?

I assure the Deputy, bearing in mind those 27 cases he refers to, that this is an issue which will be the subject matter of research and I hope to appoint a chair and committee of experts shortly. Many of the issues that were raised in the course of a meeting with the Coll family in my office centred around changes to the legislation. I have already assured the House that I am acting on Deputy O'Callaghan's Bill and the Succession Act. I wish to acknowledge the Deputy's drafting of that Bill. I assure the House that we must tread very carefully having regard to unforeseen or unintended consequences. One of the issues which the family raised with me was the need to have a meeting with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. That meeting took place last week and I believe the family found the meeting useful and constructive. It provided some clarity on aspects of the case. We are also looking at coroners' legislation.

I am not sure if the specific requests of the family require extensive legal change other than the Bill under discussion. Changes may be required in case management, practice, procedure and protocols. I am keen to have all the issues that were put to me in that meeting are addressed.