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Bill on criminal legal aid targeted for 2023
Justice minister Simon Harris Pic: RollingNews.ie

06 Apr 2023 / justice Print

Bill on criminal legal aid targeted for 2023

The Department of Justice has published its latest action plan setting out its work programme for 2023.

Justice Plan 2023,  which contains more than 140 actions, is the third in a series of plans aimed at implementing a three-year strategy statement published by Minister Helen McEntee in 2021.

The department has committed itself to publishing two reports a year on the progress of the plan, mid-year and at the end of the year.

Minister for Justice Simon Harris said that a priority would be to continue to support an Garda Síochána (AGS) through increased resources and a stronger, more diverse garda service.

The plan includes the publication of the General Scheme of a Criminal Legal Aid Bill to modernise the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, and transfer the administration to the Legal Aid Board.

Modernising the courts

Among five broad categories, the plan sets out a number of planned measures aimed at improving access to justice and modernising the courts system.

These include:

  • Enactment of the Family Court Bill and implementation of the Family Justice Strategy,
  • Supporting establishment of the Gambling Regulation Authority by enacting the Gambling Regulation Bill 2022,
  • Reforming professional legal education through the introduction of independent oversight for the first time, and removing the barriers to becoming a solicitor or barrister,
  • Supporting establishment of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill,
  • Increasing the number of judges by 24, and reforming how the courts operate,
  • Reforming and modernising the laws on defamation,
  • Support for enactment of the Sale of Alcohol Bill,
  • Establishing the Planning and Environmental Court,
  • New pre-action protocol regulations (clinical negligence) to encourage early resolution of disputes,
  • Amending the Occupiers Liability Act to provide for changes to Duty of Care, as part of a plan to reduce the cost of insurance.

Actions for tackling crime and transforming policing include:

  • Supporting the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas to enactment,
  • Reviewing the powers available to AGS in relation to public order and anti-social behaviour, to include the effectiveness of ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders),
  • Increasing the maximum sentence for assaulting a peace officer to 12 years,
  • Strengthening the powers of the Criminal Assets Bureau through the Proceeds of Crime Amendment Bill 2023,
  • Supporting legislation to increase sentences for assault causing harm, conspiracy to murder, as well as creating standalone offences of stalking and non-fatal strangulation,
  • Investing more in AGS to support recruitment, and fund new stations and infrastructure,
  • Supporting the enactment of the Recording Devices Bill to provide for the nationwide roll-out of body cameras.

Plan to tackle human trafficking

In the areas of community safety, supporting victims, and combatting domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, the plan includes:

  • Continuing to implement Zero Tolerance, the third national strategy to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence,
  • Work to remove the legal barriers that prevent domestic-violence victims from remaining in their homes, and examine how to allow AGS to issue removal orders to take offenders out of the home in high-risk cases,
  • Publishing a new action plan on human trafficking,
  • Supporting legislation to ensure that character evidence in sentencing for sexual offences trials can be tested, and character witnesses cross-examined,
  • Preparing for the national roll-ut of new Community Safety Partnerships across the country in 2024,
  • Establishing a task force to improve education and upskilling across the criminal-justice system, starting with prison education.

International protection

On immigration, the plan sets out targets aimed at ensuring what the department calls a “fair and balanced” rules-based international-protection system.

It aims to ensure that accelerated or priority international-protection cases receive a first-instance decision within three months, and pledges additional resources to support improvements in the International Protection Office (IPO).

The department also says that it will identify “additional measures” that can be put in place to prevent travel by those with no permission to enter Ireland.

The plan also commits the department to preparing and implementing a ‘smarter travel’ plan to encourage a move away from the car as a primary means of travel.

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