Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015
First Stage: 11 Dec 2015
Oireachtas Link: http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad2015121100002?opendocument#Prelude
Committee and Remaining Stages: 16/12/2015
Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015: Committee and Remaining Stages
I welcome the Minister to the House and the very speedy passage of the legislation. We did all point out on Second Stage last week how important the Bill is and how real a concern there is about levels of burglary throughout the country, in particular high levels of recidivism. Last week, the Minister quoted the very high level of recidivism, particularly arising in statistics on burglary offences. The Bill is particularly focused and targeted. It seeks to ensure preservation of safeguards and protections for the rights of due process of accused persons, but it is targeted specifically at recidivist offending. We all welcome this in the interests of victims' rights.
We just heard from the chair of the parole board a moment ago in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, and we spoke about the need to ensure rehabilitation of offenders. Of course the Bill, as a criminal justice measure, is only part of a package of measures aimed at dealing with recidivism and tackling repeat offending. The Minister pointed out the need for the interagency approach and we all very much welcome this. Clearly a range of other interventions are necessary to prevent re-offending and crime. I thank the Minister for coming to the House and note the speedy and welcome passage of the legislation.
(more to follow)
Second Stage: 11/12/2015
Friday, 11 December 2015
Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, to the House along with his hard-working officials. We have commented already on the large volume of justice legislation we have been dealing with recently. Today is a case in point because there are four justice Bills before us. We have had to deal with many complex and lengthy Bills but this one is very short and focused. As Senator Conway said, it has received cross-party support. It has a very clear aim, namely, to tackle the very specific issue of recidivism where it relates to burglary offences. Others have spoken about the real fear so many people have in various communities around the country owing to the prevalence of burglary. Others have rightly spoken about the dreadful impact burglaries have on victims and their families and children, particularly in domestic dwellings. We were all horrified by the dreadful domestic burglary in Tipperary. From reports from the meeting in Thurles that followed, it is clear there is genuine concern over burglary and the high number of burglaries in certain communities.
An issue arises over the perception of burglary. Many burglary offences are dealt with in the District Court as minor offences but the sorts of burglaries about which there have been so many reports — burglaries in homes at night when occupants are present that appear to be carried out by gangs in an organised fashion as part of a series of burglaries — are clearly very serious.
This Bill clearly deals with just two aspects of the legal process, namely, bail and consecutive sentencing. With regard to the offence of burglary in the original Act of 2001, we might examine these aspects again to determine whether some distinction could be drawn between the very different types of burglaries. The one offence may cover a number of levels of seriousness. This may be a real issue. There is an aggravated burglary offence in the 2001 Act but, even with that, there is quite a range of types of burglaries, ranging from what might be termed more minor ones to more serious ones. Burglary is never minor to the victim but circumstances can mean offences vary greatly in their nature. The distinction between serious and minor offences capable of being tried in the District Court is one that might be examined in a broader review of the substantive law of burglary.
The Bill deals with the two issues of bail and consecutive sentencing and is clearly aimed at dealing with the issue of recidivism. The Minister of State has spoken about the high rate of recidivism related to burglary offences. The Irish Prison Service's recidivism survey suggests a repeat offending rate of 79%, and the Probation Service survey also shows a high level of repeat offending associated with burglary. I am aware of research on the psychology of young offenders in the State who are convicted of a number of burglary offences who might be described as "persistent burglars". The psychology is interesting, as evident in the report and interviews with those convicted of multiple burglary offences. One finds there is an opportunistic element in that the individuals concerned may take the opportunity to commit a burglary if they see an open window or house that appears empty or without a burglar alarm. However, there is also an ingrained culture. One hesitates to say that expertise or experience builds up. Within the very small community of very persistent burglars, there is an ingrained burglar psychology. Clearly, this needs to be tackled.
The Bill seeks to address this through the criminal justice system. The amendment to the Bail Act 1997 allows a court to consider repeat offences where burglary is committed in a dwelling and where the offender has attained the age of 18. This might be taken into account when refusing bail in respect of a particular burglary offence. I am glad to see there are safeguards in this regard. The Minister of State has pointed out the right to bail derives from the constitutional presumption of innocence. It is important that we ensure that the constitutional rights for those accused of crimes are protected. There are clear safeguards related to the qualifications in respect of the courts' role in deciding on bail.
With regard to section 2 and consecutive sentencing, a range of safeguards is in place. A number of different provisos must apply before a court can impose a consecutive sentence. Where a consecutive sentence is imposed by the District Court, the aggregate term is still limited to two years. That is important and the range of safeguards must be supported.
Clearly, however, these provisions will not tackle the underlying causes of offending. For that reason, I really welcome the inter-agency approach the Minister has announced, namely the joint agency response to crime initiative, JARC, which one anticipates will be more effective than any criminal justice response can be. We all know that the issues involved in the repeat offending of a small group of mostly young, persistent offenders must be tackled. Clearly, initiatives associated with bail and sentencing can go only partially towards that.
More generally, it has been welcome to see that the Government's approach to criminal justice has focused on tackling causes of crime and emphasised the need to strengthen our restorative justice system. Senator Conway has mentioned the latter. The approach has also focused on penal reform more generally. I really welcomed earlier this week the closure of St. Patrick's Institution, that dreadful place which for far too long has been a blight on our prison estate. Other Senators have also welcomed it. There was a general welcome for the emphasis on further resourcing of the Probation Service and on non-custodial sanctions as a way of ensuring the rehabilitation of offenders. Our own justice committee's report on penal reform, unanimously adopted some years ago, recommended that prison should be a sanction of last resort and that efforts should be made to reduce the number of those incarcerated for minor, non-violent offences. For that reason, everyone will welcome the commencement of the Fines Act in the new year, as announced by the Minister. It will ensure we will no longer see people sent to prison for the non-payment of fines. There was some discussion on that in the House this week. It is a very welcome change towards a more enlightened and progressive criminal justice and penal system that will see real inroads being made into addressing repeat offending and much better protections for victims of crime. Ultimately, victims of crime wish to see crime prevention and the tackling of repeat offending.
I commend the Garda on its work and welcome the fact that Operation Thor has been put in place to tackle very serious, organised burglary offences. I commend the Garda on its previous operation, Operation Fiacla, and the community groups on their efforts. The justice committee had hearings with Muintir na Tíre and the community groups, which are clearly doing a huge amount of invisible work on crime prevention on the ground in various areas. My own experience in an urban setting of the Garda's crime prevention office has been hugely positive. It is largely unseen work, with crime prevention officers coming out to people's homes in neighbourhoods where there has been a high rate of burglaries in previous weeks to advise communities on how best to secure their homes and to ensure crime prevention strategies are put in place. These are really important interventions. They are invisible, but they have a huge impact in terms of crime prevention.
The Bill is only a small part of a much larger package of measures which are needed to tackle burglaries. It will receive general support and I am glad that safeguards are in place to ensure the presumption of innocence will be protected, as will the due process rights of accused persons.
Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: It represents in this Bill, a short Bill, a technically complex Bill which carefully balances constitutional rights to ensure the Garda and the courts can respond fairly but effectively to the crime caused by prolific burglars. This legislation, together with Operation Thor, and the joint agency response to crime is focused on tackling and managing prolific offenders. It forms part of a comprehensive package aimed at reducing the scourge of crime and burglary in particular. There is a wider debate to be had about the causes of crime, the roots of crime and issues of inequality in that respect but that is for another day.
Question put and agreed to.
Acting Chairman (Senator Michael Mullins): When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
Senator Ivana Bacik: Next Tuesday.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 15 December 2015.