Law reform report - Keeping apace with society

The Law Reform Commission is a statutory body established to ensure that law is kept up to date by suggesting necessary reforms to keep pace with changing circumstances in society.

Over the years, since its establishment in 1975, it has published 190 documents in the form of consultation papers, issue papers and reports, which have had a considerable influence on the drafting and content of legislation.

Yesterday, the commission published its fourth Programme of Law Reform, which looks at the need for law reform in the next couple of years. This programme was drawn up following consultation with various Government departments and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence, along with various other groups, which provided 68 written submissions.

The new programme, which received the approval of the Government in early October, covers the broad expanse of our legal system. It consists of 11 different projects, dealing with issues ranging from tackling white-collar crime to challenges in the developing digital world. There are also issues revolving around suspended sentences, sexual offences against children, and the compulsory acquisition of land.

In launching the reform programme Attorney General Máire Whelan warned there is a “strong public perception” that white-collar crime is not being tackled adequately, or punished with appropriate criminal sanctions. The perception that some people can operate freely outside the law can never be tolerated because it will inevitably undermine the foundation of our legal structures and our democracy itself. It is imperative, therefore, that we tackle the “strong public perception that we lack responsive capabilities and appropriate sanctions”, according to the attorney general.

Within each of the 11 projects there are various deficiencies that need to be addressed, such as whether reckless trading should be made a specific offence, like fraudulent trading. The attorney general noted that it is necessary to examine the regulatory and enforcement powers of bodies such as the Central Bank, and the Commission for Energy Regulation.

Much of the legislation relating to the compulsory purchase of land is antiquated. As a result the process tends to be complex, lengthy, and costly. It needs to be replaced by a fair, effective and efficient system.

On the other hand, issues dealing with cyber technologies throw up new problems that require urgent attention, especially in relation to personal privacy, safety, and cyberbullying. The project plans to investigate whether legislation should be enacted to make cyberbullying a specific offence. It is also necessary to examine options for exercising jurisdiction in relation to offences committed through the internet.

The extent of the 11 projects identified are so broad that Law Reform Commission plans to extend the collaborative and consultative processes in these matters over the next two years.


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