Posted on October 22, 2015 5:07 PM   |   Permanent Link   

Speaking on the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015

I welcome this new Bill which will toughen the criminal law in relation to burglars. Burglary is a crime which has always caused a particular anxiety in society. To be a victim of a burglary, to realise that an individual has broken into your home and intruded on your belongings and quite probably stolen items of value, is a particularly awful thing to experience.

I have had personal experience of having several bicycles stolen over the years; this type of crime is unfortunately on the increase as a growing number of people have taken up cycling for healthy exercise or as a means of commuting. I believe that tougher action needs to be taken against bicycle thieves who are the modern equivalent of the horse thieves of the past.

I also wish to refer to the trauma suffered by the Corcoran family in Killenaule Co. Tipperary, including their 3 children, during an aggravated burglary of their home at night that occurred 2 years ago which shocked the entire nation. I hope that this Bill now before us will go some way towards preventing a similar catastrophe in the future. This new Bill is targeted at those repeat burglars who have previous convictions who are charged with multiple offences of residential burglary. Figures from the Garda Síochána Analysis Service indicate that 75% of burglaries are committed by 25% of burglars, so it is obvious that a great many burglaries are committed by serial offenders. Targeting this cohort of repeat offenders has the potential to significantly reduce the number of burglaries being committed.

As a member of the Oireachtas Justice Committee, I am pleased that this legislation has resulted from a review of the criminal justice system's response to the problem of burglaries, which was initiated by the Minister earlier this year, and I commend her for doing that. As part of the review, the Minister convened and chaired a high-level meeting on the problem, of burglaries, which was attended by the Garda Commissioner, the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service. The review highlighted that a significant number of burglaries are committed by a small number of offenders and targeting these prolific offenders has the potential to significantly reduce the harm being caused. The new legislation will require the District Court to provide for consecutive jail sentences where a burglar is being sentenced for multiple offences and it will allow Courts to refuse bail for offenders who have a previous conviction for domestic burglary coupled with two or more pending charges.

Constitutionally, the legislation highlights the importance of the home as recognised by Article 40.5 of the Constitution which states - "The dwelling of every citizen is inviolable and shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with law." This legislation is an endorsement of the principle that a person's home is their castle. Considering the legislation in more detail, the legislation requires, where a court decides to impose custodial sentences for multiple burglary offences committed within a 12 month window, that the court impose such sentences consecutively and not concurrently as is done so frequently in Irish criminal law. This is in response to the fact that, in many cases, relatively short sentences are imposed when multiple burglary offences are taken into account.

The way this will be done in terms of this legislation is that Section 2 of the Bill will insert a new section 54A (Consecutive sentencing for burglary of dwelling) into the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001. It provides for the problem of concurrent sentences being handed down for multiple burglaries on the basis that where an adult is being sentenced to imprisonment for a domestic burglary and was convicted of another domestic burglary committed in the 5 years before the offence for which he or she is currently being sentenced, and was sentenced to imprisonment for another domestic burglary committed in the period starting 6 months before and ending 6 months after the burglary offence for which he or she is now being sentenced, any sentence of imprisonment which the court chooses to impose for the offence for which he or she is currently being sentenced must be consecutive to any sentence of imprisonment imposed for those prior domestic burglary offences.

Secondly, the Bill provides that for the purposes of applications for bail, previous convictions for domestic burglary coupled with pending charges or recent convictions shall be considered as evidence that an accused person is likely to commit further domestic burglaries. This is in response to the fact that prolific offenders are repeatedly granted bail even when charged with a series of burglaries.

It is important to point out here that a decision to grant bail in a particular case is a matter for the court, which is, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of its judicial functions. What this means is that while the legislature can define what is permissible in terms of sentencing in legislation, the legislature is not able to tell a court what it can or cannot do in its day to day function. Section 2 of the Bail Act 1997 permits the courts to refuse bail to a person charged with a serious offence where refusal of bail is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by that person. This legislation enhances that piece of law in the context of burglary offences, which are considered serious offences for the purposes of the Bail Act.

I commend this Bill to the House.