Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Criminal Justice Bill 2011: Committee and Remaining Stages
It is a little confusing. I refer to section 19 in the Bill as passed by Dáil Éireann which relates to the withholding of information. We had a brief discussion on this matter on Second Stage. The Minister might outline what the new provision will mean, what changes it introduces and how it will impact on legal service officers and others who engage with clients. Does it introduce a new onus on such people to be more forthcoming? What substantial difference is introduced by the section?
I again thank the Seanad for taking the Bill today and my colleague for raising the issue.
Section 19 is a very important section. It is worth recording what it states before I comment on it. Subsection (1) states:
A person shall be guilty of an offence if he or she has information which he or she knows or believes might be of material assistance in—
(a) preventing the commission by any other person of a relevant offence, or
(b) securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of any other person for a relevant offence, and fails without reasonable excuse to disclose that information as soon as it is practicable to do so to a member of the Garda Síochána.
The relevant offences are the offences referred to and listed in the Schedule to the Bill. They are, essentially, offences that could globally be referred to as white collar crime offences.
Subsection (2) describes the position if someone is found guilty of an offence:
A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—
(a) on summary conviction, to a class A fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both, or
(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or both.
The importance of this provision is to ensure, essentially, that when someone is aware that others are engaged in white collar crime or are planning to effect a crime that would fall into that category there is an obligation to report it to the Garda in order to assist it in either preventing the commission of to crime or in the investigation of the crime. There are a number of obvious examples that could be given.
For example, one could take a very simple situation of a private limited company where an employee is concerned about the manner in which financial matters are being dealt with in that company. He or she may be concerned that there is an attempt to defraud individuals that the company is trading with. There may be a concern that there is an attempt to defraud the Revenue. There may be a concern, perhaps, that a managing director of the company is trying to defraud the company. It may be an internal issue relating to a company. It does not have to be a limited liability company. There may be a business that is a partnership. Let us take some of the areas that have been in the public arena. Let us deal with the profession of which I was a member for many years. There may be a concern about an assistant solicitor working in a solicitors' firm, that a partner or a member of that firm was misusing clients' funds or was giving false undertakings to banks, possibly with regard to their own financial arrangements. Take, for example, instances we are aware of, that have occurred and been reported as resulting in individuals being struck off as solicitors by the Law Society where, perhaps, a solicitor gave undertakings to a series of different financial institutions in order to obtain loans that he or she would provide a particular property as security for the loans and it turned out that the property might have been adequate security for one loan with one financial institution but would not be adequate security for a range of similar loans with a multiplicity of institutions, none of whom had to wit to find out if the property was already pledged as security to someone else. That could result in a report.
Let us take a global banking issue without any particular reference to any institution in the State. I want to be careful to say nothing as Minister that might prejudice any investigation or prosecutions that might take place. If there were individuals within a banking institution who were concerned that there was a degree of false accounting, a presentation of profitability or capital values which would mislead shareholders, the stock market or investors or who were aware of these events, they would be under an obligation, under section 19 of this Bill, if they had knowledge that could prevent the commission of crime to report it to the Garda Síochána, or if they were aware that crimes were committed to assist the Garda in its investigation.
What is very important with regard to section 19 is the linkage with the whisteblower provisions in the Bill which seek to ensure that where people in good faith make a report to the Garda on an issue about which they are concerned that cannot detrimentally impact on their employment or result in losing their job, or being discriminated against in any shape or form in their job, or being prevented or blocked from promotions. It contains a whole range of protections.
Where does this change the law? At the moment, there is not as clear a provision in our existing law that creates those obligations nor do we have the whistleblower protection in the manner which is prescribed in this legislation. If in the context of the appalling decisions made within the banking sector, by financial institutions, and if in the context of the events of recent years, a person in a junior or senior position, in any of the financial institutions that got into trouble, was of the belief that criminality was involved in the manner in which an institution or a senior person in that institution was conducting business, under this legislation that knowledge would have required them to report it to the Garda Síochána and it would have been a very specific identifiable offence to cover it up. In the context of investigations that are current, when this legislation is enacted, people who have information that can assist the Garda in an investigation, who may be guilty of no criminality themselves, but they have information and they have not come forward with it, it makes it crystal clear that they have a legal obligation to give that information. Should they fail to do so, they themselves, if it emerges that they knew of or had access to information that would be of assistance, could be liable to a criminal charge. We know that in the context of investigations that occur, be it the banking crisis which the State has had to deal with or other areas of the law, there are on occasions individuals who have information that could assist the Garda in the investigation of serious crime or they may have documentation, or access to electronically held information, who may choose simply to keep their head down and do nothing. Some may do it out of fear for their physical safety and some may do it out of fear that it could detrimentally impact on their future employment positions.
Section 19, linked in to the whisteblower provisions, not only provides an incentive to be of assistance, it makes it a criminal offence to fail to be of assistance while at the same time giving a guarantee that if one provides assistance in good faith, it is not something that can be used to undermine one's employment position and it ensures that the protections needed in that context are available.
I am in favour of the provisions of the Bill. I have two brief questions to which the Minister may not wish to respond immediately. The Minister touched on an issue that I meant to raise yesterday in regard to the abuse of solicitors' undertakings. There is evidence in certain instances re some rogue solicitors of abuse where undertakings were given on several occasions for the same property. Can a mechanism be introduced such as registering independence whereby solicitors' undertakings can or should be registered to avoid that recurring because the system is open to abuse and has been so proven. Perhaps those well-publicised cases are not the conclusion of that particular issue with regard to undertakings. I am aware that banks and lending institutions are much more wary in regard to solicitors' undertakings and every solicitor's office is trawling through the past ten years as to when they gave undertakings. Most of these are innocuous where one returns the deeds or stamps and registers the documents.
My second point concerns legislation. Realising that legislation, by and large, cannot be retrospective, how does the Minister see the legislation being helpful in, say, the Anglo Irish Bank investigation? Certain events have taken place during the past three or four years and while the legislation per se cannot be retrospective, parts of the Bill can be helpful to ongoing investigations which the Garda may be conducting without breaching the confidentiality of such inquiries.
Yes. I thank the Senator for the questions he has raised and will take the second query first. The second one is very much to the point. The Senator is absolutely right, one cannot retrospectively criminalise a failure. If an individual had information on, say, 1 February 2010, they should have provided to the Garda in regard to current investigations and failed to provide it - it is not, of course, an offence, as we stand here today, for them to have failed to provide it. Let us assume this legislation is passed and signed by the President and is operative in, say, August. The person who had the information previously still has it today. If it is information they know of or information to which they have access, they still have it. At that point in time there is an obligation on them to provide it and if they do not within a reasonable period provide it to the Garda and if it emerges that this was information they concealed, which would assist the Garda in a current uncompleted investigation in respect of which no prosecution has yet ensued, they will be liable to be charged. I do not want to beat about the bush.
If there are people today who have information that they have not yet made available to the Garda Síochána with regard to the investigations taking place into our financial institutions, and if they have access, for example, to information held electronically that the Garda does not yet know about, and if they know how to access that information and have not revealed it, I want a message to go out from this House that following the enactment of this Bill they will be under a legal obligation to assist the Garda in its inquiries. Should it emerge, following the enactment of this Bill, that they failed to do so, they themselves will be liable to criminal charge. This is why this Bill is so important in the context of current investigations.
Current investigations will be assisted in the context of the Garda in relation to other provisions being able to make application to the courts - the District Court - to access documentation electronically held, information that may be held by witnesses and that would assist the investigation. Section 19 applies to people who are concealing and continuing to conceal where there is a current investigation in respect of which no decision has been made to prosecute.
Indeed, even where a decision has been made to prosecute, if the prosecution has not yet ensued and the trial has not taken place, under this legislation, a person would still be under an obligation to bring that information to the attention of the Garda because it would be relevant to the alleged committal - I must be careful in using that word - of a criminal offence. This is why this legislation is so important and why, on a sunny Wednesday at the end of July, the Seanad is sitting specially to assist us in completing its enactment before the summer vacation.
On the second question raised by the Senator, there was an appalling laxity with regard to dealing with undertakings. What happened with solicitors who gave undertakings that should not have been given with regard to bank borrowings that they themselves were engaged in was a product of the failure of the banks and financial institutions to provide adequate records and oversight. There was a lack of records of undertakings given. I share the view of the Senator that mechanisms to record undertakings are desirable, and I know the Law Society has a new approach to this issue. That is something we must consider further to ensure we have systems in place to prevent this type of thing from happening again. Of course, it was primarily the consequence of individuals behaving in a fraudulent manner by misrepresenting their financial circumstances and not making clear the nature of securities previously given to banking institutions. It was a product of circumstances about which we need to be cautious. As a member of the legal profession, I am conscious of this.
The legal profession, like any other profession, is not perfect; probably no profession will ever be perfect. There will always be individuals in every profession who misbehave. Many years ago, however, the position with regard to borrowing from a bank or any other financial institution was that the financial institution would have its own solicitor checking documentation and the borrower would have his or her solicitor; if it was a solicitor borrowing, he would probably represent himself. At any rate, the bank would have its own solicitor who would check documents. The criticism at the time was that the borrower ended up having to pay for two lawyers. If he was a solicitor he would presumably not pay himself for the work he did when he borrowed on the security of property he owned, but the ordinary borrower who was not a lawyer would end up paying his own solicitor plus the cost of the bank's lawyer whose job it was to ensure the documentation was in order.
In a move to try to reduce legal expenses for the public - a move that was well-intentioned - banks stopped employing their own in-house lawyers or other firms of solicitors to check that adequate security was given and began to agree to take undertakings from solicitors. Ninety-five percent of those in the legal profession, in fairness to them, dealt with those issues in a correct, trustworthy and honourable manner, and those 95% are now paying what I would describe as the cost of the small number of individuals who went rogue and misused the giving of undertakings for personal gain. This has resulted in enormous compensation claims against the solicitors' compensation fund, which is funded by honest solicitors, who are now picking up the tab for those who did go rogue.
There is a concern to ensure that where solicitors have been engaged in criminality and have been struck off, court proceedings by way of criminal prosecution should, where appropriate and within a reasonable period of time, be taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I have no means of communicating directly with the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is, rightly, an independent officer by statute, but I am concerned that when the Garda completes an investigation into alleged criminality by members of the solicitor profession - or, indeed, any other profession - all appropriate prosecutions are initiated within a reasonable period by the DPP. Measures should not be unduly delayed and there should be no sense, whether we are dealing with alleged criminality in the banking sector, the legal profession or any other profession, that individuals within any particular group have impunity with regard to their bad conduct or alleged criminal conduct. We await the outcome of the consideration the DPP is currently giving to files that have been furnished to him.
I am fascinated by what the Minister has said. I wanted to refer to Senator O'Donovan's first query, because it seemed to me the question of retrospective legislation was sacrosanct but the Minister has opened my eyes to other possible situations. For example, a person may have opened a book last week and discovered something he or she had not known before. Although it may not have been a crime not to report this last week, when we pass this legislation, it will be a crime if the person does not report it at a later stage. This is a valid and correct point. In other words, the crime is the fact that the person has the knowledge but has not disclosed it. I wonder whether most people know that. It seems there will be a need to publicise the provisions this legislation will introduce. I can well imagine a person who thinks it is not illegal for him or her to keep quiet about something now, but when the legislation is passed, it will become illegal for the person not to pass on something they learned the previous month or the previous year. There will be a need to publicise it.
I agree with the Senator. I hope that what I have said today will receive some publicity; he can be assured it will be publicised. Of course, the provision does not apply to every bit of tittle-tattle, it refers to information that will provide, in the phraseology of the Bill, material assistance to the Garda in either preventing the commission of one of scheduled crimes or assisting in the investigation into such a crime after it is committed.
It is important that what we do in this House and the implications of the Bills we enact in the Houses of the Oireachtas are understood. The Senator can rest assured that I will be doing my best to ensure that when the legislation is signed by the President and brought into force, people understand the implications of this provision. The debates in the Dáil and in this House received some publicity and I am sure the Garda will make known the implications of this provision to individuals it believes have material information available to them that would assist in either preventing the commission of one of the designated crimes or the investigation of a crime it believes to have already been committed.
I would like to raise a question I asked the Minister regarding section 20 on Second Stage yesterday. This section, which deals with whistleblower protection, received great support on Second Stage. I believe it was added on Report Stage in the Dáil. At that point the Minister said that comprehensive legislation on whistleblowers would be introduced, as is the commitment in the programme for Government, in the medium term. I asked yesterday if there was any sense of what the medium term was or if he could provide a timeframe. He helpfully said he would be dealing with some specific questions when we came to particular sections on Committee Stage, so I thought I might ask the question again now.
I apologise to the Senator for not responding to that yesterday. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, has responsibility for producing the general whistleblower legislation, which is to apply across the public sector. We are conscious that what I describe as fragmented whistleblower provisions are already in existence in different Acts enacted by the Houses of the Oireachtas. In a sense, what we are doing in today's Bill is to introduce a specifically focused whistleblower protection provision, which will form part of what could, in a few days' time, be described as the fragmented spread of whistleblower legislation. The Department for which the Minister, Deputy Howlin, is responsible is examining bringing it together in one comprehensive whistleblower Bill, which the Government believes, if possible, is desirable. Because of the heavy legislative schedule it will be published, if not before the end of this year, we hope, early next year. I would not say it will be published in the early autumn; it will be towards the end of this year or early next year. Work has been commenced on its preparation.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 30, after line 48, to insert the following subsections:
"(3) Any judgement or order against a company disobeyed may by leave of the court, be enforced by—
(a) sequestration against the property of the company,
(b) attachment against the directors or other officers of the company, or
(c) sequestration against the property of such directors or other officers.
(4) An application may not be made, in the foregoing circumstances, for attachment against directors or other officers or for sequestration against their property unless the judgement or order of the court to which the application relates has contained a statement indicating the liability of such persons or of their property to attachment or sequestration, as the case may be, should the judgement or order be disobeyed by the company.
(5) In this section "attachment" and "sequestration" have the same meaning as they have in rules of court concerning the jurisdiction of the High Court and the Supreme Court.".
This amendment is self-explanatory. When I became involved in preparing the Construction Contracts Bill, which was introduced in the House last year and which I hope will become law in the next few months, my attention was drawn to the number of contractors and developers who had not paid subcontractors. I assumed it was comparatively easy for the subcontractor to get the money he or she was owed if the contractor had the money but I discovered that in many cases the contractor had money but that the payment of subcontractors was not being enforced.
The proposed new subsections seek to cure what many subcontractors and suppliers call white collar crime - companies ordering goods and services and hiding behind the protection of limited liability and not honouring their debts. What I recommend in this amendment is already in law but it is contained in secondary legislation; it is provided in the rules of the Irish High Court, Order 42, rule 32. What I propose in this amendment will highlight this rule by moving it into primary legislation, which is a recommendation of the statutory Company Law Review Group that goes back to 2007. This expert group has already recommended that this be provided for in the new companies Bill 2012.
Companies that are solvent and pay their debts have nothing to fear from this proposal. However, if a company is successfully sued in the District, Circuit or High Court and a High Court order is obtained requiring it to pay and it does not do so, it will be in contempt of court. If it continues to disobey or fails to cease trading, technically under Irish company law, as it currently stands, if one cannot pay a Bill of more than €1,300 within 21 days and the debt is not disputed, one is regarded as being insolvent and a creditor can have one's company wound up by the court. The proposed new subsections would send a very clear message to the corporate community, namely, to pay its bills or if it continues to trade in perhaps a reckless fashion and ignores a court judgment, it will face attachment and committal and risk having its personal property seized for failure to pay company debts.
The business community desperately needs greater protection here. It cannot wait until the companies Bill is eventually enacted which may not happen for another year or two. There is an opportunity to introduce this provision in this legislation; it is already down on paper in the rules of the Irish High Court and, therefore, it is capable of being introduced at this stage, although I can understand why the Minister may not be enthusiastic about accepting it today.
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.
I thank the Minister for his explanation. I was not aware of all detail of which he has informed me. I can understand why this measure may not be appropriate to include in a criminal justice Bill, although if someone is found to have willfully refused to pay something the court has charged them to pay, that is very close to being criminal. The Minister said that the companies Bill that will be introduced next year will probably include a provision like this if not exactly this one because this provision is the same as that included in the rules of the High Court. I appreciate the Minister's words and his explanation. I look forward to ensuring that this provision will be included in the companies Bill when it is introduced next year, and I understand that is not the Minister's responsibility but the responsibility of another Minister.
I wish to raise an issue about the extent of the offences covered under Schedule 1.
This Schedule deals with the list of relevant offences defined under section 3. Most of those offences clearly cover the area we all understand to be white collar crime. The Minister added section 13(5) of the Unit Trusts Act 1990 in the Dáil on Committee Stage and pointed out that this was an offence requiring generally a complex investigation. Section 3 gives the Minister power to specify further relevant offences relating to a number of areas and it goes on to say if the Minister considers that it would be appropriate to add other offences "by reason of the nature of the offence ... and the prolonged period of time that is generally required for the investigation of such an offence as a result of the complexity that generally arises in such an investigation ....". It goes on to list why these investigations into white-collar crime tend to be complex. All of us accept that, which is why we accept the section 7 power to suspend detention, which is quite a significant departure from the current normal rules on detention under the 1984 Act.
I have a concern, raised by other criminal lawyers, about the scope of the offences allowed for under the Schedule. Most are very specific white-collar crime offences - under the theft and fraud offences heading there is an offence under section 4 - the standard theft offence - and sections 17 and 18 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001. Section 4 is the theft offence, which can be as minor as shoplifting or as significant as a major white-collar crime. Sections 17 and 18 relate to handling and possession offences, which can range from minor to major incursions. Both are set out as indictable offences in the 2001 Act. Section 53 of that Act allows for summary trial, and in practice many section 4 thefts are prosecuted through a summary trial mechanism.
We all have a very clear idea about the sort of offences this Bill is designed to cover. The suspension of detention periods in section 7 should be used for offences where investigations are complex and the Garda may have to pause to examine documents or computer files. There is a valid concern that the Bill would allow for section 7 to be operated even in respect of an offence that may ultimately be quite minor. I seek an assurance that this will not be done and that we might review the legislation if gardaí apply the provisions of the Bill to crimes that do not fall within the white-collar crime or complex investigation definition we have provided for.
I made a point in respect of the section 7 power on Second Stage. It is operable on the word of a member in charge. There are very extensive powers provided to members in charge. They have tended to be at a fairly junior level in a Garda station in my experience and they would not be as senior as gardaí running investigations. The Minister has a very extensive burden of legislation to come in the autumn, as promised, but it may be worthwhile to examine the nature of powers given to members in charge and if it is appropriate that the safeguards built into powers like the section 7 suspension power are the responsibility of a member in charge rather than a more senior garda. It could be appropriate to adjust that in future.
The key point in the Schedule is the scope of offences covered. I know the offences of burglary and robbery are excluded and would not be seen as white-collar crime offences. Theft and possession offences may be classed as white-collar crime but, equally, they may not be. The vast majority of thefts prosecuted are not white-collar crime. The concern is whether section 7 can be used where the section 4 offence of theft is being charged and where circumstances do not indicate white-collar crime or complex investigation.
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.
I take the Minister's point and it is clear that we want to see white-collar crime covered by this legislation. It is an act that is quite difficult to define precisely and I accept there may be complex investigations involving section 4 theft offences, or those covered in sections 17 and 18. That may be particularly true if there is a range of different offences covered. We all want to ensure, to use drug analogies, that the mules or couriers will not be prosecuted while people at the top levels escape. That is a key issue. We spoke yesterday about the need for enforcement, the strengthening of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and appropriate resourcing of the Garda, which is part of that matter.
In response to the Minister's anecdote about the man with the chickens, the defendant sounds like Fantastic Mr. Fox. I hope his ending was as happy as Mr. Fox's.
I thank Senators for supporting the Bill and addressing the issues raised. The questions that were asked were important because they gave us an opportunity to tease out some of the key provisions of the Bill. I assure Senators that I appreciate the fact that we have been able to complete this Bill before the summer vacation. I look forward to it being signed by the President. I hope it will provide early assistance to the Garda in its current and future investigations. The legislation should help the force to prevent the commission of white-collar crimes and to undertake successful investigations into such crimes that may be committed in the future.
I would like to express my appreciation to the Minister. When I first took an interest in this Bill, I found it very educational. I assumed its intention was to protect whistleblowers who wished to inform. I did not realise it made it a crime for them not to inform. That has been a real education for me. I congratulate the Minister on his enthusiastic pursuit of this necessary and good legislation to ensure it became law.
I thank the Minister. Those of us on this side of the House are pleased that this legislation is about to come into force. It is not before time. I would like to mention one aspect of it that will be of practical importance to practising lawyers, gardaí and those prosecuting these crimes. The Minister has introduced a relatively simple mechanism that will allow the period of detention for questioning to be broken. It will be of great practicality when it is used by lawyers and gardaí. I hope it will benefit the course of justice.
I thank the Minister for being with us. He has given us a comprehensive explanation of the purpose and workings of this ground-breaking legislation, which will send a strong signal to the wider public to the effect that we have one law for all sectors of society. I hope the passing of this Bill will be recognised as such a signal. The Minister has responded to Senator Quinn's point that it is important for the withholding issue, which is so central to the purpose of the Bill, to be strongly broadcast beyond this House and understood by everyone it will affect.
I join other Members of the House in thanking the Minister and his staff for preparing this Bill. Each of us welcomes the commitment to pursue white-collar crime, as exemplified in this Bill. We particularly welcome section 19, which relates to the withholding of information. As Senator Bradford said, it is important for this provision to be publicised. I think it will be.