398. Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the public consultation process in place prior to the introduction of the Statutory Instrument No. 541/2014; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49433/14]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): There has been much confusion around the commencement of Part 3 of the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008, which is the purpose behind the signing into law of Statutory Instrument 541 of 2014.
S.I. 541/14 is a Commencement Order bringing into force a part of an Act that was passed by the Oireachtas in 2008 following completion of all stages of the legislative process required before legislation can be enacted. Consequently there is no necessity for a public consultation process.
The need to commence Part 3 of the 2008 Act arises from the changes brought about to the structure of the EU as a result of the Treaty of Lisbon. In accordance with that Treaty, instruments providing for co-operation in police and criminal justice matters have to be implemented within 5 years of the Treaty coming into effect, that is by 1 December 2014. Furthermore, these measures, including the EU Convention, have been brought within the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice from 1 December 2014. In order to accede to the Convention, all parts of the 2008 Act had to be brought into force. Therefore, had Ireland not commenced Part 3 by 1 December, it risked infringement proceedings and potential fines.
The 2008 Act gives effect to the EU Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters. It applies only to mutual assistance in relation to criminal matters and is the basis for Ireland's mutual legal assistance arrangements with other EU member states.
Part 3 of the Act deals with mutual assistance cooperation in relation to criminal investigations and prosecutions where the lawful interception of communications is considered necessary and appropriate. It does not provide for any form of mass surveillance or data gathering. What it means in practice is where a lawful interception order is in place in one EU state for the investigation of serious crime, a request can be made in another state for assistance in facilitating interception. However, giving effect to that request may only be done if it is in accordance with the domestic law of the State. The provisions of the 2008 Act are also reciprocal so the Gardaí can request this type of assistance from other EU member states. Given the sometimes international nature of serious crime, this will further enhance the capabilities of An Garda Siochána to deal with it.
In Ireland the domestic law is the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993. Again, this Act does not permit or facilitate any form of mass surveillance. Under the Act, interception of communications can only occur following the satisfying of specific conditions. One of these is that an investigation must be underway into a serious criminal offence before an interception warrant can be granted by the Minister for Justice and Equality.
Furthermore the Act is overseen by a designated Judge of the High Court and also provides for a Complaints Referee to whom anyone who feels they have been the victim of an abuse of the legislation may refer their case.
Finally, there has been media comment about the provision in Part 3 of the 2008 Act for in camera Court hearings for a failure by a company to comply with directions issued by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources under the 1983 Postal and Telecommunications Services Act. I wish to be quite clear. The provision arises because, obviously, it would not be appropriate in open Court to disclose sensitive information concerning authorisations for interception in the investigation of a serious crime.