Bill is part of Government’s ongoing commitment to address the legacy of The Troubles

Bill will enhance the co-operation being provided to ongoing Coroners’ inquests in Northern Ireland into historical deaths

Bill underpins Government’s commitment to the Stormont House Agreement

22 November 2017


The Minister for Justice and Equality, Mr. Charles Flanagan, T.D., today (Wednesday) published the general scheme of the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill 2017 following approval by the Government at its weekly Cabinet meeting.  This proposed new legislation is an important step in the Government’s ongoing commitment to measures to address the legacy of the Troubles on this island and to support the victims of the troubles and their families.

In addition to enhancing the co-operation being provided to ongoing Coroners’ inquests in Northern Ireland into historical deaths, these proposals will further underpin the Government’s commitment to full co-operation with the framework of measures set out in the Stormont House Agreement.

Minister Flanagan said:  “The Government has been steadfast in our commitment to dealing with the painful legacy of conflict in Northern Ireland.  Acknowledging and addressing the needs of the victims of the troubles is a key aspect of our efforts to support and to promote reconciliation.

 “As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I was intimately involved in the negotiation of the Stormont House Agreement and as Minister for Justice and Equality I am delivering on legal measures necessary to underpin the commitments on legacy matters.

 “This legislation will respond to the needs of Coroners in Northern Ireland and Britain dealing with legacy cases to access testimony from An Garda Síochána where this is relevant to their inquests.  It will also provide a structured mechanism to enhance co-operation with a number of bodies dealing with deaths related to the Troubles, including the Historical Investigations Unit to be established in Northern Ireland and the Ireland-UK Independent Commission on Information Retrieval, both of which arise from the Stormont House Agreement.

 “I will now be writing to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality to ask them to consider the general scheme of this Bill under Oireachtas pre-legislative scrutiny procedures.”

The General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill 2017 will:

·    provide for a mechanism to have testimony from Garda Síochána witnesses here using existing Irish law for Coroners in Northern Ireland who are conducting inquests into troubles-related deaths and where those deaths have a substantial connection to the State respect of Inquests that are investigating,

·    extend the provisions of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to allow the Garda Commissioner to enter into co-operation agreements with non-police/law enforcement bodies outside the State (this will be an important element in our co-operation with those “legacy” institutions to be established under the Stormont House Agreement - the Historical Investigations Unit and the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval, and other bodies).

The General Scheme will be made available on the Department of Justice website here:
www.justice.ie/en/JELR/General_Scheme_of_Criminal_Justice_(International_Co-operation)_Bill.pdf/Files/General_Scheme_of_Criminal_Justice_(International_Co-operation)_Bill.pdf


ENDS


Notes for Editors 

·    In 2014, the Irish and British Governments together with the Northern Ireland Executive parties took part in 11 weeks of political talks, resulting in the Stormont House Agreement  of 23 December 2014. The Stormont House Agreement covers a broad range of political, social and economic issues and includes significant and agreed proposals for dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.

·    There is no existing legal mechanism to ensure that Coroners in Northern Ireland and Britain can access Garda Síochána testimony where this may be relevant to their inquests and this proposal will adapt an existing mechanism in Irish law to make testimony available for Coroners.

·    The Foreign Tribunals Evidence Act 1856 provides for a system whereby application can be made to an Irish Court by a court or tribunal in a foreign country which is seeking to obtain the testimony of any witness within the jurisdiction.  The Foreign Tribunals Evidence Act 1856 is retained on the Irish Statute Book and given effect in the Rules of the Superior Courts.  

·    Section 28 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 provides for the Garda Commissioner, with the consent of the Government, to enter into an agreement with a police service or other law enforcement agency outside the State relating to cooperation or exchange of information.

·    This proposed Bill will extend these powers to non-police or law enforcement bodies in order to ensure that mutually beneficial co-operation between An Garda Síochána and relevant bodies in Northern Ireland (and elsewhere) can be maximised.  This will underpin co-operation with the non-criminal investigation functions of the Historical Investigation Unit, the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval and the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland where needed (co-operation with criminal investigations is already available under international mutual legal assistance).

·    The proposed Bill will also make a technical amendment to the Garda Síochána Acts to clarify the impact of previous amendments made in the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Acts 2008 and 2015.