Seanad Éireann







[279] Do chuaidh an Leas-Chathaoirleach i geeannas ar 3 p.m.

Mr. DOWDALL:  I move: “That the Committee on Procedure be appointed pursuant to Standing Order 111, and that the Committee be nominated by the Committee of Selection.”

Sir JOHN GRIFFITH:  I second.

LEAS-CHATHAOIRLEACH:  The usual method, of course, is for the Committee of Selection to meet and to appoint such a Committee.

Motion put and agreed to.

Question: “That the Bill be read a Second Time,” proposed.

MINISTER for JUSTICE (Mr. O'Higgins):  The object of this Bill may be briefly stated. Its main principle will be found in Section 4. It is proposed, contrary to the provisions of the Courts of Justice Act of 1924, not to proceed to constitute the Court of the High Court Circuit. That came to me as the recommendation of the Judges who were acting as the Rule-making Committee. The Act of 1924 provided that certain cases which were outside the jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts would be tried by a Judge of the High Court Circuit. There were three classes, mainly, of such cases, treason, piracy, which is a rare offence in this country, and murder. These are the cases that fall beyond the criminal jurisdiction of the Circuit Judge, and it was thought that it would be necessary to set up a special Court of the [280] High Court to deal with cases of this kind. Now, experience has shown that it would be unnecessary, that it would be cumbrous and uneconomical, to have a Judge of the High Court going out on circuit to hear this particular class of cases. Since the Act of 1924 was passed there are altogether, I think, thirty-nine prisoners returned for trial to this Court of the High Court Circuit, and when I mention the distribution of these thirty-nine cases through the country it will be seen that it would be an expensive and a cumbrous process to have one Judge detached from his ordinary High Court work to travel through the country dealing with the widely-scattered cases that are outside the jurisdiction of the Circuit Judge. There are four such cases in Cork, four in Galway, two in Leitrim, two in Donegal, one in Longford, two in Limerick, two in Tipperary, one in Clare, two in Kildare, one in Carlow, eight in County Dublin, three in Offaly, one in Wicklow, one in Leix, and one in Meath.

The Court of the High Court Circuit, if constituted, would be, roughly, analogous to the old Winter Assizes, that is, it would not sit in every county throughout the State, but would probably sit in three or four large centres to hear these cases. I mention that because it is possible, in connection with this Bill, that some Senators may have a hankering after the conception of a local venue, that is, the trial in the county in which the offence actually occurred. I want to make the point that it was not thought wise or necessary to preserve that, even in the original Act of 1924. If the Court of the High Court Circuit were constituted it would sit only in perhaps four or five centres throughout the country and would deal, sitting in each such centre, with the cases of perhaps four or five of the neighbouring counties.

There is one objection to this Bill, an obvious objection, which perhaps I might anticipate. It is that this proposal not to constitute the Court of the High Court Circuit, but to have all the cases that would be tried by such a Court tried in the Central Criminal Court, would impose an undue burden on Dublin jurors. That [281] is a point, a perfectly fair and sound point, that can be made in connection with this Bill, and, to anticipate it, I should mention that a Jurors' Bill is being drafted and will be introduced early next session. In that Bill it is proposed to bring in the outlying townships for jury purposes in connection with the Courts that sit in Dublin. That will, I think, not exactly, but approximately, double the panel, and if that provision meets with the approval of the Dáil and Seanad the result will be that an individual juror within the jury area of Dublin will not be called upon to act more often than once every three or four years. I think it is likely to be nearer four years than three, in fact; the individual juror will only have to serve about once every three and a half years. Having anticipated that objection, which would be a sound and reasonable one, I have little to add in connection with the principle of this Bill. There is simply the one principle, that on the advice of the Judges, as I say, I propose not to proceed to constitute this Court of the High Court Circuit. I am asking that it be considered wise and reasonable that instead of that all such cases shall be tried by the Central Criminal Court, and to meet the additional burden which that would involve on jurors in Dublin we will introduce a Bill extending the jury area.

Mr. O'FARRELL:  I think the principle of the Bill is one that cannot be criticised adversely, but what one does feel compelled to criticise is the delay that has occurred in introducing the Bill. There are, I understand, thirty-nine prisoners returned for trial before this Court on serious charges. I do not know what is the longest time a prisoner has been waiting, but I have in mind cases where men have been waiting for eight or nine months. It is itself a fairly serious problem to have people charged with very serious offences—they may be guilty or they may be innocent—waiting for probably a year for this Bill to come into operation. To the ordinary layman it did seem rather extraordinary to find the Courts returning prisoners for trial before a Court which had no existence, [282] legal or otherwise, at the time, and this did not seem to hasten the introduction of the Bill. I wonder if the Minister could say when it is likely that the new Court will be constituted and will be able to function, because it is desirable that there should be no more unnecessary delay.

Mr. O'HIGGINS:  The Central Criminal Court is, of course, in existence and has been in operation for some considerable time back. It has now adjourned, and will resume its sittings on the 19th of this month. That explains the urgency that there was in securing the passing of this Bill a week before the 19th January. This Bill provides that the prisoners who have been returned for trial to the Court of the High Court Circuit may be tried at the sitting of the Central Criminal Court next after the passing of this Bill, and as the next sitting of the Central Criminal Court will be on the 19th of this month it is desirable that the Bill would become law before that date.

As to this delay in connection with the Court of the High Court Circuit, which it is now proposed not to constitute, that was more or less inherent in the whole position. The 1924 Act provided that such a Court would be constituted, but it could not be constituted until the Rule-making Committee had completed its work and until the rules made by that Committee, and presented by me to the Dáil and Seanad, had been approved. The work of the Rule-making Committee was technical. It took a long time, and the people acting on these Committees were judges and practitioners who had their week's work to do and who could only meet at the week-end for this Rule-making task. When the judges came to make the rules, and in particular the rule bearing on the constitution of the Court of the High Court Circuit, the question was raised immediately as to the necessity for any such Court and as to the advisability of constituting it at all, and it was at that stage that the Chief Justice, joining with the Attorney-General, made representations to me that it was unnecessary and inadvisable to set up this Court, and that the cases could [283] be adequately dealt with by the Central Criminal Court. I mention that in extenuation of the charge made by Senator O'Farrell that we were inconsiderate in our delay and that it is unfair and harsh that prisoners should be a long time awaiting trial. I agree that it is, in the abstract, but I simply plead concrete and definite circumstances in extenuation of the fact that there are prisoners left for seven or eight months awaiting trial at this Court of the High Court Circuit. I hope it will be possible to have these prisoners tried this month at the sitting of the Criminal Court.

Mr. O'FARRELL:  I had not finished when the Minister interrupted me, but I thank him for his explanation. I yield to nobody in my ignorance of law, but I certainly would have considered that we would not be discussing a Bill to set up a Court which is already established. I suppose it is a legal puzzle which a layman is not supposed to understand. There is one peculiar aspect of the Minister's explanation for the delay. He says that the Bill could only be drafted and introduced if the Rule-making Authority had submitted their rules. These Rules are not operative until they are approved by a vote of both Houses. What would happen supposing that either of the Houses rejected the Rules? I would like to be informed what effect that would have upon the Bill.

Mr. O'HIGGINS:  What Bill?

Mr. O'FARRELL:  The Bill now before the House, because the Minister stated he could not introduce or draft a Bill until the Rules were submitted. These Rules under the Courts of Justice Act have to be approved by a resolution of both Houses before they become operative or binding. The Minister mentioned in the other House that the Court Officers' Bill had also to be introduced before the Rules could be submitted, so I think we are in a pretty legal tangle of some kind. At least it appears so to the lay mind, because these Rules may be amended in a fairly material form, and one wonders whether this will have any effect [284] on this particular Bill. I do not know why there has been a delay in submitting the Rules to both Houses. The Rule-making Authority took a good while to draw them up. Meanwhile prisoners are awaiting trial. Now the Rules have been submitted, and they have evidently been submitted for some time, because it is a good while since this Bill was introduced in the other House—I think it was in November. I am wondering why the Rules have not been submitted before now, because quite a number of members in both Houses are interested to know what the Rules will be. They would like to know from the Minister when he will be able to submit them to both Houses.

Mr. O'HIGGINS:  The Senator is making a mistake. I think he is speaking from recollection of a statement which I made in the other House with regard to the delay in introducing the Rules of Court. It is a little difficult to follow, but the explanation is this. First of all, the making of the Rules in itself is a highly technical task which could not be hurried. It could not be hurried for the reason that the Rule-making Committee consisted of the Judges. The Rule-making Committee for the High Court and Supreme Court consisted of the Judges of these Courts, with some representatives of the Bar. Similarly in the case of the Circuit Court, the Rule-making Committee consisted of Judges who had to do their week's work. It was only possible for these Committees to meet at the week-ends and their task was a difficult and technical one and took some considerable time. I have now in my possession the draft Rules for these three Courts, the High Court and the Supreme Court, the Circuit Court and the District Court. There is this difficulty. I cannot present these Rules to the Dáil and Seanad until a Bill—not this Bill, as the Senator seems to think, but the Courts Officers Bill—has been approved by both Houses, for this reason: that the Rules deal with a great many offices and a great many officers who at the moment have no statutory existence, officers and offices that will have no statutory existence until the Court Officers Bill is approved. There [285] is an inter-relation between that Bill and the Rules.

The Bill could not be drafted or prepared until I saw what the Rules were going to be like—what kind of Rules were going to come along from all these Committees. It was only, in fact, when I got the Rules or had some pretty definite idea as to what they were going to be like, that the task of drafting the Court Officers Bill could be started, and the Rules cannot be placed before the Dáil and the Seanad until that Bill is law. The Court Officers Bill will be introduced, I hope, early next session for the consideration of the Dáil and the Seanad. The Rules are ready and are in existence, but they cannot be laid before the two Houses until that Bill which calls into statutory existence these new offices and these new officers has become law. Otherwise we would be dealing under the Rules with a great many offices and persons that have not any existence in law at the moment.

It is, as the Senator says, rather baffling and rather technical, but the difficulty is a real one, and the administrative reasons for delay are quite concrete and quite sound. This Bill has little or no bearing on the Rules of Court. How this Bill comes along is that when it came to providing Rules which would enable the Court of the High Circuit Court to function, the Judges were seriously convinced that it was inadvisable to set up such a Court at all—that it was unnecessary, and that such cases as were likely to arise through the country and that are outside the criminal jurisdiction of a Circuit Court Judge, could be adequately dealt with, and ought to be dealt with, by the Central Criminal Court. Consequently, with the minimum delay this Bill was prepared and placed before the Dáil, and is now before the Seanad for its consideration.

Mr. JAMESON:  The remarks that have been made here, and the criticisms that have been passed on this Bill, have followed much on the same lines as the criticisms made on the Bill in the Dáil. Senator O'Farrell in his speech dealt with matters which, except as regards the prisoners who [286] are going to be tried, are outside this Bill altogether. The question of jurors the Minister has dealt with, but even that is outside the Bill. The real question before the Seanad now is: is the Bill by itself what it is represented to be? I think the Bill shows that it is an ill wind that blows nobody good, because although the prisoners have had their trials postponed, the community as a whole have benefited from the delay that has taken place—for this reason, that the Rule-making Authority has discovered that this was going to be an extremely expensive court that was going to be set up in the country. It was a court that would go up and down the country, and we all know that in the old days the Assize Courts cost a great deal of money. If the work to be done by that Court can now be done by judges resident in Dublin, I think it is all to the good. We all know what Dublin jurors are. I think you could not find better men to sit on a jury than the ordinary Dublin citizens. Except as regards the change of venue, I do not see how any objection can possibly be made to this Bill. Its coming into operation will mean a saving to the whole community, and the time that has been given to its consideration has been well spent. I read all the discussions that took place in the Dáil on this Bill. There was no valid objection raised in the Dáil to any section in the Bill. I think Senators who have read the Bill will agree with me and will come to the same conclusion, that the Bill by itself is a good one and should be welcomed.

Question—“That the Bill be read a second time”—put and agreed to.

Mr. O'HIGGINS:  If the Seanad is agreeable, it would be convenient if the Standing Orders were suspended to enable the remaining stages of this Bill to be taken to-day. It is perhaps unnecessary to review the considerations in favour of that. The Central Criminal Court meets in Dublin on the 19th of this month. If this Bill is not law and has not received the signature of the Governor-General before that date, the prisoners awaiting trial will not be tried at this next sitting of the Central Criminal Court.

[287]Sir EDWARD BIGGER:  I move the suspension of Standing Orders for the taking of the remaining stages of this Bill to-day.

Sir NUGENT EVERARD:  I second it.

Mr. DOUGLAS:  I think, in cases of this kind, when it is perfectly well known beforehand that it is desirable that the Standing Orders should be suspended, that notice of the intention to move their suspension should be given at least two days previously. I am not opposing the suspension of Standing Orders, but I think that would be a much better procedure than suddenly springing a motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders on the Seanad in this way. Ministers in charge of Bills would run much less risk, and Senators who might have any feelings on the matter could not possibly have a grievance, if notice were given.

Question put and agreed to.

The Seanad went into Committee.

Bill passed through Committee without amendment, was reported and passed.

LEAS-CHATHAOIRLEACH:  There is not any very urgent business that would oblige us to meet immediately. There are only three Bills—the Owenmore Drainage Bill, the Oil in Navigable Waters Bill, and the Acquisition of Land (Allotments) Bill—which we can possibly deal with in the next few weeks. I suggest that we might adjourn to the 27th January, which would be a week after the date on which the Dáil meets. If we meet on the date that I suggest, it may be possible [288] that we will have enough business to keep us going for a day.

Mr. DOUGLAS:  What was the reason why these three Bills were not put down on the Order Paper to-day, especially in view of the fact that at our last meeting the Parliamentary Secretary in charge of the Owenmore Drainage Bill asked that it should be got through as quickly as possible?

LEAS-CHATHAOIRLEACH:  The reason was that the Courts of Justice Bill, which we have just passed, was considered of paramount importance. We were in the middle of the holidays, so to speak, and as I was responsible for the framing of the Order Paper, I thought it would be your wish, so as to facilitate business, not to take any matters to-day which were not of urgent importance. I have a precedent for the course which I have followed in the case of the Medical Bill, 1925. On that occasion there were other important Bills, like the Local Government Bill and Live Stock Breeding Bill, awaiting consideration, but the Cathaoirleach decided not to take them. I was guided by that precedent, and decided not to put anything before the Seanad to-day except the Courts of Justice Bill.

Mr. FITZGERALD:  I move that the Seanad do now adjourn to the 27th January.

Mr. JAMESON:  When will the special Committee appointed to deal with the Charters Bill be summoned?

LEAS-CHATHAOIRLEACH:  That is for the person who moved for the Committee to decide.

Mr. JAMESON:  Then it will be time enough, when the Seanad meets again, to arrange when the Committee should meet.


The Seanad adjourned at 3.30 p.m. to the 27th January, 1926.