Thursday, 30 July 2020
Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020: Second Stage
I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate today on this Bill. It is hardly surprising to the Minister that I will echo the comments that have been made by all the Opposition Members so far about section 14, which deals with business and how vulture funds are being facilitated with court cases that people are contesting. I am not sure whether they have the right to do that and it is vitally important that the section should be taken out of the Bill, as other Members have suggested. That would make sense because there will be a division on the Bill tonight if that does not happen. That section should be removed and perhaps put in a stand-alone Bill. I am sure there will be other courts Bills and other justice Bills coming forward in the autumn and the section could be inserted in another Bill after it has had proper consideration if it is required by the Minister to deal with this issue. That would make sense. By any stretch of the imagination I do not think one could say this is a Covid-related piece of business that needs to be accelerated. It obviously has been put in to speed up the process and to make it more acceptable for vulture funds and banks that are pursuing people who are in a difficult situation as it stands, and who need to be facilitated and helped to move on. The Minister should take that on board and remove the section from the Bill.
The other provisions in the Bill are clearly related to Covid. The Coroners Act does need to be amended and that should be done. Given the delay in coroners cases, we should consider making the change permanent. There may not a sufficient number of coroners at the moment to reduce the backlog of cases to a reasonable level so there may be a justification for appointing extra coroners for a temporary period.
I note the points that were made about people having to attend court and the extension of videoconferencing facilities. Has consideration been given to how that could impact on the right of individuals to have discussions with their legal representatives, in particular confidential discussions? When somebody is brought to court that is probably the only time he or she might get to see a legal representative. Has that been considered in the context of the Bill, as it is vitally important? I accept that we must reduce the need for the transportation of prisoners across the country and not have them zig-zagging around the place, but one of the important side effects of that is that they get to see their legal representative as well. I appreciate that the legal representative can visit the prison in order to have a consultation, but it is important that we should not restrict in any way a person's access to his or her legal representative, as that is vitally important for individuals in terms of pursuing their case.
Those are my three concerns about the Bill. My main concern relates to section 14 and the operation of vulture funds. I urge the Minister to withdraw the section, as other Members have sought. At least then the Bill could go through the House.