A mid-year departmental progress report on Justice Plan 2021 measures progress on 132 promised actions.
The report finds that more than two-thirds (93) have been ticked off, six are categorised as ‘ongoing’, while 25% (33) are ‘not yet achieved’.
In particular, the report notes lack of progress on reform of the defamation law and a delay in establishing a Mediation Council.
Such defamation reform is necessary to ensure a balanced approach to:
- The right to freedom of expression,
- The right to protection of good name and reputation, and,
- The right of access to justice.
The justice plan committed to:
Strong measures to tackle the cost of insurance, including:
- New personal injury guidelines,
- Enacting the Perjury Bill to establish a statutory criminal offence for perjury,
- Criminalising the distribution of intimate images without consent,
- Publishing findings of the O’Malley Review and implementation plan to protect vulnerable witnesses involved in the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences,
- Continuing work on increasing the penalty for conspiracy to murder to life imprisonment, in particular to deal with gangland crime,
- Targeted community intervention programme to prevent children most at risk from criminal gangs from being recruited, and harsh new penalties against those who groom children to commit offences,
- Removal of reporting restrictions that prevented parents from speaking publicly about their deceased child in cases where the child was unlawfully killed,
- First cross-government plan to implement reforms to tackle economic crime and corruption,
- Landmark General Scheme of the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill, which provides for wide-ranging and coherent reform of policing by improving performance and accountability.
“This work is making Ireland a safer and fairer place to live, work, visit and do business,” said justice minister Heather Humphreys.
“Justice Plan 2021 is incredibly ambitious, and showcases the breadth and complexity of issues for which my department is responsible.
“We committed to publishing bi-annual progress reports, and Government noted this one at its last meeting, which is useful to ensure our work is transparent, measurable and accountable.”
A further progress report will be published at the end of the year.
The report envisages that the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, which will reform and modernise the way in which judges are appointed, will complete its consultation process by the third quarter of this year.
A failure to make progress on reform of the defamation laws is also noted, however. The department has pledged to complete and publish a statutory review of the Defamation Act 2009 by Q3.
There has also been delay in establishing a Mediation Council that satisfies the criteria set out in the relevant legislation, published in 2017.
The goal is to support the development of the mediation profession as an important supplement and alternative to traditional judicial processes.
The Mediation Act 2017 requires a draft order be published for a 30-day public consultation that must be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas.
First annual plan
Justice Plan 2021, which contains more than 230 actions, is the first in a series of annual plans setting out actions to build what the department calls “a justice system that works for everyone”.
It says there have been “significant achievements” in a number of areas, including the ‘Supporting a Victim’s Journey’ plan to help vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases.
Pilot community-safety partnerships have been established in Dublin, Longford and Waterford, while a Community Safety Innovation Fund to support communities will draw on the success of an Garda Síochána and the Criminal Assets Bureau in seizing the proceeds of crime to fund projects to improve the safety of communities.
The Drogheda Implementation Plan also outlines 70 actions to improve community safety and wellbeing in the town.
The department says that a scheme to regularise the immigration status of thousands of long-term undocumented people and their dependants will open for applications before the end of the year.
Work is also continuing on a new Family Law Bill to overhaul and modernise family law, to enable disputes to be settled in a less adversarial way.
Other areas where the department says that progress has been made include:
- The Parole Board has been put on an independent statutory footing,
- The Personal Insolvency (Amendment) Act 2021 makes urgent changes to help people who are struggling to pay their debts to have more effective access to personal insolvency processes and solutions,
- An independent audit pointed out that responsibility for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence was segmented across different government departments and agencies,
- A temporary system enables applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty to the State, while in-person citizenship ceremonies are cancelled due to public health restrictions,
- Measures to introduce pre-trial hearings to ensure that victims are less likely to face stressful unexpected delays, and adjournments to trial start dates, were also rolled out,
- The Mental Health Taskforce ensures that the mental-health needs of those in prison are met, addiction treatments are provided and primary-care support is available on release,
- A strategy to help reduce re-offending by supporting employment options for people with past convictions is underway,
- An expansion proposal for to allow more victims of human trafficking to be identified and protected across a range of Departments and agencies was also published.