Wednesday, 13 May 1987
Dáil Eireann Debate
Miss Harney: asked the Minister for Justice if he intends to amend the law so that appeals may be taken by the prosecution against acquittals directed by the trial judge in the Circuit Court; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Minister for Justice (Mr. Collins): As mentioned in this House on previous occasions, parliamentary questions about possible legislation present particular problems for Ministers for Justice because of the very wide range of their responsibilities which cover virtually the entire area of the criminal law and large areas of the civil law. Accordingly, the range of possible questions about amending legislation is almost unlimited. Nearly all legislation involves extensive preparatory work and Government approval is also required. It is not practical to deal with the issues involved between the time a question is put down and the time it is answered in the House. When Government approval is given for an announcement about legislation to be made, it is  done without delay in the normal course.
That being said, I will have the matters mentioned in the questions, which involve a number of fundamental issues, examined in due course when other urgent legislative commitments have been disposed of.
Miss Harney: Does the Minister believe that since the introduction of the Courts Act, 1981, which transfers most of the criminal law to the Circuit Court it is necessary in the interests of justice that prosecution would have a right to appeal a decision made by a court in relation to something they are unhappy about? Will he agree it is unsatisfactory that this court, which is not a court of original jurisdiction and is not established under the Constitution, does not allow people to have that right? Will he agree further that since this court deals with cases related to rape, manslaughter and so on, this is unsatisfactory? Will he agree there have been many cases recently where the public were not satisfied that justice was done, that they have no recourse whatever to a second opinion and that in some cases, particularly in relation to the Fr. Molloy case, a decision of one person resulted in an acquittal and there was no further right of appeal? Does he agree this is unsatisfactory and has given rise to much public disquiet?
Mr. Collins: The DPP has approached the Department with proposals for a number of changes in criminal procedure. These are being examined at present and, when this examination has been completed, I will be in a position to go to the Government to ascertain what changes, if any, can be made.
Mr. Collins: I cannot go beyond what I have said to Deputy Harney at present. A number of suggestions by the Director of Public Prosecutions are being considered. When they have received due consideration I will then ascertain what changes can be made, if they are to be made, with the approval of the Government. Any changes that might be made will be announced in the normal way.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): There are many Deputies in this House who share the concerns expressed by Deputy Harney but which are not amenable to easy solution. Would the Minister consider referring the concept raised to the Law Reform Commission — who have a narrow remit — when we might expect to receive a reasonably quick answer? It is an appropriate matter for the Law Reform Commission.
Mr. Collins: I would be prepared to examine Deputy Noonan's suggestion. If the Deputy gives me a little time to look into the matter along the lines he suggests I will communicate with him, advising him of my intentions.
Mr. Kelly: Arising out of Deputy O'Malley's question rather than Deputy Harney's, would the Minister say whether he will distinguish very clearly between appeals against acquittals which have been directed by a judge, on the one hand, and appeals against acquittals by a jury on the other, on the basis that, in the latter case, the Constitution and the people who drafted it and voted on it certainly never intended that a jury acquittal should be anything but final; whether he would consider that the Supreme Court judgment in O'Shea's case about three or four years ago — which has entirely over-turned the principle at least in theory — requires to be reversed by Statute so that we can get back to the old system whereby an acquittal by a jury meant that a man could walk free, which is one of the principal pillars  of a free society such as ours? Would the Minister take a look at correspondence which may be further back on his file in this regard — which passed between me and the Department under one of his predecessors — in which it appeared that the Department were willing to introduce amending legislation which would exclude from the possibility of appeal an acquittal by a jury? Would the Minister say whether he would take up that suggestion and make sure that it is enacted?
Mr. McCartan: Would the Minister be agreeable to make available to the spokespersons of the various parties the submission to him from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in regard to changes in the criminal law being sought by that office? I am sure that submission would be of particular interest to the various parties here in order to ascertain what is in the mind of the prime prosecutor in the country.
Mr. Collins: I am not too sure that I can. If the Deputy would allow me to discuss the matter with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions I will see if we can meet him some part of the way on it.
Miss Harney: Will the Minister ask the Director of Public Prosecutions if he will use the existing procedures available to him to refer decisions made on a point of law to another court? For example, in the case of Father Niall Molloy, a question as to the legality of that could have been referred——
Miss Harney: I will not mention the name of the case. Will the Minister ensure that the existing procedures available to the Director of Public Prosecutions are used by him because, although they will not have an effect on the acquittal, it would put people's minds at rest if such matters were attended to?
Mr. Collins: As I have said already to Deputy Harney, I have a number of proposals before me with regard to changes from the Director of Public Prosecutions which are being examined. Until such time as that examination——
Mr. Collins: Until such time as the submission by the Director of Public Prosecutions is examined and firm proposals come to me for submission to the Government I would rather not go beyond that at present.
Mr. Collins: I am advised that there are many problems and difficulties to be overcome, that it is not as simple as it appears on the surface, that the proposals — to put it mildly — would be extremely controversial.
Mr. Kelly: The Minister's caution about this is completely right. Would the Minister appreciate that at present — in consequence of the attitude of the Supreme Court towards the expression “decision of the High Court”, as used in the Constitution — any decision of the High Court, whether it be to acquit by direction or whether it be a decision reached by a jury in the High Court  apparently can be appealed? Would the Minister agree that there is that much urgency about it, that until that loophole is closed by legislation, until we get, by way of legislation, a situation such as the people back in 1937 obviously intended should continue as Deputy Cooney said, people will be put in double jeopardy?
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