Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has been called on by Sinn Féin’s Martin Kenny to find out who was responsible for the omission of a key chapter in a new law bill from a request for waiver of pre-legislative scrutiny.

The issue in question was in relation to Chapter 3 of the Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020, the Sligo-Leitrim TD said.

The bill was passed just before the Dáil’s summer recess, with the Sinn Féin justice spokesperson noting that the briefing note for the pre-legislative scrutiny for the general scheme of the bill made “no mention of Chapter 3 relating to the admissibility of business documents in civil cases”.

When asking the minister if it was her decision to omit the detail, deputy Kenny said that, if it were not, she should find who was responsible in her department and that person should be removed from their position.

Deputy Kenny was referring to a section of the bill which allowed for banking documents, previously regarded as hearsay, to be taken as evidence in court. This was labelled as ‘a boon’ to the vulture funds by mortgage holders’ representatives, he added.

Commenting, deputy Kenny said: “The minister was here when the debate happened.

“No speaker from government or the opposition spoke in favour of Chapter 3. Everybody said it should be deferred. Everybody in the legal profession to whom I spoke said there was no urgency with this particular issue. Despite this, it was included in the bill.”

Stating that someone needs to be held accountable, the TD added: “It is totally outrageous. It was outrageous when it happened over the summer and that has not changed; it is still outrageous.”

Minister’s response

Responding to this in the Dáil last week, Minister McEntee said: “Absolutely nobody had any intention to mislead the Dáil, to omit anything intentionally or to try to sneak anything in with this legislation, as has been suggested before.

“The Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 was enacted on August 6, and constitutes the government response to the new challenges posed to our courts and legal systems by the current pandemic.

The act also goes beyond the pandemic, as we outlined at the time, and will make many of our legal processes more efficient and effective in the future.

The minister stressed that there was no decision to exclude the chapter from pre-legislative scrutiny but said that the general scheme of the bill did not include the chapter. She added:

“On July 14, I sought a waiver for the requirement of pre-legislative scrutiny under Standing Order 173 for the Bill, as it was primarily a Covid-19 related measure and needed to be progressed quickly.

“I sought the waiver, in good faith, on the basis of the general scheme approved by cabinet.”

Regarding the section of the bill in question, the minister added:

“The reason for its introduction is that, in the majority of cases and in the absence of legislative reform, litigants may agree to admit business records without requiring each one to be formally provided in court by a witness to avoid unnecessary costs and delays in court.

In a minority of cases, certain litigants may insist on proof of each and every document, notwithstanding that there is no question or doubt as to the authenticity of the documents concerned.

“This is not in the interests of justice. These cases have posed increasing difficulties for our courts in recent years and highlight the need for statutory intervention,” Minister McEntee concluded.