Protection for spouses against testifying will not be extended to civil partners, Dáil hears

FF spokesman questions privilege in modern society ‘where not everyone gets married’

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the entitlement civil partners have to equality should be protected but that had to be balanced against the Constitutional “special protection” given to marriage. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the entitlement civil partners have to equality should be protected but that had to be balanced against the Constitutional “special protection” given to marriage. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

There is “no appetite” to amend the law to give civil partners the same “special protection” married individuals have not to be compelled to testify against a spouse, the Dáil has heard.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the entitlement civil partners have to equality should be protected but that had to be balanced against the Constitutional “special protection” given to marriage.

He was responding to Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan who raised the issue in the wake of a Court of Appeal ruling earlier this month that the right of an individual not to be compelled to give evidence against their spouse did not apply to civil partners or other relationships.

Mr O’Callaghan said he would not speak to the details of the case but noted the judgement and the court’s ruling that it was a “matter for the legislature”.

He questioned the retention of the protection for married couples since “we now find ourselves in a society where not everyone gets married.

“People are in long-standing relationships with partners who for all intents and purposes have the same relationship as married people.”

There were also people in civil partnerships and it created an anomaly in the law that married people have a protection that does not apply to others and this was unusual “when we think of how modern Ireland exists”.

Mr Flanagan pointed out that when the Civil Partnership Bill was drafted in 2010 the Attorney General considered including the protection for civil partners but ruled against it because Article 41 of the Constitution gave protection to the institution of marriage with the effect of “protecting the privacy of the marital relationship”.

The Law Reform Commission in 2004 also considered the rights of co-habitees and did not recommend any change.

Mr O’Callaghan said they had to then question whether it was necessary to protect that “marital privilege provision”. It was an archaic rule that aimed not to make spouses have to give “truthful evidence that could damage their relationships”.

But the Minister said “I do not detect an appetite to revisit it”, and he stressed the “importance of the position of the Attorney General at the time”.