Dáil Éireann - Volume 378 - 18 February, 1988

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Review of Criminal Law Code.

4. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice his views on whether a review of the entire criminal law code is due; and the plans he has in this regard.

Mr. Collins: While undoubtedly a general review of the criminal law would be desirable it would be a very time-consuming exercise which it is not feasible to undertake at present as it would necessitate a substantial re-allocation of both resources and staff within my Department away from existing high priority projects. Instead my approach is to deal with those areas of the criminal [402] law most in need of review on a priority basis.

In this regard, the Law Reform Commission have been asked to review, as a matter of urgency, such matters as the law on rape, the Larceny Acts, the Malicious Damage to Property Acts, the Offences Against the Person Act, sentencing policy, indexation of fines, confiscating the proceeds of crime and other offences which are still governed by 19th century legislation and which it considers need updating. There are specific questions down to me on the Order Paper in relation to a report from the commission on the law concerning receiving stolen goods and to a consultation paper published by it on the law on rape which I will deal with in my replies to those questions. Immediate consideration will be given to the commission's reports on the other areas mentioned as soon as they are received.

Mr. G. Mitchell: I thank the Minister for the detailed reply which is based on the assumption that the question intended that the Minister's Department should carry out such a review of the criminal code. Will the Minister not agree that a Dáil committee on criminal law could very easily do the job? With regard to many of the things the Minister has mentioned in relation, for instance, to indexation of fines and to sentencing policy, is the Minister aware that the Select Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism in the last Dáil have already made observations and reports on these matters and that in many of these areas the reports are now ready for translation into legislation which could easily be done by a criminal law committee of the House?

Mr. Collins: I am satisfied that any general review of our criminal law would be a major undertaking. I believe that codification would involve not just consolidating or restating the existing criminal law but reform of that law as a whole. This would be an enormous and very complex task and it would be very difficult to achieve consensus about the [403] detailed contents of a comprehensive code. The only viable approach would seem to be to tackle the task in a piecemeal fashion. That is an approach that has been adopted in the UK. While one can object to that, to judge by the British experience a piecemeal approach would mean that codification would take a long time. It does not seem to be appropriate at present to attempt a comprehensive codification all at once. The piecemeal approach which we are adopting has the benefit that important areas of the criminal law are codified in the interim.

Mr. G. Mitchell: The Minister will be aware that the Dublin Metropolitan Police Act, the 19th century Act which he has referred to, contains a whole series of offences, the fine for which is £2. I understand that includes the offence of prostitution. I do not know how much the fine is in keeping with the fee. This is an area that needs to be considered urgently. Will the Minister agree that the area of loitering, which he did not mention, is also one which is in need of urgent examination? There is a serious problem in parts of Dublin city in particular, where large gangs of youths are gathering and causing many problems. Will he agree that the area of loitering needs to be considered again?

Mr. Collins: I accept the legitimate concern being expressed by Deputy Mitchell in this area. As I have said, we are tackling the problem in the only way open to us at present. I would welcome any help or suggestions from Members of this House on how we might speed up this process or make it more effective. I look forward to a debate on this matter in this House when I can hear the views of the Members and I will then give them the consideration they merit.

Mr. G. Mitchell: One suggestion would be to form a criminal law committee.

Mr. S. Barrett: Following from what Deputy Mitchell has said, I am sure the Minister will agree that there is a need [404] for a review of the entire criminal law code. I suggest to him that perhaps this matter could be discussed with the President of the Law Reform Commission who may have suggestions as to the best way to proceed in this area, in conjunction with what Deputy Mitchell has suggested in regard to a committee of this House.

Mr. Collins: I will certainly give consideration to the views of Deputy Barrett and Deputy Mitchell.

Mr. Taylor: Will the Minister indicate to the House what law reform measures in the area of criminal law are likely to come before the House, with approximate dates?

Mr. Collins: I do not think I can give the Deputy that information in the way he wants it. I understand the commission have given priority to the question of handling stolen goods and they have recently published a report on this topic.

Mr. Taylor: I am not talking about the commission. I am asking what legislation is the Minister proposing to bring before the House in the area of reform of criminal law? What Bills on what subjects does he propose to introduce and what approximate timescale can he give?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a separate matter.

Mr. Collins: I suggest to the Deputy that if he puts down a separate question on that matter I will give him the information he is looking for.

Mr. Taylor: It is within the ambit of his question.

Mr. T. Fitzpatrick: Will the Minister agree and take into account that criminal law, particularly the law relating to evidence and trial procedures, was enacted in the last century when suspected criminals were by and large illiterate people with very little, if any, money who had no means of defence and when movement [405] from one part of the country to another was very slow? The whole position has now changed and we are dealing with clever, well-educated criminals who have the best brains available to defend them at public expense and who can move quickly from one part of the island to another and indeed from one part of the world to another. The law badly needs to be changed.

Mr. Collins: I accept the contents of Deputy Fitzpatrick's question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Can we make some progress on other questions? Other Members are offering. Only four questions have been answered already. Is this the pattern the House wants to develop at Question Time? Is this what you want?

Mr. G. Mitchell: No.

An Ceann Comhairle: I hope to move on to the next question after hearing Deputy Bruton and Deputy Harney. Could we have brief questions, please?

Mr. J. Bruton: Will the Minister consider asking the Law Reform Commission to look at the question of compensation or retribution to the victims of crime, as one of the listed subjects that he has mentioned?

Mr. Collins: Certainly.

Mr. McCartan: It is for the Law Reform Commission to decide that.

Miss Harney: In relation to the report recently published by the Law Reform Commission on the issue of receiving stolen property in which they produced the heads of a Bill, will the Minister and his Department take that on board and bring it before the House in the form of legislation? Secondly, will the Minister agree to the setting up of an all-party committee of this House to work in conjunction with the Law Reform Commission with a view to dealing with a certain number of the priorities listed by [406] the Minister, to having our criminal law updated?

Mr. Collins: New legislation which will take account of the Law Reform Commission's recommendations on receiving stolen goods is in the course of preparation. Other aspects of our dishonesty laws and the question of confiscation of assets are due to be reviewed by the Law Reform Commission. We will have to wait and see what the commission recommend before we introduce legislation in this area. The main thrust of the Deputy's question deals with legislation on receiving stolen goods and that matter is well in hand at present.