Seanad debates

Wednesday, 20 March 2024

Court Proceedings (Delays) Bill 2023: Second Stage


12:00 pm

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. To echo what others said, there is an added urgency to the passing of the Bill. That was reflected in the Dáil debate in May of last year. At that time, speakers to this Bill spoke about the impact of delays in court proceedings, in particular, trials of people accused of very serious crimes. The delays have immediate consequences for those affected by the crime and their families, for the police and the justice system bogged down in processing the charges to completion, and for wider society because of the visible knock-on consequences with respect to police time and its operations in particular.

Crimes against the person are particularly concerning with respect to this Bill. Whatever the circumstances, a courtroom is the last place a person wants to be. To a victim of crime, the quicker the ordeal is over, the better. It is difficult enough to handle the situation emotionally without the additional worry of the time it takes for the justice system to satisfactorily go through its processes. Furthermore, if the police are sitting at desks trying to prosecute criminals and are being delayed, they are not on the beat trying to protect people, which is their number one priority.

As the Minister of State said, in addition to this bureaucratic logjam there is a human rights dimension to this problem. The European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR, states that suspects are entitled to a fair trial within a reasonable timeframe. As a result of failing to meet that core principle, the Council of Europe, following a period of time monitoring the justice system in Ireland, said the courts were breaching the rights of individuals in such circumstances. Not only is the delay unacceptable at a practical level, it is also unacceptable because of the human rights implications. In that context, this is a Bill of necessity and good practice. It will bring the law into line with the ECHR and facilitate legal remedies for those affected by the delay.

However, the Bill, on its own, will not ensure trials will be held promptly. We have a shortage of judges, which has impacted the ability to deliver justice consistently and in a timely manner. It is to be hoped that last year's announcement about an additional 24 new judges, with a further 20 to follow, and the introduction of preliminary trial hearings will speed up trials. As I said, it is welcome that the Bill will be passed and will come into effect to get us in line with the ECHR. It will also ensure those who are the victims of crimes do not have their access to justice delayed any longer than is necessary. I echo that Sinn Féin will support the Bill.


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