Thursday, 17 December 2020
Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages
The Minister, Deputy McEntee, indicated on Committee Stage that she would not support amendments of this nature. I reiterate her views. Section 10(1) of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851 provides that summary prosecutions must be initiated within a time limit of six months. The time limits provided for in law for summary offences reflect the fact that an individual should not have a relatively minor offence that is summary in nature hanging over him or her for a disproportionate length of time.
Section 6 extends the time limit for the bringing of a summary prosecution to two years. This is something I support as I appreciate there may be difficulties in investigating offences that may be entirely online, as recognised by the Law Reform Commission. However, I am also mindful that this extension is an exception to the normal rules in relation to criminal prosecutions and should be treated as such. I point out that this particular section will only apply to summary offences under the Bill and not indictable offences, which attract a higher penalty. There is no time limit for the prosecution of indictable offences in Ireland. While I appreciate the intention behind the Deputies' proposals in amendments Nos. 21 to 23, inclusive, I do not believe it is appropriate to extend time for the bringing of summary proceedings beyond a significant extension provided for in the Bill already. This could have the effect of extending the time for summary prosecutions to any point in the future, which would mean it could be treated the same as an indictable offence. This is not desirable in practice and could be considered to interfere with the right to a fair trial, as guaranteed under the Constitution. I, therefore, ask the Deputies not to press the proposed amendments in this session.
On Deputy Kenny's comments, my understanding is that any republication would be a new offence and treated accordingly.