Wednesday, 7 June 2006
Ceisteanna — Questions (Resumed).
State Prosecution Service.
Question 3: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the Nally report on the reorganisation of the State prosecution service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16026/06]
As indicated in reply to previous questions on the matter, the recommendations of the Nally report in respect of the reorganisation of the Office of the Chief State Solicitor have been largely implemented. Agreement with the unions involved was achieved during 2001. The criminal prosecutions functions undertaken by the Office of the Chief State Solicitor were transferred to the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions at the end of 2001. A common promotion pool within the two offices, between the Office of the Chief State Solicitor and the solicitors division of the Director of Public Prosecutions, for professional solicitor and technical promotion posts formed part of the agreement and is now in operation.
A negotiating process with local State solicitors, which seeks to agree on the transfer of the service to the Director of Public Prosecutions, is under way. Two reviewers were appointed to undertake a study of the current workload of local State solicitors and their expense base. They have submitted their report and it has been considered by the Office of the Chief State Solicitor and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
A formal offer of increased remuneration, approved by the Department of Finance, was made to the State Solicitors Association on 21 April 2006. Representatives of the Office of the Chief State Solicitor and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions met the State Solicitors Association to discuss the offer. The State Solicitors Association is considering the offer and is preparing a formal response, which should be received in the coming weeks.
Enabling legislation and appropriate legislative provisions on the transfer of the local State solicitor service are contained in the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Act 2005, which was signed by the President on 9 July 2005.
The first half of the Taoiseach's response is identical to what was prepared for him on the previous occasion on which this question was answered.
The study group that addressed the issue of greater cohesion in the criminal justice system on the last occasion recommended the transfer of responsibilities from the criminal justice division of the Chief State Solicitor's office and the local State solicitors' offices to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. An offer was made in this regard at the time. Has that matter been concluded? Was the offer accepted and has the recommendation been finalised and completed?
Are there any unfilled positions in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions? Does a backlog of work exist there as a consequence? Is work being outsourced by the DPP's office to local solicitors as a result of backlogs? I am aware that additional staff have been appointed but what is the current position?
The Nally report set out a number of recommendations, including that responsibility for local State solicitors should be transferred from the Attorney General to the DPP, with legislative provisions to enable the DPP to delegate to them; that the appointment of State solicitors should be made on the recommendation of the Public Appointments Service, subject to agreement on adequate staffing levels and appropriate staff structures; and that the criminal division of the Chief State Solicitor's office, CSSO, should be transferred to the DPP's office to form a unit headed by the solicitor to the DPP following statutory clarification of the 1994 Act. These issues were addressed.
A common pool of staff, the members of which would be entitled to apply for transfer and promotion among the various legal offices in accordance with accepted Civil Service procedures, was also recommended. The only outstanding recommendation relates to the State solicitor service and that, because it is an industrial relations issue, is the subject of negotiation. Following a report on the workload and the expense base of State solicitors conducted by reviewers engaged by the CSSO, an offer was made on 21 April, which dealt with many of the issues raised during negotiations with the State Solicitors Association and was designed to set a benchmark for the payment of expenses. The CSSO and the DPP feel that the offer responds realistically to the issues raised and it is hoped that the State solicitors will respond favourably. However, given that negotiations are ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further. That is the only outstanding issue.
With regard to staff numbers, the CSSO has recruited the additional staff that were approved. A small number of vacancies exist and the office is in the process of filling them. The DPP's office has recruited the additional staff sanctioned and it has a staff of approximately 170 full-time personnel, while the CSSO has 232 staff. Only a small number of vacancies exist, whereas a number of years ago it was quite difficult to fill positions. However, the advent of new structures and grades and the transferability of staff mean various issues have been addressed.
The Deputy inquired about the workload. The Government has no reason not to contract out legal work. In the recent past, specific cases were contracted out where the workload involved was beyond the capacity of the CSSO. The office also makes extensive use of counsel in dealing with the day-to-day caseload. The DPP's office outsources more prosecution work to barristers and private practice than in most common law jurisdictions and all the advocacy work in contesting jury trials is outsourced to the Bar. Other common law jurisdictions have tended to make greater use of in-house lawyers but that is not what happens here. Local State solicitors are private practitioners who work on contract to the State rather than as State employees and, therefore, work is outsourced to them. Significant amounts of work in the legal service are outsourced.
What is the current status of the working group, comprising gardaí and representatives of the DPP's office, which was set up to implement aspects of the Nally report? Does the Taoiseach recall the decision to caution rather than prosecute first-time offenders in possession of small amounts of cannabis? What other working group recommendations have been implemented?
The recommendation in respect of cannabis was not part of the Nally report. All work under Nally, with the exception of issues relating to the local State solicitors, is complete. Perhaps the working group is dealing with another section in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform but it has nothing to do with the Nally report. I will seek information on the matter and forward a note to the Deputy.
All the recommendations of the Nally report have been implemented. The only outstanding issue relates to the work of the local State solicitors. I do not think the issue raised by the Deputy was covered by the Nally report but I will check. If it was, I will contact him in writing.
Given the recent concern about the prosecution process engaged in by the State, will the recommendations of the Nally report be treated with urgency? In light of the Supreme Court experience, should the Nally group take on board any lessons? Will the Taoiseach recommend that those involved in the Nally report examine the experience afresh, given that it has been the subject of much debate in the past few days?
The Nally report was undertaken when the DPP's office and the Office of the Chief State Solicitor faced significant caseloads. Following a number of reviews, large numbers of new staff were approved. An additional 75 staff were recruited by the CSSO, including 66 in the professional and technical complement, while a significant number of legal clerks, senior legal clerks, staff officers and higher executive officers were recruited to both offices following negotiations and a number of industrial relations cases in 2000 and 2001. Both offices were revamped and the criminal division was transferred from the CSSO to the DPP's office and the unit is headed by the solicitor to the DPP. All these actions were taken and there has been no difficulty since then other than in respect of the issue to which I referred. Staff numbers have increased substantially to more than 400 between the two offices. The transferability of staff between both offices has been useful because it has helped the career prospects of staff. That was one of the major arguments made by staff. Only a handful of posts are vacant and the new grades have been introduced. The issues that created much difficulty in 2000 have been addressed.
There is no problem with the statutory procedures but the communication procedures could perhaps be examined. The statutory work undertaken between them has not been raised as a problem and it does not require amendment.
Will the Taoiseach clarify whether the criminal prosecution functions undertaken by the CSSO have transferred completely to the DPP's office, as agreed in 2001? Last February, the Taoiseach stated that negotiations were still taking place to agree the transfer of the service to the DPP. What are the implications for both offices of section 3(9) of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006, under which a proposal to take legal proceedings against a person under the age of 17 must first be referred to the DPP or the relevant legal person in those offices? Would the Taoiseach say that was a desperate attempt to cover the sustainability of his Government? For example, a situation could arise in which 16 year old father might be criminalised because of a completely consensual relationship with another 16 year old. Does the Taoiseach think it is good State policy to make a baby born to teenage parents, which, I agree, would be better not to happen, start life with a father who has been criminalised or even jailed? Has he given serious consideration to these matters? How can he defend asking the DPP or the Chief State Solicitor's office to conduct what is really a judicial review?
The criminal division of the Office of the Chief State Solicitor has been transferred to the Office of the DPP. That was done with statutory clarification that the professional staff are professional staff of the DPP within the meaning of the 1974 Act. The only outstanding issue concerns local State solicitors and efforts are being made on negotiations to bring them within the ambit of the DPP's office. I addressed that issue in a question to which I replied earlier. They are contracted to the State. They made an argument based on their caseloads, office staff and overall expenses and that has been the subject of negotiations for some time. The Department of Finance agreed to a new offer, which has been made and is being considered. The Chief State Solicitor and the DPP hope it will be accepted so that the remaining part can be concluded. All the other issues, including the organisational structure, modern library, information systems, planning and training, have been addressed.