Thursday, 17 December 2020
Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages
I appreciate Deputy Howlin's concern in regard to the issue of intention. Generally speaking, it is the position in criminal matters that intention can be proved by reference to the natural and probable consequences of a person's actions. I would see no harm in including the proposed subsection 4(2), as inserted by amendment No. 15, in the Bill. Unfortunately, the amendment also makes a change to subsection (1). I cannot agree to that change in the structure of the offence, which has been carefully considered. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment. The matter can be kept under review and if it needs to be amended in future legislation, that certainly can be done. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, has said she will keep an open mind on the matter.
Regarding Deputy Paul Murphy's comments on freedom of speech, I was not in attendance on Committee Stage but my understanding is that this issue was strongly debated. I assure the Deputy that it was also heavily considered during the drafting stage. That is why there is a requirement in the Bill in regard to the intention to cause harm. There is a view that there is sufficient protection there in respect of free speech. I understand there was even a push to have the word "grossly" removed but that would have opened it up widely to all sorts of potential criminal offences. That is the position as I understand it.