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 will respond to the member in charge issue. I assume the member in charge in the Garda Síochána will operate in good faith in dealing with section 7 matters. There are specific internal rules within the Garda in the context of applying these powers and I have no reason to believe they will not be properly applied in the context of the legislation. If some difficulties arise in the future we can revisit the matter but the way it is drafted currently is appropriate.
I take on board the Senator's comments. Some theft charges are extraordinarily simple. I recall being a very young lawyer, very wet behind the ears, with one of my first cases being a gentleman who broke into a butcher shop just off Grafton Street. He was caught walking down Grafton Street with a sack over his shoulder containing a number of chickens. It was late in the evening and he was unable to explain to the arresting garda why he had such a large number of chickens in a sack. The crime was discovered because the butcher shop window was broken. My capacity was tested to persuade the District Court judge to grant the man the benefit of the Probation Act as he was employed with the gas company and was the only person supporting his mother. I asked him why he felt the need to break into the butcher shop and I remember his response being that he had nothing else to do with his time that evening. Two weeks later he was back at my law firm having been arrested for another offence and at that stage I was of no use to him. He was sent down as a guest of the State at Mountjoy.
Theft can be very simple and may not need the usage of the powers in this Bill. I do not envisage that in simple cases prosecuted in the District Court these powers will be required. Theft can also be complicated, and my advice from the Garda with regard to the offences raised by the Senator is that in some cases investigation can be very complex. I assume the Garda Síochána will use its discretion as to when it is appropriate to utilise the provisions in the Bill.
I have seen criminal cases where prosecutions may involve a multiple allegation of different offences, which can include fraud and theft on the one charge sheet. In those circumstances it is appropriate that those powers are available. It is in the public interest that they be available to the gardaí so there is no artificial difficulty where the investigation involves fraud and theft and where these powers are utilised. Ultimately, based on the outcome of the investigation, it may be decided by the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute on the theft charge but not the fraud charge. There may be a difficulty with admissibility of certain evidence. We must be all-embracing to ensure that these powers do not create an artificial barrier to an appropriate prosecution being taken on a future occasion.