Thursday, 21 June 2012
Statute Law Revision Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages
Mattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the Statute Law Revision Bill 2012, which deals with a large number of archaic Acts of Parliament. Similar legislation revising statute was enacted in 2009 and there have been other such Acts over the years.
I echo Deputy Ó Cuív's comment that considerable work had been done in this area in recent years. I urge the Government to continue this work and remove as many archaic Acts as possible from the Statute Book. As a modern country, we should not need to have legislation passed in the 18th or 19th century on our Statute Book. Ireland has been independent since 1922 and it would be more convenient for the general public and solicitors, barristers and those engaged in legal studies if we were to have a comprehensive Statute Book covering all legislation passed since the foundation of the State.
Many of the 40,000 Acts on the Statute Book are private and officials are to be commended on proposing in this Bill to remove 10,000 of them. This is no small piece of work and I commend them on their laborious, time consuming endeavours behind the scenes and hidden from the glare of the House. They deserve our thanks and praise and I wish them well as they study the remaining 30,000 Acts with a view to making the Statute Book more relevant to citizens.
I note a 1761 Bill was introduced for the purpose of "vesting certain lands etc. situate in County Tipperary, the estate of Philip Percival, Esquire, in trustees, in order that same may be sold for payment of debts and incumbrances affecting same, and also the estate of said Philip, situate in County Sligo;". This refers to the Earl of Tipperary selling Irish land to raise moneys to pay off his debts. It is timely that legislation of this nature is removed from the Statute Book. In Clonmel, Cappoquin, Carrick-on-Suir and many other areas people still pay ground rents and in some cases must obtain permission from so-called lords before vesting certain property, taking out probate or engaging in similar activities. My area had many such lords, most of whom are deceased. Some of them were good people, for example, Lord Doneraile, who was a neighbour of mine, was always a good man to deal with. Nevertheless, that people are still beholden to such people is archaic. This should have gone out with the flood and certainly with the gaining of independence.
Reference was made to making the workings of the Law Library and Four Courts relevant to ordinary people. I have been arguing for years for the introduction of refresher courses for judges. Unless a judge is impeached - fortunately this is seldom required - he or she will remain a judge for life. Times have changed and the courts must become more user friendly places for all citizens, whether they are called for jury duty, must appear as a witness or to answer a charge or choose to visit the courts out of curiosity and interest. Having gowned and wigged gentlemen and ladies playing around with laptops and so forth in the courts is archaic and nonsensical. It is time we copped on and got rid of this last vestige of the British Empire. We should abandon the use of gowns and wigs and the charade that goes with it and come down to the level of ordinary people. People need to have faith in the system of justice. We should help them feel comfortable in their surroundings when in court. It is bad enough to encounter the eerie silence of court chambers. I have been arguing for years that the proceedings of the Coroner's Court should be held in a much softer environment, as is the case with some of the family courts. Reform is needed in this area.
We need to repeal more archaic Acts of Parliament. As was noted, a number of Ministers tried to address this issue over the years with some degree of success. We need to go further because justice must be for everybody and everyone must feel at ease in places where the law and justice are administered.
There are so many private statutes that one could use the list as bedtime reading. It is interesting to note the various issues they address. For example, an Act of 1783-84 was introduced for the purpose of "vesting in trustees certain lands and tenements, the estate of Francis Mathew, Esquire, of Thomastown, in County Tipperary". Last Monday evening, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, visited Athassal Abbey, a wonderful old Cistercian monastery close to Thomastown. Much history, architecture and archaeology is associated with the abbey and those present heard a wonderful discussion. We should strive to have this part of rich heritage preserved and ensure it looks it best. I am delighted the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Brian Hayes, is present. Perhaps he will visit Athassal Abbey with his colleague, Deputy Tom Hayes, at some stage. Local landowners are amenable to allowing the OPW have a car park and walk at the site. Some negotiations would be required beforehand.
Pre-1922 Acts of Parliament, on the other hand, are the type of heritage we must get rid of. We should repeal these Acts and cherish and enjoy instead our heritage and rich cultural diversity. We do not want to retain archaic statutes dating from the era of the British Empire and Cromwellian times when we were given the choice of hell or Connacht. This should all have been taken with them when they went. We have our own destiny and we should ensure that some of these dastardly Acts get repealed. I wish the Bill speedy passage through the House, along with the other 30,000 Acts and I commend the work of the officials in this case.