Criminal Justice System: Motion.

Wednesday, 12 February 1986

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 111 No. 5

First Page Previous Page Page of 10 Next Page Last Page

Mr. Durcan: Information on Patrick Durcan  Zoom on Patrick Durcan  I move:

That Seanad Éireann takes note of Report No. 77 of the National Economic and Social Council entitled “The Criminal Justice System: Policy and Performance.

I would at the outset like to pay tribute to the NESC for producing almost 9 Reports on very important economic and social matters over the past 12 or 13 years. I think their continuing work is something which we in public life all too infrequently pay tribute to.

I should also like to welcome the fact that the NESC have commissioned and produced this report on the criminal justice system with particular emphasis on the policy underlying that system and the performance of that system to date. It is extremely important the the criminal justice system of any country should be under constant scrutiny and the fact that it has been examined from a performance point of view is, I think, a very very good thing. The fact that there are difficulties inherent in effecting that examination are highlighted in this report and I think that the difficulty is, perhaps, one of the reasons why the report has made difficult reading.

While I pay tribute to the NESC for commissioning this report, it is only fair to be critical of the manner in which the [467] report is written and, indeed, the manner in which the report is put together. The report identifies certain central problems in the criminal justice system but in the presentation of those problems they have not been presented in any uniform or coherent way. Therefore, one of the problems that one has in reading this report or in addressing oneself to this report is the fact that many issues which are central to the problem we are talking about are raised continuously within the report but are not addressed specifically in a coherent way or in a way which allows in-depth examination.

It is true to say that one of the problems we have in this country with our criminal justice system is the fact that it is built upon centuries of law and tradition and of social understanding of what is criminally acceptable and unacceptable and built, above all, upon the way in which society should deal with criminal matters. The fact that we have experienced such amazing social change in Ireland in the past 25 years is something which few will dispute. At the same time, I think it is regrettable that our criminal justice system has not updated itself and has not geared itself to deal with the problems of the latter part of the 20th century. The fact that we have a system in operation which from a legal point of view is based by and large on the common law and on statute law, which are certainly pre-20th century creates, difficulties. The fact that in the administration of that system our criminal courts still operate within the framework of the Courts Act, 1924, is also something which must be regretted bearing in mind the changes which have taken place in criminal procedure in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. Above all, the unsatisfactory situation exists in regard to the very central role of the Garda Síochána within the criminal justice system. The fact that we as a State and a society have not addressed ourselves to the resolution of these problems and to attempting to update the roles of the various pieces that form the whole of the criminal justice system is something that must be regretted.

[468] Certainly, changes have taken place in the past few years and certainly the present Minister for Justice indicated his determination to see that there are changes to make the criminal justice system both in its administration and in terms of the corpus of law existing and in terms of the prosecution of the system. The fact that the Minister has a commitment to these changes is welcome but the fact that so little has happened is on, the other hand, to be regretted.

We are also faced with the fact that our system derives from a society that was basically authorative, a society with a pyramidal social system, a society which defined roles for people. The system we have inherited was based upon that type of society. The fact that we now experience a more democratic type of society with a less pyramidal class structure and with a more fluid sense of attitudes, the fact that we do not have a criminal justice system to fit in with that type of society is something that must be regretted. We have, on the one hand, the question of maintaining the rule of law and maintaining law and order and we have, on the other hand, the question of ensuring that the right of the individual is protected. To get that balance right can, indeed, be very difficult. The fact that we have experienced the kind of change I am talking about can be identified if one refers to the fact that the last hanging in Ireland took place 30 years ago and that was punishment for a crime, punishment on conviction for a crime. As recently as 1964, a mere 20 years ago, we still found it socially acceptable and, indeed, legislated for the death penalty in respect of certain types of crimes in the Criminal Justice Act, 1964.

The fact that our attitudes to the penalty for particular types of crimes have changed so greatly in 20 years is illustrated by the fact that we have on the Order Paper of the Seanad today a Bill entitled the Criminal Justice (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill, 1984, and the fact, of course, that there is a commitment and a determination by the Government to ensure that the death penalty is abolished. I use the word “penalty” because [469] we must ask ourselves if the criminal justice system is meant to be a penal system. Is it meant to be a system which simply punishes somebody who is in breach of the criminal code; or, on the other hand, should it be a system which operates in a preventative sense and should it be a system which operates in a rehabilitative sense? Should our criminal justice system see itself as having a role in preventing crime? Should it see itself as having a role in rehabilitating people as distinct from punishing people who have been in breach of the criminal justice system? I would say, as somebody who has experience of the law operating within the system, that certainly there is a very definite and welcome movement towards the latter concept: that the criminal justice system and the courts in particular, and indeed, the Garda to a lesser extent, should play their role to ensure that the system is a rehabilitative and preventative system. That would make the system relevant to our economy, because every crime that is committed is not merely a crime against an individual, it is not merely a breach of criminal law, but it is an act which damages the whole fabric of our society in a social sense and in an economic sense. For that reason we have to ensure that the criminal justice system operates to prevent the commission of crimes and to help those who have found themselves in a situation where crime was being committed.

One of the central problems identified in this report is that we have so little information available on how the system works. That is one of the most unfortunate findings of this report. In so far as the report addresses itself to the operation of the Garda and in so far as the report addresses itself to the operation of the courts, the point comes across very clearly that there are absolutely inadequate statistics available to gauge the performance of the Garda, in terms of investigating crime, in terms of ensuring that the criminals are brought before the courts and, above all, in ensuring that, following the courts' dealing with criminals, [470] satisfactory steps are taken in relation to those criminals.

The same point comes out in relation to the court system. There is a completely inadequate back up there to provide the essential statistics. Of course, if that type of data is not available it is extremely difficult for the Government of the day to ensure that the necessary steps can be taken to make the criminal justice system more beneficial to our society. I would urge upon the Minister of State tonight firstly to ensure that her Department take steps to see that the statistics of crime which are published by the Garda Commissioner are made relevant and, secondly, that the statistics which emerge in relation to the dealing of criminal matters by our criminal courts are also made more relevant.

One of the more interesting aspects of this report is appendix 2, which is The Galway District Court study carried out by Professor Kevin Boyle into criminal matters that came before the District Court in Galway between 1978 and 1981. The interesting fact that comes out in the overall report is that the Galway survey is, perhaps, the only survey of its kind existing, the only in-depth survey of people who came before the criminal system, in-depth examination of the types of crimes with which they were charged and an in-depth examination of how the District Court which, of course, is the most important criminal court of all, disposed of those matters. The fact that that is the only in-depth examination and the fact that the extant court records and current court records do not make available that kind of information is extremely unfortunate.

I should like to refer to Chapter 5 of the report, which is the most important and most helpful chapter of the report. This is the chapter entitled “The Performance of the Irish Criminal Justice System: the Garda Síochána and the Courts” and, in referring to the chapter, I should like to deal with the Garda Síochána first and the courts secondly. Let me quote from page 122 of chapter 5:

[471] There is a substantial gap in Ireland between objectives, as given in Chapter 3, and what we can in fact measure. In particular, we lack information on the decisions made within the criminal justice system.

That, again, confirms the point I made about statistics and about the difficulty in assessing what our criminal justice system is doing for us. I should like to quote from chapter 3 entitled, “Evaluating Criminal Justice Policy and Performance”. On page 73 are set out seven objectives of clear relevance to social policy which should be part of the process of assessment. These are as follows. The first is:

... the full utilisation by the courts of the range of options for case disposition, linked to the range of offences so that the minimum stigma and punishment is imposed as is necessary in the circumstances.

It is extremely important that the minimum stigma in punishment be imposed. It is also important that the full range of options be availed of. It is also important that we have some idea of what options were availed of and of what success or failure was achieved in the use of any particular option. That is where the system at the moment falls down, in so far as we have an ability to evaluate the end result.

Secondly, the avoidance of unnecessary delay in case proceedings. This, of course, is a desirable objective. I am glad to say that it is certainly one which appears to be increasingly achieved. Increasingly our civil courts and criminal courts are getting through their workloads more speedily; and I welcome the steps taken by the Minister for Justice in the recent Courts Bill to appoint additional judges, particularly to the Circuit Court, to ensure the more speedy dispatch of criminal business in Cork and elsewhere. It is extremely important that criminal matters be dealt with speedily because once a person is suspected of a crime, once a charge is preferred, then a question mark hangs over that person until the matter is finally disposed of.

[472] Thirdly, “The courts should make full use of the advice available from Probation Officers and other professional groups who are able to provide the Judiciary with evaluations prior to sentencing”. I agree with that. It is important in criminal matters that the court and judges should take full cognisance of whatever professional information is available in so far as that information can help the accused person without in any way damaging society as a whole whom the criminal justice system is there to protect. It is extremely important in so far as probation officers can help people who come before the court that the Judiciary take cognisance of what they have to say.

Fourthly, “consistency in sentencing”. This is an issue which has given rise to much thought. It is an issue that has given rise to an amount of discussion in recent years following a number of contentious cases where, in apparently similar circumstances, differing sentences were imposed by judges in the same level of court. Obviously, there is a desire that there should be consistency in sentencing. The legislative obligation that is imposed on the President of the District Court to ensure that his justices meet at least annually to discuss matters such as this should also be imposed on the President of the Circuit Court and on the President of the High Court to ensure that the members of their respective benches also meet for that purpose within the criminal sphere. Having said that, I have to accept that the Judiciary do meet on an increasingly regular basis, but there should be a statutory obligation to do so, particularly in so far as criminal matters are concerned.

Fifthly, “The courts of law should convey by their physical appearance and the manner in which they conduct their proceedings, the seriousness, dignity and openness of their work. Conveying such an atmosphere is one objective of the criminal courts”. In so far as that objective is stated in the NESD report, it is certainly one where we have dismally failed. The demeanour, the physical appearance, the atmosphere existing within most of our court buildings are [473] absolutely appalling. There is no dignity whatsoever attached to the administration of justice in this country. There is no solace or comfort available to those who come before the courts. The courts physically operate in the most appalling surroundings. It is no answer for any Minister to say that the obligation lies with local authorities to ensure that their courthouses are kept in a proper condition. That should not be the duty of local authorities. The Government should make substantial funds available for the purpose of putting our courthouses into proper repair and condition.

I know that the Minister of State has made a special commitment to the whole area of family law. If the Minister of State realised the courts' physical conditions within which family law matters are dispatched, she would agree with the points I am making in relation to the criminal courts also.

The sixth objective is “That all persons involved in a court proceeding should be able to hear what is being said and to understand the terminology and procedures”. It is important that the criminal courts operate in a way that is meaningful and understandable to John Citizen and that does not happen at the moment. The structure, the physical layout of our courtrooms, the way in which people are accommodated within courtrooms make it difficult for them to hear what is happening in most courtrooms but, secondly, the language, the terminology, the procedures make the entire thing extremely difficult.

The final point that is made in Chapter 3 is one of the objectives relevant to social policy, that is, “The importance of access to legal assistance attuned to the needs of all groups”. There is a system of legal aid available in Ireland, it operates reasonably satisfactorily.

I should like to return to chapter 5 of the report, the question of the performance of the Garda and of the courts. Page 123 deals with the whole accountability of the system. It states:

[474] ...There is an abundance of statistical tabulations, produced annually, but the information provided fails to meet the three essential criteria for information on criminal justice: (1) that it provides the public with an accurate indication of the problem and of what is being done about it, (2) that it allows for accountability and evaluation of what the police, courts, prison service, and Department of Justice have done, and, (3) that it allows for rational planning.

Let us deal with the first point which is to provide the public with an accurate indication of the problem. The public are aware that we enacted the Criminal Justice Bill last year. The public are vaguely aware that the courts have power to order somebody to do community work in lieu of going to prison but the public have no overall awareness of the operation of the criminal justice system. The public have no appreciation of the operation of the system. Increasingly the public regard the criminal justice system as something which operates in a very inadequate manner and the public, above all, do not see Government at either executive or legislative level tackling the problem of crime.

In so far as the public are made aware of what is being done, it is important that a realistic public relations exercise be embarked on. I underline the word “realistic” because we have had unrealistic public relation exercises embarked upon by people with responsibility for the Department of Justice in the past. It is important that the way in which the problem has been tackled, both from a police point of view, and how the courts consider the matter, should be conveyed to the public at every level, in the media, on television and through the schools so that our young people can see in a real way how justice is being administered.

The second point is to allow for accountability and evaluation of what the police, courts, prison service, and Department of Justice have done. Accountability is a very big problem. The Garda must be accountable to us and they must, above [475] all, be accountable to the people. In this regard I welcome the Bill being introduced by the Minister for Justice to ensure that a proper and adequate complaints procedure exists in so far as the public have complaints against the Garda. At one level that introduces the question of accountability. It is right that a procedure like that should be available and I compliment the Minister for making that procedure available. On another level it is important that we respect the discretion which a garda should have in discharging his or her duty. It is extremely important, in so far as accountability is concerned, that the discretion which a garda should be trained to have and which anybody admitted to the Garda should naturally have, is discharged in a reasonable way but also in a way that makes the Garda ultimately accountable to the public.

On the level of accountability in so far as the courts are concerned, it is also important that the manner in which defendants pass through the courts system from beginning to end should be made clear to the public as to what may happen somebody within the courts system. In that regard I draw the attention of the House to page 31 of the report which is the flow chart of the criminal justice system. It is a very helpful chart in relation to the District Court criminal jurisdiction indicating all the options, all the positions in which somebody who comes within the system may find himself at any time. That is something which should be got across. It should be a measure of the ultimate accountability of the courts to the public.

The third point from the quotation I read is that the system should allow for rational planning. I have already laid substantial emphasis on the question of statistics at the commencement of my contribution to the debate. It is difficult to plan rationally for the criminal justice system when we do not have proper statistics. To plan for the future we must ensure that the statistical data is available at all levels; secondly, we must ensure that our judges meet, by statutory obligation, [476] on a regular basis; and, thirdly, we must ensure that the Garda are properly trained — at senior level in particular — for the job which they have to take on.

The first page of chapter one of the report makes interesting reading when it refers to the development of the crime problem. It gives interesting statistics in relation to robberies, and I quote:

There were 55 robberies in 1932; 43 in 1942; 23 in 1952; and 39 in 1962.

Then in the mid-sixties a fundamental change took place, evident in the 622 robberies of which the Garda were aware in 1972, and more evident still in the 1,883 robberies entered in the 1982 crime statistics. The number of gardaí has been increasing dramatically. In 1951 we had 6,904 gardaí stationed in 810 stations; in 1961 we had 6,612 gardaí in 758 stations; in 1971 we had 6,612 gardaí in 697 stations; in 1981 we had 9,722 gardaí in 700 stations and now we have approximately 12,000 gardaí.

The report makes a valid point that increasing the number of gardaí is not necessarily going to decrease the level of crime; it may decrease the level of certain types of criminal activity. The question has to be asked: are our gardaí being properly deployed? One of the problems facing us is the fact that they are not. I raised last year in the House the question of the accountability of the gardaí to the people that they serve following a spate of rural robberies, and the fact that so many of our gardaí do not live in the area they serve, including many of our superintendents who are fly-by-night people, people who arrive on Monday morning with their lunch baskets and leave again on Friday evening for Dublin or Cork. At that time the then chief superintendent of County Mayo expressed horror at my allegation that five out of the seven garda officers lived outside the county, most of them in Cork or Dublin. He, of course, said that he lived in the county. He claimed this by virtue of the fact that he had a flat there where he stayed during the week, but he lived elsewhere.

If the gardaí are to be effective they [477] must live in the area they serve. I have asked the Minister for Justice on numerous occasions to ensure that there is a statutory obligation on every garda to live in the area for which he is responsible. As politicians, we are aware that there are hundreds and hundreds of people trying to join the Garda and if that minimal requirement, which is, for instance, imposed on a community welfare officer, cannot be imposed on the gardaí, then they should be asked to resign from their positions. In so far as the more senior ranks of the Garda are concerned, there should be a much keener scrutinty of the administrative ability of the people who achieve superintendent or chief superintendent rank. It is not evident from my experience of the Garda officers appointed to the more senior ranks that they have that ability. It is important that the Garda achieve a better sense of public relations by developing the ability to deal with people on a personal level. The Garda are, increasingly, failing in that task. We can increase the number of gardaí but we are achieving little unless we ensure that they live in their areas, that they have a closer relationship with the people they serve and, above all, that they have a better PR sense.

I should now like to refer to the criminal courts. The report is scathing in regard to the manner in which records are kept in the criminal courts. It is important that a number of things emerge from the criminal court records. First, there should be definite statistics of the indirect monitoring by the courts of criminals — for example, cases that are adjourned or adjourned generally to allow the courts to review in an indirect way the performance of a particular defendant. Secondly, there should be specific statistics as to the success or otherwise of the community work scheme. Thirdly, there should be definite figures available dealing with the court welfare service, which is doing a very good job.

In conclusion, I see the criminal justice system as being basic to our society. The question of accountability is what must be determined. The central issue which [478] the report brings up is the fact that by virtue of the basis of the operation of the system it is difficult to determine that accountability. I ask the Minister to ensure that the Department introduces the necessary disciplines in the Garda and within the court system to ensure the kind of accountability which will allow us in both Houses to evaluate the success or otherwise of the system. I ask her to see to it that those disciplines and systems are introduced.

Mr. Belton: Information on Luke Belton  Zoom on Luke Belton  I just wish to formally second the motion.

Mr. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  In what will be a brief contribution on the motion, first, I welcome the opportunity given to the House to discuss the National Economic and Social Council's report on “The Criminal Justice System: Policy and Performance.” The question of the administration of the criminal justice system is a most important one in the light of the breakdown, if you like, in law and order when we are having new types of crime and where society as a whole is having to face and grapple with sophisticated systems of crime which were unheard of just a few years ago. In the context of these developing situations it is important that these systems are looked at critically and that we examine them to see in what way we can try to improve the administration of the criminal justice system.

It is no harm to say that it is an archaic, slow and sluggish system. This is borne out by the NESC report. It is not alive to the changing trends in society. The legal profession, in the manner in which they operate these systems — though it may not be their fault entirely — have almost a vested interest in ensuring that the public never come to understand what is taking place. The language that is used in the presentations in our courts and the regal dress and garb are relevent to the era when landlords and power and privilege dominated. I would like the honourable member from the Mayo constituency to talk to his colleagues about opening out this system and helping the public to have [479] greater confidence. Knowledge is confidence and without it — and the lack is prevalent in the public — we are at a distinct loss. That kind of vested interest travels down the road to senior counsel, the necessity for junior counsel and the necessity for rakes of money to be found to piece together a combination of advisers and consultants which nearly necessitates the ownership of a bank before an individual can go to court to have his rights decided. In the event of his losing he could lose all that he has. It is time, in addressing this question, that we all spoke out our minds in a way which would help to create a fairer, more open and more understandable system.

We could also say that the court system operates almost in isolation from the forces which create the crime and in isolation from the system which harbours the criminals after the court decision is taken. What I am saying here really is that the forces in society which dictate levels of crime are not being properly combatted. Take a part of this city with 60 per cent unemployment and the consequent frustration. Do not think that I am trying to justify crime or justify developments of that kind. But in view of the forces that are there with that predominant problem of unemployment — in some parts of our country up to 60 per cent — in almost no-go areas, where the illiteracy and the domestic problems are so great, if the court just deals with the situation of crime on that day and we ignore the forces which created it and then ignore the rehabilitation process which should take place in the prison system subsequently, we are continuing that vested interest and we are not really attacking the real base problems that are there.

It is costing £30,000 to keep a prisoner for one year at the present time. We have seen the demand for prison space grow, the opening of Spike Island, the dismantling of some educational and other services that have taken place in order to accommodate rising numbers of people who for one reason or another are brought before our courts and are criminally inclined. I think the number of prisoners [480] has increased by about one-third in the past three or four years. With such an investment in that area it is crucial that the rehabilitation, training and education, both within the prison and also the system that we operate in the community as a whole, whether it is neighbourhood watch, community workshops or youth development, should be carefully examined. I admire the Garda junior liaison officers who are trying to grapple with the problems and deal with families at risk and children from broken homes. I agree with Senator Higgins when he talks about the familiarity and the question of confidence in the gardaí and the efforts they make to work in the community with the leaders in the community to identify these problems before they arise.

I believe that nobody sets out in the first instance to become the confirmed criminal that they end up in being. We must take cognizance of the fact of the number of people who go to prison and go back to prison again for a further crime. As I see it the overall system ends either at the stage of preventive effort, community activities, and workshops of that kind. It would be far better if used in trying to invest more resources, limited as they are, in dealing with the problems on ground level within the community than trying to find the astronomical sums necessary, as they will be in some cases no matter what we do, to keep increasing numbers in prisons, if that can be avoided by better management from all of us within the community.

The Garda are in the front line and they obviously have a major role to play. We are all prepared to spend more money on security in our homes. We are all extremely worried about old people being attacked and, God knows, we had a spate of such a attacks in recent years. The fact of the matter is that we do not even visit our own relations in hospitals. We do not want to mind our own parents in our own homes. How are we going to reach the stage where we will be concerned about our neighbour down the road when we have allowed the creeping paralysis of selfishness to bite into our system until we do not give a damn? We [481] would spend £1,000 on security to protect our homes. You cannot protect your homes with money and security. You can only do it on a very temporary basis. Unless society addresses the fundamental questions which force people down that road — well, “force” is a strong word — which sometimes leads people down the road into the depths of criminality, then we are going to have to find more and more from our scarce resources to deal with the end result without attention to preventive efforts.

Mr. O'Leary: Information on Sean A OLeary  Zoom on Sean A OLeary  I think we are lucky to have the opportunity of discussing the National Economic and Social Council Report No. 77, entitled “The Criminal Justice System: Policy and Performance.” In discussing reports like that which runs to hundreds of pages all we can do really is extract from the report what we consider to be the relevent highlights of the report. There are many matters in the report about which I and, I am sure, the other speakers have views; but in the limited time available to us it would be impossible to do justice to the many important arguments which are contained in the report. I, therefore, decided to confine my comments to a few headings rather than to range over the whole area covered by the report. Before going on to consider them one by one I would like to indicate to you what they are.

The report has quite an amount to say about police; it has quite an amount to say about prisons; it has quite an amount to say about courts; and it has a lot to say about statistics and knowledge of the origins and recording of crimes which is of assistance to us in examining the reasons for our problems. They are the four headings to which I would like briefly to refer.

I would like to start off by talking about the question of statistics. I am not saying this because statistics give me any particular pleasure but because we can learn from them. Within this report there is information available which would not otherwise be available to us which should indicate why our crime rate is rising and [482] has risen and which give us some indication of when we might expect to stop rising. First of all, at page 190 of the report, in paragraphs one to three, the authors set out recommendations with regard to improving the quality and range of criminal justice statistics available both to decision makers and to the general public. It recommends the way in which that can be done. Those three recommendations, which are too long to be read into the Official Report, have my support and approval.

But the reason behind and the fundamental purpose of these recommendations can be seen by an examination of the table in the report which is presented to us on page 115. It is a very startling piece of information. It may not be very surprising to know that the percentage of the population in 1979 that was under ten years of age was 20 per cent and that they committed only 2 per cent of the crime. It also might not be very surprising to know that 45 per cent of the population were over 30 years. In so far as we have been able to ascertain in respect of people apprehended, they committed 15 per cent of the crime. So, 45 per cent of the people committed 15 per cent of crime. There are variations in the other age groups. But there are two age groups which are particularly important: the 15 and 16 year olds represented at that time 4 per cent of the population, but they committed 20 per cent of the crime. That is a staggering figure. In addition to that, the 17 to 20 year olds had 7 per cent of the population, but they committed 24 per cent of the crimes — over three times what one would expect. Between 15 and 20, in that six year group, there was 11 per cent of the population but there was about 43 per cent of the crime.

That shows one of the reasons why our crime rate has been increasing, because with the age structure of our population an increasing percentage of our population has in the last few years gone into that slot between 15 and 20. A person between 15 and 20, on the basis of that information, is four times as likely to commit a crime as any other person. It is [483] not surprising then, that we have experienced a considerable increase in the amount of crime. Portion of the increase in crime, if not all, can be directly attributed to the fact of the change in the age structure of our population. It is thus a temporary phenomenon and one to which we must respond; but at the same time it is not justifiable to use that situation to justify scaremongering tactics with regard to the population at large and with regard to the way in which crime is going.

I recall on the Second Stage discussion of the Criminal Justice Bill listening to Senator Michael D. Higgins discussing the importance of crime statistics. Anybody who was here at the time could not fail to be impressed, first of all by his grasp of the problem but also by the direct relevance which it had to the problem we were discussing at that time. He realised the problem that if we do not accurately and properly collect our information then we may have a knee jerk reaction to increasing crime statistics based on emotion rather than on logic. As a result of that we might be tempted to pass into law legislation which would not be justified in the longer term. That is why I so strongly support and why I am taking more than a proportionate amount of my time in considering the importance of statistics as an adequate basis for the consideration of our future problems, of our future policy in the criminal justice area. The recommendations in the report and the information contained in page 115 and pages before and after it are very important in the context of our future criminal policy.

The second matter to which I would like to refer briefly is the question of the courts. It is open season on lawyers by non-lawyers at present. Apparently, lawyers have for some reason offended the rest of the population. The earning of their living is in some way the subject of constant attention. I find that quite surprising, because since I changed my profession and became a lawyer I find that the level of earnings which my colleagues have is not out of line with what one [484] earns in other professions. The traditions and standard of professionalism which I have seen among both the solicitors and barristers compares very favourably with what I saw in my previous profession. It is easy to get a cheap thrill by mocking the wearing of wigs and gowns. I do not care whether I ever wore a wig or gown. The gown is certainly irrelevant; the wig is performing a more and more useful function as time goes on. If somebody decides that it would improve the public perception of the dignity of the law for me not to wear my wig and gown, then I would be happy to do that.

More important, within the report, on pages 186 and 187, there are a list of recommendations concerning the court which should be taken seriously. They refer briefly to an extension of the amount of consultation within the Judiciary. Senator Durcan properly made that a central theme on his moving of this motion. This kind of consultation is adding to one aspect of the judicial process which is important, that is the question of certainty. Nothing will create more work, whether it be on the civil or the criminal side, than uncertainty. If people think that by going before a particular judge they will get a lenient sentence, then that kind of uncertainty creates work within the judicial system. That leads to complaints of inefficiency in due course. Uniformity outside the question of the justice of it, which is also the paramount consideration, there are very practical reasons why consultation is a good thing.

The second recommendation is on the question of the publishing of reports of appeals in criminal cases. This is an excellent idea, adding to the general information. Thirdly, there is the question of consolidated statute law and published appeal decisions. It is important that sufficient money would be made available in order to ensure that the wide range of judicial decisions, which are of importance in court cases, can be published quickly and efficiently through the various statutory and non-statutory bodies whose function it is to do so.

There are other recommendations with [485] regard to the promptitude of the court in dealing with various matters. The recommendations with regard to the probation and welfare service are very worthwhile. Finally, the question of the prosecution function being placed under the effective control of the DPP is a matter which requires careful consideration. The role of the Director of Public Prosecutions, since it was established — I am not talking about the individual, because it would be inappropriate to do so, I am talking about the office — has been a considerable achievement in Irish judicial life. It is a monument to the 1973-1977 Coalition because it removed the question of prosecutions quite clearly from the political sphere. It has been one of the success stories of Irish criminal law over the last ten years. I would also like to refer very briefly to the other matters to which I made reference.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  You have two minutes, Senator.

Mr. O'Leary: Information on Sean A OLeary  Zoom on Sean A OLeary  I have two matters to which I would like to refer. One is the question of the size of the police force. The increasing size of the police force, to which reference has been made by Senator Durcan and which is referred to at page 127-129 of the report, is something to which we should give serious consideration. I will not repeat the figures which he mentioned there. Suffice to say that it has gone from 6,900 over a 35 year period to something over 12,000. That is a dramatic increase of course, some increase, because of the increase in the size of the population and the age structure of the population, is to be accepted. There appears to be no co-relation between an increase in the size of the Garda Síochána or of any other police force and the rate of crime. Future recruitment to the Garda Síochána should bear that in mind. The most important matter to be dealt with in the report is the recommendation concerning the training of police officers. That is contained in pages 184 and 185 of the report where reference is made to an extension of the training [486] period for recruits in Templemore, followed by further training at the end of the recruit's probationary period in the force. Certain changes have taken place which are to be welcomed but further changes are necessary in this regard. A greater use of a probationary period in a new garda's training is a very important portion of the new training atmosphere which would exist in the Garda Síochána. I will not make reference to the Ó Briain report and whether or not it has been implemented. That would be reploughing and reharrowing ground that has been well ploughed and well harrowed previously. The recommendations contained at pages 184 and 185 report should have our serious consideration.

I would like to make very brief reference to the question of the prisons and the effect of prison on people. If the report is slightly inadequate in any way it is in the examination of the effect of the prison system on the making of better citizens. Whether it does make better citizens is the one of the criticism of the report that I would like to make. There are recommendations contained at page 189 of the report and at page 37 concerning the prison system to which other Members referred in the course of their contributions to this debate. What they had to say in regard to education and training, with regard to prison rights, with regard to the educational and developmental role of prison officers, all have extreme relevance in the present time and should be carefully taken into consideration.

Taking all these matters together, I think the report is a good report which could properly take its place alongside the other excellent reports of the Economic and Social Research Institute, Nos. 121 and 102, which dealt with the question of crime, statistical information and crime victimisation in the Republic of Ireland. These reports taken together should be a useful addition to the library of information which we are gathering concerning the criminal in Ireland and what society's proper and adequate [487] response to the criminal's behaviour should be.

Debate adjourned.


Last Updated: 14/09/2010 02:33:51 First Page Previous Page Page of 10 Next Page Last Page