Thursday, 26 October 2017
Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2017: Motion
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton, to the House.
A message has been received from the Dáil concerning amendments made by the Seanad to the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2017. The message has been set down on the Order Paper. The list of amendments made by the Seanad and considered by the Dáil has been circulated for the information of Members.
The Dáil has not agreed to amendment 30 and desires that Seanad Éireann should not insist thereon. Senators may move, in respect of the original amendment No. 30, either "That the Seanad do not insist on the amendment," or "That the Seanad do insist on the amendment.”
Senators may speak once only except that the proposer of a motion has a right of reply. Any Senator who wishes to move either of the permissible motions may do so now. I ask the Leader to commence.
I appreciate why the original amendment on training was tabled. The debate was very useful. Training is fundamental to the delivery of rights and supports to the victims of crime, which is what this Bill is all about.
The Government is in complete agreement that training and information on same must be publicly available, which is already happening. As I said previously, training is being provided by the Garda Síochána, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Courts Service. Details of this training are published on the respective websites of those organisations. It is the Government's view that the amendment is unnecessary and training is better addressed on an administrative rather than legislative basis.
I could go on with other points that I have previously made. Given the fact that the Seanad has decided not to insist on the amendment, I am very happy to learn that and to be here today. Will I get a chance to speak again later?
I welcome the Minister of State. I am somewhat initially disappointed that we did not succeed in having our only amendment put forward here. It rarely happens. It did happen in this case but the Dáil rejected our amendment, which we must accept.
I want to be fair to the Minister of State and thank him for the enormous work that he and his officials have put into this important legislation. It is a good Bill. Our amendment would have only delayed the legislation for 90 days but possibly longer. Even if it were to get through the process eventually, the Minister would not have to enact all parts of the legislation if he did not so wish, which is his prerogative. In politics one must be pragmatic and realistic. Therefore, to delay the legislation would not have been the right thing to do. Having spoken to a number of groups involved, particularly the Victims Rights Alliance, the view was that, on the whole, is was better for the legislation to proceed.
I want to acknowledge the good work that has been done on the legislation. It was important to exercise our functions and powers in the Seanad. They may be limited but it is always nice to test them and learn in the process. I am happy to support the motion for the Seanad not to insist on the amendment.
I want to raise two issues with the Minister of State. I ask that he bears in mind what we were trying to do. There is a requirement that people are trained in ways to deal with sensitive matters related to crime, be they members of An Garda Síochána or whatever. A judicial council Bill is coming and it would be important to include a requirement to provide legal training on the area of sexual assault be it the Judiciary or the legal training of people. There is an issue of sensitivity that is gender neutral in terms of what it is talking about and deals with. There are sensitivities all round. I ask the Minister to bear that in mind and consider facilitating such training in future legislation.
I would like to discuss an EU directive. I understand, and I am open to correction, that on 16 November, which is not far away, infringement proceedings against the Irish Government will commence. The Minister of State or some member of his staff will turn up to contest the case, although some people would argue that it is just another EU infringement or, to be precise, an alleged infringement. Clearly, the Irish Government will make a robust case against the proceedings. Can the Minister of State confirm whether infringement proceedings will take place? I ask him to outline how the Government intends to contest the case.
It is important that we address the issue of training for practitioners. I want to finally acknowledge, which I decided was an important aspect on reflection, the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I respect his independence and function.That is something I may have missed. In terms of its functions in law, it is very important that the office is totally independent. I acknowledge that that was an oversight on my part but, on the whole, it is a good Bill. I wish the Minister of State well and I thank him for being here today.
I echo the sentiments expressed by Senator Boyhan. I am disappointed this amendment has now been accepted. However, the Fianna Fáil group is eager that this Bill is enacted and, therefore, we are willing to support it in its current form. It is definitely a step forward for victims of crime, which all of us would welcome, and I wish the Minister of State the best of luck with it.
I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. I welcome Maria McDonald from the Victims Rights Alliance who is in the public Gallery and acknowledge the great work she has done on this issue. I echo colleagues in terms of our disappointment that the Dáil has seen fit to reject an amendment from the Seanad. The Seanad does not often pass amendments to legislation against the Government so it is always disappointing when the Dáil rejects them.
Last night, it was great that the Minister of State said he was the Minister who would be tabling amendments in the Seanad on the gender pay gap Bill, which started life as a Private Members' Bill in the Seanad. I appreciate that it is not his normal practice, nor indeed that of the Minister for Justice and Equality, to reject amendments from the Seanad.
I commend Senator Boyhan on his work. We are all conscious that we need to follow his lead in not pressing the issue further because we do not want to delay the enactment of this important legislation. We recognise that, and the Victims Rights Alliance and other groups would recognise it also.
There may be other ways of dealing with the issue of training. Senator Boyhan touched on the possibility of amending other legislation. There is also the concept of codes of practice or, for example, encouraging the relevant professional bodies to engage in their own training protocols and procedures. Some great work has been done without any need for a statutory basis but through the Judiciary. Under the former Chief Justice, Susan Denham, there was a real increase in levels of judicial training programmes and so on. That is the kind of thing we could encourage if we will not see in this amendment.
I echo Senator Boyhan's words in terms of the independent function of the Director of Public Prosecutions. We have to acknowledge that it is important she is independent in her office.
I welcome this important Bill in the hope that we will see it enacted in full in a very short time.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as bheith linn arís. Aontaím leis an méid atá ráite ó thaobh cé chomh tábhachtach is atá an píosa reachtaíochta seo. Tá ár ndícheall déanta againn cúpla athrú agus cúpla leasú a dhéanamh. Ar nós mo chomhghleacaithe ar fud an tSeomra seo, aontaím leis an reachtaíocht seo agus tá mé sásta go bhfuilimid ag an bpointe seo leis. I share some of the sentiments expressed by colleagues in terms of their disappointment that this amendment was not achievable. Nevertheless, I accept Senator Boyhan's position not to push it because the useful exchange we have had over the course of this debate signifies the importance of this legislation. We can all accept that. I have found the engagement in the debates on this legislation incredibly useful and fulfilling and I have no doubt that as the legislation evolves, we will come back here and take the opportunity to examine its enactment and implementation beyond this Seanad.
I thank the Minister of State again. It is not very often we see a Minister coming into the House at this time on a Thursday. It is always good to have him in the Seanad. This is an important piece of work. We did our best to engage with the Minister of State where we thought we could improve upon the legislation, but that is the nature of the beast. I wish the Minister of State, his officials and this legislation well.
Like other colleagues, I am disappointed that one of our amendments was rejected by the Lower House, but on the positive side, as the Cathaoirleach pointed out, a number of other amendments were accepted. It is extremely constructive of colleagues on all sides of the House, including Senators Boyhan, Ó Domhnaill, Clifford-Lee and Bacik, not to delay this Bill, but I would not expect anything else from them because they well understand its importance. I am sure we will amend the Bill in the future to strengthen even further the rights of victims of crime. That should always be the case with legislation. Legislation should always be evolving. No legislation is cast in stone but is merely a starting point in terms of a parliamentary response to the challenges and difficulties in society. As parliamentarians, we should never be in a position where we do not continually amend Bills to make them reflect situations in society.
This is an extremely important Bill that is long overdue. I recall speaking in this House in 2011 and 2012 about the need to strengthen victims' rights and put them on a statutory framework. That has taken too long. I salute colleagues for not delaying this legislation any longer. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and the great work he is doing.
I thank Senators for their positive comments and support for the Bill. As I said the last time I was here, there were very good reasons the Government was not supporting this particular amendment. The Law Society of Ireland and the Bar Council are representative bodies and it would have placed a statutory duty on those, and the judicial studies institute no longer exists. The Government could not support the amendment and the Dáil could not support it either.
The Senator has provided a very useful service because he has highlighted the importance of training. I thank the Senator for that because the debate we had was very important. Where victims are concerned, this legislation is a beginning, not an end. We need to continue to improve and evolve our approaches to and supports for victims. I give a commitment to the Senator that we will look at the importance of training. The Senator has highlighted that and provided a useful role in this regard. We will keep in mind the importance of training and consider if there is any way we can improve legislation in the future in terms of including a need for training.
Rather than being disappointed, the Senators should congratulate themselves for highlighting and debating this very important matter. I am very pleased that this Bill is completing its passage through the Oireachtas today. This is a very good outcome. It is good for victims of crime. I thank the Senators for their support and I thank all the organisations that have contributed to this legislation. I know that everyone who supports this Bill will be eager to see it brought into force very quickly, and that is the intention of Government.
I am glad to report that the majority of the provisions in the Bill should be enforced within a matter of weeks and all of them by the end of the year or very early next year. I also thank my officials for the enormous amount of work they have done on the Bill, literally burning the midnight oil to ensure we have got to where we are today. I thank my colleagues and ask them please to continue to challenge, debate and raise issues because that is the reason all of us are here. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his support.
I thank the Minister and the officials for bringing forward this legislation. I thank also all those who campaigned for the change. Sometimes change takes time but the dedication and commitment of people can bring that about. I thank the Senators, but particularly Senator Boyhan, for bringing forward amendments. A good deal of time is put into dealing with that and I thank him for his contribution. It is a learning process for all of us. I hope the legislation will come into operation at a very early date.
Two or three weeks ago, I raised with the Minister of State an issue relating to victims of crime. I ask that that matter be re-examined as regards the way we deal with that issue. It is great to have legislation but it is important that it is implemented and followed up.