Minister Shatter publishes the General Scheme of Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill

5th February 2014 - Ken Gaughran

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD, has received Government approval for the drafting of the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill 2014 and for the publication of the General Scheme of the Bill today. The General Scheme will be submitted to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for pre-legislative consideration.

This new legislation will replace the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 with modern provisions dealing with community sanctions and the role of the Probation Service in the criminal justice system.

Speaking on the publication of the General Scheme, Minister Shatter said: “The Probation of Offenders Act 1907 has served us well for over a century in dealing with persons who come before the courts charged with minor offences. However, it is now time to bring forward an updated statement of the law governing community sanctions and the role of the Probation Service which reflects modern thinking and best modern practice. The new legislation will facilitate the effective and efficient use of community sanctions by the courts and will ensure that the courts have a wide range of appropriate options for dealing with persons who have committed minor offences. This should help to reduce the numbers of people unnecessarily imprisoned, at significant cost to the taxpayer, for minor offences. The legislation will take full account of the interests of victims of crime by making it a statutory requirement for the courts to have regard to the interests of victims when making decisions about community sanctions. The General Scheme of the Bill will be submitted to the Oireachtas Justice Committee so that there can be full public consultation on the proposed reforms.”

Minister Shatter continued, “It is my intention to break the link between the payment of compensation and the sentencing of the offender in criminal proceedings. From time to time, issues can arise with sentences imposed in cases where financial compensation offered to the victim by the offender is regarded as a mitigating factor by the court when sentencing the offender. This, I believe, is particularly inappropriate in cases involving serious offences, where the requirement to impose an appropriate penalty for the crime should not be confused with the court’s power to separately award compensation to the victim for personal injury or loss.

“Under the Bill, section 6 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993 Act will be amended to disconnect the payment of compensation from the matters that the court may take into account when sentencing the offender. This amendment will provide that a compensation order can only be made in addition to any other sanction, and not instead of a sanction.”

Minister Shatter continued, “The legislation will abolish the Court Poor Box, as recommended by the Law Reform Commission nine years ago, and replace it with a fair, equitable and transparent system of reparation that will apply only to minor offences dealt with by the District Court. The new Reparation Fund will be used to provide additional funding for essential victim support services and to the state funded victim compensation scheme. The Reparation Fund may not be used for any purpose other than this.”

Amongst the many provisions contained in the proposed legislation, it is intended that the Bill will:

· provide a modern statutory framework for the role of the Probation Service,
· modernise the statutory provisions for community sanctions, including court-ordered supervision of offenders by the Probation Service, making clear provision for Discharge Orders, Binding Over Orders and Probation Supervision Orders,
· make provision for court-ordered probation assessment reports and any necessary medical or psychiatric assessment of a convicted offender prior to sentencing,
· detail the factors to which a court should have regard in determining whether to dispose of a case by making a Binding Over Order against an individual; detail conditions that can be imposed which, if not complied with, can result in a person being otherwise dealt with; and the circumstances in which a person who has committed an offence of a minor nature should not have a formal conviction recorded against them,
· provide a focused and specific restorative justice approach in relation to proceedings for minor offences, to deal with cases where the victim is willing to accept reparation for a loss incurred or expense resulting from the crime committed, such as damage to property or damage to a vehicle,
· allow courts to set conditions relating to psychiatric treatment as part of a Binding Over Order, in order to facilitate the diversion from the criminal justice system of persons with mental illness who have committed very minor offences,
· amend the Criminal Justice Act 1993, which allows the courts in criminal cases to order an offender to pay compensation to a victim, without such a compensation order impacting on the court’s consideration of what is the appropriate sentence or penalty to impose,
· abolish the Court Poor Box and replace it with a statutory Reparation Fund to provide for a fair, equitable and transparent system of reparation, applicable only to minor offences, and for the usage of that fund to provide services for the victims of crime and compensation payments payable by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal, and to
· provide for the inspection of the Probation Service.

A link to the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill is available here: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PB14000031

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