Dáil Éireann - Volume 539 - 26 June, 2001

Ceisteanna – Questions. - Law Reform Commission.

8. Mr. Howlin asked the Taoiseach the consideration he has given to the report of the Law Reform Commission on statutory drafting and interpretation; if he intends to incorporate the recommendations into the Interpretation Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11005/01]

Mr. S. Brennan: It is proposed that aspects of the Report of the Law Reform Commission on Statutory Drafting and Interpretation: Plain Language and the Law will be reflected on Committee Stage of the Interpretation Bill, 2000, which is currently awaiting an order for Second Stage in the House.

Mr. Quinn: Will the Bill require amendments or are they contained in the text as published for Second Stage?

Mr. S. Brennan: I gather amendments will be required. Aspects of the report will be reflected on Committee Stage.

Mr. Quinn: The Interpretation Bill was drafted before this report.

Mr. S. Brennan: Yes. What is in the report will be reflected in the amendments on Committee Stage.

Mr. Quinn: When is it intended to take that Bill?

Mr. S. Brennan: I do not have a date for that. It will not be enacted in this session.

Mr. J. Mitchell: This question addresses a serious point. Much of our legislation is phrased in archaic, out of date and convoluted language which is almost designed to confuse the general public. I do not see any sign in Bills before the House at present that we have learned any lessons. As shadow spokesperson, I am supposed to speak on some Bills.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should put a question.

Mr. J. Mitchell: Will the Minister of State [10] acknowledge that I am confused about much of the legislation I must shadow?

Mr. Quinn: That has nothing to do with writing legislation.

Mr. S. Brennan: I could not acknowledge the Deputy's confusion.

Mr. J. Mitchell: I had a boss in Guinness who used to ask his men to excavate an aperture and the men would ask if he meant to dig a hole. Our legislation uses such out of date and archaic language when we really only want to dig a hole.

Mr. S. Brennan: There is a need to make legislation more understandable and readable but, at the same time, legal language is necessary in a range of areas. It would be difficult to extract all of it from legislation. The last Interpretation Act was introduced in 1937. The interpretation section defines what is meant by a day, a weekend, a working day, Minister, etc. Instead of laying out those repeatedly in legislation, the Interpretation Acts would take those as given and would also allow for changes to be made. For example, one of the changes we examined in terms of what is contained in the report – Deputy Quinn referred to the fact that the Bill was published first – was to amend the Interpretation Bill, 2000, in respect of provisions in changing circumstances arising from a change in technology, legal policy or even changes in society between the time of the enactment of legislation and the time it comes to be interpreted because the meaning of it at that time might be different. That was approach adopted in the Interpretation Bill.

Mr. J. Mitchell: This is a serious point. Legislation drafted in the United States, for instance, contains ordinary, everyday language whereas our legislation contains language from the century before last and phrases which were first drafted in Gladstone's time are used now. From what the Minister of State said, the only legislation we will change is the Interpretation Bill, but surely we should change every Bill which comes before this House into modern, readable language.

Mr. S. Brennan: It has improved. I am not sure the American model is one to be followed. They seem to have more lawyers per square inch in the United States than the rest of the world together. I presume they spend their lives interpreting legislation, so I am not sure that model is a useful one. It has been the policy of successive Governments, the Attorney General's office and the draftsman's office to minimise the amount of legal mumbo jumbo contained in legislation, but it can only be minimised. This Bill will be an important reform and will move it forward.

Mr. Quinn: There is a practice recommended in the LRC report to the effect that the explanatory [11] memorandum, which is available on Second Stage, should be revised when the Bill is amended because many people – this is the substance of the LRC recommendation – will use the explanatory memorandum as the guide to what is contained in the Bill. If one gets the explanatory memorandum and the Bill is subsequently amended, that memorandum is deemed to be out of the date. The recommendation states that the drafters of the Bill shall also draft the explanatory memorandum and the memorandum should be amended to reflect the Bill, as amended, when it is enacted. Can the Minister of State indicate from the information available to him in his briefing whether the proposed amendments to the Interpretation Act will recommend such procedures?

Mr. S. Brennan: I do not see any reference on my file to any such proposal but it is a top class idea because if we publish an explanatory memorandum with the Bill, by the time it has gone through all Stages in both Houses, it is often an entirely different Bill. Publishing an explanatory memorandum with the Act, therefore, might be useful. I do not know whether the legal people would have to interpret the Bill rather than the Houses which pass it. That is a point I have not considered but it is a top class idea and I will pursue it.