Next steps in a major criminal law codification project announced

The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, T.D., today announced the second phase of a major development in the area of Irish criminal law.  The Tánaiste was speaking at the launch of a project to codify all substantive criminal law in one easily accessible penal code.  The Tánaiste also announced that a new statutory committee, the Criminal Law Codification Advisory Committee, to oversee the preparation of the new code, which he estimated could take from between five to ten years to complete, will be chaired by Professor Finbarr McAuley of UCD, Jean Monnet Professor of European Criminal Justice Law. The membership of the committee will be announced shortly.

Speaking at the launch, the Tánaiste said that "This project has its origins in the Programme for Government in which a commitment was made to codify the criminal law into a single Crimes Act.  It follows on from the recommendations made by the Expert Group I established in its 2004 Report on the codification of the Criminal Law. The benefits of the success of the project will, I am sure, convince even the most seasoned sceptic of the value of the exercise." 

Among the benefits to be realised by codification which were cited by the Tánaiste at the launch were:

  • ease with which rules can be found in an area of law which impinges on every citizen
  • the opportunity to make the law accessible and easily understood, and
  • the opportunity to eliminate obscurity, inefficiencies and lack of clarity. 


To illustrate the potential benefits, the Tánaiste instanced a situation in a criminal trial where lawyers and Judges, may have to use the fingers of both hands and considerable manual dexterity to have, for purposes of reference to the relevant statutory authorities, not just several Statutes of the Oireachtas and Acts going back several centuries, but thick volumes containing the layers of Judicial wisdom on the particular offence with which the defendant is charged.  Referring to other common law countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States where separate state jurisdictions have for many decades successfully operated penal codes, the Tánaiste said that codification will "make life easier for all stakeholders involved in the criminal justice system, lawyers, Judges, the police and not least the ordinary citizen."

Membership of the Criminal Law Codification Advisory Committee, in line with the Expert Group's Report, will be drawn from key centres of criminal law expertise including the policy, advisory, prosecution, drafting, the practising profession and Universities.

To underpin the work of the Committee, the Tánaiste also announced innovative administrative and research support arrangements for the Advisory Committee.  These involve the establishment of a dedicated Research Support Unit at UCD which will be funded by the Tánaiste's Department, and a permanent Departmental Secretariat comprised of six officials who will be seconded from the Department to assist the Committee and participate in the research function.

24 January 2007

Note for Editors

The Programme for Government included a commitment to codify all substantive criminal law into a single Crimes Act. As a first step in fulfilling this commitment, the Tánaiste established an Expert Group in January 2003, to consider possible approaches to codification and to advise on the scope and extent of such approaches, in particular, identifying any areas where the Group considered codification may give rise to policy difficulties.  The Group was chaired by Professor Finbarr McAuley, UCD and Law Reform Commissioner and included criminal law representatives from the State apparatus, practice and legal academia.

In its Report, the Group outlined the overall structure and style of a criminal code and recommended that codification be undertaken on a phased basis using the various tools of restatement, consolidation and law reform in developing and maintaining the code.

Criminal Law Codification Advisory Committee

Provision is made in Part 14 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 for the establishment of the Advisory Committee.  The Committee will oversee the process of codifying the criminal law.  Following enactment of a criminal code, the Committee will also oversee any further maintenance of the code so as to preserve its internal logic and structure in the course of the ordinary programme of criminal law reform and amendment.

Professor McAuley who will chair the Committee is the leading academic criminal lawyer in the country and he chaired original Expert Group referred to above. 

Research Support Unit at UCD 

The Research Support Unit will be located in the School of Law in University College, Dublin. This Unit will undertake the research tasks assigned to it by the Advisory Committee and it will become in the longer term, a centre of excellence for the codification process. It will receive core funding from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to assist it with the project over its anticipated lifetime, estimated to be from 5 to 10 years.

Departmental Secretariat

In order to ensure the most effective linkage between the Government's on-going programme of criminal law reform and the codification process itself, a permanent Secretariat of six staff drawn from the staff of the Department is being established under the direction of Ms. Valerie Fallon, Principal Officer.   This is to ensure a symbiotic relationship between the ongoing programme of criminal law reform and the codification process.  As part of this process, the Law School at UCD will also accommodate up to four members of the Department's staff who wish to acquire advanced academic criminal law qualifications.