NEW WHITE COLLAR CRIME BILL
The Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter (“the Minister”), has published the Criminal Justice Bill 2011 (“the Bill”). The main purpose of the Bill is stated to be
“…to amend the criminal law to improve certain procedural matters and strengthen Garda investigative powers. The intention is that such improvements will assist in reducing the delays associated with the investigation and prosecution of complex crime, in particular white collar crime.”
Many elements of the Bill are highly technical in nature. In this article, it is worth highlighting some of the more interesting and innovative changes which the Bill proposes to the investigative powers available to the Gardai in the interests of effectively prosecuting white collar crime.
The Bill sets out a number of “relevant offences” to which the proposed new investigative powers will be relevant. They include offences relating to any of the following areas:
- banking, investment of funds and other financial activities;
- company law;
- money laundering and financing terrorism;
- theft and fraud;
- bribery and corruption;
- competition and consumer protection;
- criminal acts involving the use of electronic communication networks and information systems (also known as “cyber crime”)
- the raising and collection of taxes and duties.
The Bill proposes that the Minister will have the power to stipulate that the investigation of certain serious offences in the areas above will benefit from the increased armoury of investigative powers provided for within the Bill. Those investigative powers would include:
- the power to have a suspect’s detention for questioning suspended pending resumption at a later date;
- the power to apply to a District Court judge for an order compelling a person to make available to the Gardai particular documents;
- the power to apply to a District Court judge for an order compelling the provision by a person of particular information by answering questions or making a statement containing the information;
- the power to apply to a District Court judge for a determination as to whether a document sought is the subject of legal professional privilege.
The Bill also provides for certain new offences. The first provides that any person who knows or suspects that a Garda investigation in to a “relevant offence” is being (or is likely to be) carried out and that person falsifies, conceals, destroys or otherwise disposes of a document which would be relevant to the investigation then he or she shall be guilty of an offence. That offence will be punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to 5 years. The second new offence arises where a person withholds information which may be of material assistance in preventing the commission of a “relevant offence” or prosecuting a “relevant offence”. That offence would also be punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to 5 years.
Lastly, the Bill provides for the potential to prosecute both the directors and the shareholders of a company where that company has committed an offence under the Bill.
Whilst the Bill’s critics may point to it as being an attempt to close the door once the horse has bolted, it is nonetheless a significant move toward increasing Garda powers to investigate and prosecute white collar crime. The passage of the Bill through the Oireachtas will be interesting as several of the Bill’s proposals will be the subject of extensive and rigorous debate.