Private Members Business – Restorative Justice (Reparation of Victims) Bill 2013

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While I commend Deputy John Halligan on the objectives which underpin this legislation, I cannot support it and believe that it would create a dangerous precedent in Irish justice and would make it likely that rich people would receive one level of punishment from the courts, while poor people would receive harsher treatment.

I also believe that the current civil system offers an avenue by which such costs can be sought and that it is appropriate that such cases are presented in a civil setting and that criminal courts are confined to deciding on a punishment for a certain crime. It is currently open for a judge to direct that compensation be paid and this forms part of many court judgements.

This Bill limits expenses to medical expenses and replacement and repair of property. Provision is not made for pain or suffering or loss of earnings.  Since being elected, I have been approached by many victims of crime, some of whom are traumatised for decades because of violent events.  I believe that this Bill would offer such people little or nothing in the way of restorative justice, but would place a very heavy administrative burden on Gardaí, whose time would be better employed in the fight against crime.

I note that Section 13 of this Bill provides that where a convicted person fails to make full reparation, the judge will be obliged to ask the Gardaí to ascertain the costs of making reparation to the victim. Gardaí would then have to submit a cost of reparation report to the Court.  This, I believe is simply not feasible and is a central reason why I cannot support this Bill.

Similarly, the Probation Service is currently struggling to deal with the nature and volume of its caseload and involving the Probation Service in payments of a post-conviction reparation order would simply overwhelm the entire service.

Victims of crime need to be compensated properly, but I do not believe that this Bill is the best mechanism for that.  Personally, I don’t believe that compensation should form part of a criminal case and would prefer to see such matters confined to civil remedy, but there are cases where it is appropriate that compensation, for example for dental treatment, is offered, but a person’s ability to pay compensation should not be something that a judge would take into consideration at sentencing.

On the subject of the dangers of a two-tier justice system, it must also be remembered that many working people who are struggling to raise families are excluded from the free legal aid system, while others repeatedly avail of the system without ever having to face up to how much their representation is costing.  I believe that people who repeatedly avail of free legal aid services, should be made pay a very small proportion of the costs, which would create greater recognition of the costs involved and perhaps a greater reluctance on their part for repeated court appearances.

The justice system as it currently stands, I believe, provides a fair opportunity to people of all income brackets to have their cases heard in an impartial matter.  The introduction of reparation would, I believe, drive many poor people and in particular families with young children and single parents, into the hands of unscrupulous money lenders, thereby contributing to a downward spiral for a household already in trouble.

It must be remembered that addiction issues underlie a great many of the cases currently before the criminal courts. These addiction issues have already destroyed the family finances and there is little prospect of an addict, however well-intentioned they may be at a court hearing, following through on reparation payments when there is an addiction to be fuelled.  Thus, both the Gardaí and Probation Service would be swamped under an ever-increasing load of reparation casework.

Another facet to this is that there are many families whose income on paper looks impressive, but who are really struggling on a day-to-day basis to keep a family afloat, facing high mortgage and childcare costs and for whom a large bill for restorative justice could not be met.

The justice system and the court system need to be overhauled, but not in this manner.  I believe that efforts should be made to ensure that fine repayment and family issues do not require a court hearing, freeing up time for busy judges to deal with other cases.  Already, many matters, such as speeding issues, are dealt with without ever setting foot in court, but yet the court remains an important avenue for those who feel that they are being dealt with unfairly.

The adversarial court system does not serve families well and great efforts must be taken to move as many family cases as possible away from a court setting and towards a mediated result.

Where criminal cases are heard in a court setting, I believe that the time required to hear such cases must not be lengthened by the issue of reparation, which does not compensate victims properly and which is an issue for civil remedy.  In fact the vast majority of such civil cases never trouble the court, which further bolsters the case for removing such issues from the realm of the criminal courts.

I understand Deputy Halligan’s wish to ensure that victims of crime have their medical expenses and property damage compensated, but I cannot support the current Bill, which I believe would create a two-tier system and swamp an already overloaded Gardaí and Probation Service.