Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Prison Bill 2015: [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 118, 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 amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. The Minister will deal separately with the subject matter of each related group of amendments. I have circulated the proposed grouping of amendments. Senators may speak only once on each grouping. The only matters that may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil, and no wider issues.
Regarding group 1, amendments Nos. 1 and 3, there was a court case earlier this year, NBO v.the Minister for Justice and Equality, during which the High Court considered the temporary release of a person who was subject to a deportation order and was deported immediately after being granted temporary release.The High Court decided that the temporary release provision does not permit the temporary release of prisoners who are subject to deportation orders for the purpose of their deportation. I refer to convicted prisoners, that is, people who have committed a criminal offence and are in prison.
Given the implications of the judgment, a clear legislative basis was needed to allow non-national convicted prisoners to be transferred into the custody of gardaí or immigration officers for the purpose of giving effect to the deportation order. This new section will permit a prisoner to be transferred into the custody of a garda or immigration officer to facilitate his or her deportation or removal from the State in accordance with a deportation order or a removal order before the end of the person's sentence. It is proposed that the new section will only apply in respect of prisoners who have one year or less of their sentences remaining to serve when remission is taken into account. A prisoner transferred into the custody of a garda or immigration officer under the new section will be required to remain out of the State as required by the deportation order or removal order. A person who does not comply with this condition will be deemed to be unlawfully at large and may be arrested and returned to prison.
It seems strange to insert this miscellaneous provision in a Bill that has closed St. Patrick's Institution. It seems a little bit out of place. The Minister said it was a convicted prisoner who was to be deported. How serious a case was this? Is there a danger that, for people seeking asylum, the process could be deemed to be exhausted because of a deportation order against them? Is there any fear that someone seeking asylum could be jailed for the failure to pay a fine or a smaller offence and could be deported quickly under this mechanism rather than having the full range of his or her international rights?
I welcome this Bill, on which we spoke in the Seanad last week. It is a notable achievement of this Government finally to see the closure of St. Patrick's Institution and it is a notable achievement on children's rights as well as on penal reform. Last week the Minister highlighted the fact that she would bring forward this amendment in the Dáil, so it is not a surprise to see the new Part 5, section 24 in the Bill.
I agree in general with what Senator Ó Clochartaigh said on the widespread practice of using particular Bills to make amendments to other Bills in a piecemeal reform. It is unfortunate to see this provision in a Bill that otherwise has such a key core purpose. At the same time, I accept the need for this change. I assumed the change would be by way of an amendment to existing legislation but section 24 is just a stand-alone provision. What was the basis for the power? Was there no statutory power previously? I have not read the High Court judgment.
I thank the Minister for bringing forward this legislation and for the change relating to St. Patrick's Institution. I have visited Oberstown and have seen young people coming into the criminal justice system. We need a more comprehensive co-ordination of services at local level involving education, health and justice to keep the maximum number of people out of the system. I am concerned by the lack of co-ordination and that each Department seems to pass the responsibility to other Departments. I also welcome the amendment proposed by the Minister, which has been dealt with in the Dáil. It is an important amendment and it is important there is co-ordination in dealing with deportation orders.
I assure Senator Ó Clochartaigh that the amendment will not affect the operation of existing procedures under immigration legislation, for example, where a person wishes to appeal or seek a review of a deportation order. It is not intended in any way to cut across the person's rights. If they are in prison or seeking an appeal or review, that process has to be completed. It is not a shortcut or something which will cut across any legislation on immigration or refugee rights.
On Senator Bacik's point, the court decided that section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act, which governs the temporary release of prisoners, does not permit the temporary release of prisoners who are subject to deportation orders. Given the practical implications of that, it was felt that a clear legislative basis was needed for this section. We decided to do it as a section of this Bill, although I take the points made by Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Bacik that it is not associated with the closure of St. Patrick's Institution. We are using this legislation because it is important to have a clear legislative basis for deporting people who are convicted criminals, in prison and subject to deportation orders. To deal with what the High Court had found on temporary release, I have used this opportunity to bring it to the House in this legislation. The central issue we are addressing, though, is the closure of St. Patrick's Institution.
Will the Minister reassure the House that, given the current international climate relating to terrorism, gardaí under her watch continue to monitor those coming in and out of the State? Will she assure us that undesirable people, once identified, will be locked up and deported immediately?
A serious terrorist threat faces Europe and some countries are under severe threat from terrorists. While we in Ireland know that an attack is possible, we do not consider it to be likely. Having said that, we have to be very rigorous in our monitoring of the situation and of anybody who might raise concerns. I assure the Senator that An Garda Síochána, which acts as the security service in this country along with the separate but important role the Defence Forces play, will continue to monitor this issue.
Of the second group of amendments, amendment No. 2 is a technical amendment relating to warrants issued by courts in Dublin for the committal of persons to prison. It arises from an issue that has emerged in very recent High Court proceedings. Outside of the Dublin district, warrants are addressed to An Garda Síochána in accordance with very old legislation. However, the District Court rules permit committal warrants in Dublin to be addressed directly to the governor of the prison to which a person is to be committed. The courts have operated on this basis for a very long time. In a recent judgment, a judge of the High Court expressed the view that the relevant provision of the District Court rules may be inconsistent with this very early Act. It opens up the prospect of uncertainty at least in the legal provision, and it is appropriate to amend the relevant legislation to make it clear that the arrangements made for Dublin and the rules of court are permitted. Amendment No. 2 proposes to insert a new section amending an 1851 Act. The effect of the amendment is to declare that a committal warrant issued by the District Court in Dublin can be addressed to the governor of a prison. This is the position that has been taken to apply in Dublin for many years.
On amendment No. 4, because the new section to the Bill will broaden the scope of the Bill as published, I have had to amend the Long Title.
I have a question on the issuing of warrants. I presume this is in the context of committal to prison. The Minister knows better than most that the prison population has been increasing. Does she have an opinion on the imminent implementation of the law next month? It will have implications for those who are, or could be, committed to prison for non-payment of fines, as happened in two high-profile cases last week involving two Members of the other House. This appears to be a recurring problem. The change in the law and the use of attachment orders should reduce the prison population, which means that those who should be in prison will be imprisoned.
On the subject of committal, I welcome the Minister's announcement last week that the legislation will be commenced in the new year, so we will no longer see people committed to prison for non-payment of fines. Senator Mooney raises a pertinent issue. There will probably be a reduction in the number of committals, one hopes, but perhaps not a reduction in the numbers incarcerated, given how short a period of time people tend to spend in prison when they are committed for non-payment of fines, as we saw last week. Perhaps the Minister can comment on that.
On that matter, I saw the figures and they are quite frightening. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of people arrested for non-payment of fines increased from 2,500 to 6,500, even in that short timeframe. In fact, over 50% of all arrests for committal to prison, where people are going into the prison system, are for non-payment of fines. That will all stop, and rightly so. It has been a huge waste of Garda time as well. At least now we are setting up the proper structures to deal with this through attachment of earnings. Hopefully, it will reduce the amount of Garda time spent on this matter, which is welcome. It is a change that is long overdue. I thank the Minister and the Department for the work they have done in that area.
The Bill before the House is a straightforward effort to deal with the case of Grant v.the Governor of Cloverhill Prison. It is right to introduce this amendment to ensure that the arrangements are clear for Dublin and that it is permitted in the District Court rules.
Regarding the broader point that Members have made, the Government introduced legislation on the payment of fines, which was passed a couple of months ago. Since it was passed, the courts have been working hard to ensure that they can implement it. Some technology had to be implemented and other arrangements had to be put in place before the legislation could be implemented effectively by the courts. That was important work. It is completed now and the legislation will be implemented from 11 January next year. It means that attachment orders can be made, and there is the new opportunity to pay fines by instalment. Clearly, that should result in more efficient management where fines have been ordered to be paid.
If people still refuse to pay fines, the penalties are more severe in terms of both fines and jail sentences. Those who insist that they will break the law and who do not use the various opportunities that will be provided through the implementation of the fines legislation from 11 January will face much more severe punishment. I believe that is right. If one breaks the law and does not pay what the law tells one to pay, and one is given every opportunity to pay it, ultimately there will be a severe penalty if one insists on breaking the law.