Wednesday, 23 June 2004
Criminal Justice (Joint Investigation Teams) Bill 2003 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]: Report and Final Stages.
This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendment made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as a report of the Dáil amendment to the Seanad. The only matter, therefore, which may be discussed is the amendment made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendment. Senators may speak only once on Report Stage.
I am grateful to the Acting Chairman for circulating the amendment made by Dáil Éireann in this matter. I come before the House today to seek approval of a Government amendment to section 5(4) of the Criminal Justice (Joint Investigation Teams) Bill, which was approved on Committee Stage in the Dáil. I will outline to the House the terms of the amendment.
Section 5(4) as initiated provided that, where a joint investigation team has been established by member states other than this State, this State could join the team on such terms and conditions as the Irish competent authority might agree with the competent authorities of the state which established the team. Following an amendment approved by this House on Report Stage, the Irish competent authority had also to be satisfied that the criminal conduct under investigation occurred either partly in the State and partly in another member state or states, or that the investigation thereof had links with the State.
In addition, the competent authority had to be satisfied there were reasonable grounds for believing that it would be in the public interest, having regard to the benefit likely to accrue to the investigation into the conduct, to join the team because it is likely that in order for the investigation to be more effective, part of it would have to be conducted in the State, or the investigation would require co-ordinated and concerted action by the member states concerned, including this State. However, in making that amendment in this House the reference in the original subsection to the effect that the State would join such a joint investigation team on such terms and conditions as the Irish competent authority might agree with the competent authority of the other member states concerned was inadvertently omitted. As such, in making an amendment, we inadvertently omitted other important material. The subsection was, therefore, further amended by way of a Government amendment on Committee Stage in the other House to provide accordingly.
The amendment also brings the provision in section 5(4) of the Bill into line with section 5(5) of the Bill, whereby another member state may join a team already established by more than one member state, including this State, on such terms and conditions as its competent authority may agree with the competent authority or authorities of the other member state or states concerned. The amendment made in the other House also clarifies that it is the conduct already being investigated by the team which is at issue.
I hope Senators will agree that the proposed amendment provides greater accuracy and clarity in relation to section 5(4). I thank all Members who contributed to the debate on the Bill and I look forward to the legislation being enacted.
Senators will have to admit that we should perhaps have spotted the oversight when discussing the Bill on Report Stage. We must acknowledge that the amendment, the necessity for which was identified before enactment of the Bill, is eminently sensible. Obviously the competent authority here should be in a position and have discretion to agree terms with the competent authority of the other state.
The purpose of the Bill is to have effective policing to bring those who commit crimes to justice, regardless of jurisdiction. It is appropriate and significant legislation given the debate on crime and, in particular, last week's development in achieving a constitution for the European Union. Perhaps I differ from the Minister in this regard but I believe the greater the degree of harmonisation of legislation in the area of policing, the better.
Organised crime is a real threat to society across the European Union, particularly in the accession countries which have sophisticated organised crime gangs consisting of people who were previously involved with some of the communist regimes. It is essential that the forces of law and order are equipped to effectively pursue such people and bring them to justice, rather than inhibited in any way by national boundaries or geographical considerations.
I commend the Minister for introducing the amendment. Senators had an excellent discussion on earlier Stages of the Bill. It is good legislation and I welcome it.
I thank Senators for their positive attitude towards the amendment. As regards Senator Jim Walsh's comments, I have no objection in principle to harmonisation where it is necessary but I have a slight fear, which I have always expressed, regarding involuntary harmonisation where others consider it necessary and we have good reason to oppose it. That is why I was pleased that under the IGC text on criminal justice measures, where QMV applies, a state such as Ireland could, if a measure significantly amended our own criminal law arrangements, invoke an emergency brake procedure, refer it to the Council of Europe and if the Irish position was maintained, the other states could give us an opt-out, which would allow them to proceed on the basis of enhanced co-operation.
That is a sensible approach to the development of the criminal law systems of member states. We are the best judges of whether something would be seriously damaging to our system and we have given ourselves a little elbow room in the context of the introduction of QMV to protect our system from involuntary change which goes against its fundamental values or procedures. I thank Senators for their attitude and I am grateful to the House for receiving and noting the amendment.