Thursday, 23 June 2016
Statute of Limitations
11. To ask the Minister for Finance if he plans any changes to lift the Statute of Limitations on civil offences that may have contributed to the banking crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17515/16]
The operation of the law regarding the Statute of Limitations is a matter for my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, and I understand it is the subject of ongoing review in her Department. I am given to understand the review is taking account of the Law Reform Commission report on limitation of actions published in December 2011. That report examines the rules on time limits for bringing civil claims in the courts, many of which are contained in the Statute of Limitations 1957, as amended.
The report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis was a comprehensive examination of what went wrong in the banking system. The law around time limits for bringing civil claims was not identified as a contributory factor to the banking crisis in that report. However, my Department, in conjunction with the Central Bank, is considering the banking inquiry report in the round, with a view to bringing forward proposals in response to all of the recommendations related to the Department and the Central Bank which are contained in the report, including any related issues that may emerge.
The Central Bank has the power to administer sanctions in respect of the commission of prescribed contraventions by regulated financial service providers and participation in the prescribed contraventions by persons concerned in their management. The Central Bank may investigate where a concern arises that a prescribed contravention has been or is being committed, and, following the investigation, an inquiry may be held where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a prescribed contravention has been or is being committed. The inquiry shall decide if the prescribed contravention has occurred and determine the appropriate sanctions.
The decision by the Central Bank to take enforcement action is not constrained by time limits but is determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the full circumstances of each case. There are many factors that may be considered, including the promotion of compliance by the regulated entity, the promotion of compliance within the industry or sector, the proportionality of the enforcement action and support of the strategy, objectives and policies of the Central Bank.
I thank the Minister for his reply. The banking inquiry made many good suggestions. I was unable to sign up to the report because I felt it was weak in certain areas, particularly in respect of the role of the auditors and others, but the banking inquiry was not a court, nor should it have been. Unfortunately, some causes of the financial crisis undoubtedly would be classified as civil offences and, therefore, the Statute of Limitations comes into play. I believe it is necessary to consider amending the Statute of Limitations in order that banks, accountants, auditors and possibly even politicians who may through their actions have either broken the law or contributed to the financial crisis can be pursued outside of the six-year rule. This has been done previously in the Bill introduced by Deputy Ó Caoláin to lift the Statute of Limitations for victims of symphysiotomy, which passed Committee Stage. It really is a matter of political will as to whether Members wish to create a shackle there. Alternatively, information may come to light in the future that could lead to prosecutions on civil matters were the Statute of Limitations to be lifted in this area. Given the enormity of and the number of victims of the financial crisis, this should be considered-----
As I already have stated, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality is examining the Statute of Limitations legislation. I also stated that a decision by the Central Bank to take enforcement action is not constrained by time limits but is considered on a case-by-case basis. Under the delegation orders from the Minister for Finance, the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who played such an important role in the banking inquiry, has been given the responsibility on a cross-party basis of implementing the recommendations of the inquiry.