Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Criminal Justice Bill 2011: Committee and Remaining Stages
Alan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
I have great sympathy with the case made by the Senator. It would be a very good thing to have this in legislation and not just in the rules of court. I am very conscious of the difficulties that have affected individuals in circumstances where court orders have been made and there has been failure to comply with them on occasions by individuals who appear clearly to have the assets to facilitate their complying with them and who, for sheer bloody-mindedness, do not do so or because they have a perception that if they lengthen things out unnecessary, the individual who is owed money will run out of resources to continue to pursue them through the court system. That is very much an abuse of the court system and it is something I want to see brought to an end. In the case of some individuals, no matter what provisions are introduced, inevitably people will be brought back to court.
In the context of this section, the text of the amendment is identical to section 54 of the draft companies Bill, which deals with enforcement of orders and judgments against companies and their officers. My officials have been in consultation on the Senator's amendment with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, which has responsibility for company law. Fortuitously, one of the few areas of law that does not seem to fall within the aegis of my Department is company law generally because we have an enormous spectrum of issues that are within the Department's jurisdiction.
The amendment the Senator proposes is not a criminal law provision and this is a criminal justice Bill effectively. It would be completely out of place in the Criminal Justice Bill before the House.
Section 54 of the draft companies Bill is one single provision within a larger, carefully constructed and interlinked wider series of provisions contained in a coherent and comprehensive code of company legislation. Its inclusion on its own in a criminal justice Act instead of a companies Act would undermine the coherence of the company law code.
Regarding progress on the companies Bill, I am advised that pillar A, comprising approximately two thirds of the Bill, was published on the website of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on 30 May 2011 and that work is advanced on the drafting of the remaining provisions of the Bill, those that will be described as pillar B. It is expected that the drafting of these provisions will be completed in the next 12 months and that the Bill will then be published.
Unfortunately, I am not able to accept the Senator's amendment, even though I have a great deal of sympathy with it. It falls outside my jurisdiction to deal with the companies legislation and I must be guided by the views expressed by my colleague in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation that the matter is more appropriately dealt with within a coherent company law structure, as opposed to simply being picked out and put into this Bill. It is useful to use this debate to highlight the need to address this area and the huge importance of ensuring that where people are under obligations pursuant to court orders to make payments, that those payments are made and that we have an effective enforcement structure that facilitates dealing with those who are recalcitrant and do not regard the obligations imposed on them by the courts with the seriousness that they deserve.