New measure intended to shorten waiting times for hearings
Number of Court of Appeal judges will increase from 9 to 15
Retirement age of District Court judges will increase from 65 to 70
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, has welcomed today’s passing by the Oireachtas of a Bill to increase the number of ordinary judges in the Court of Appeal from 9 to 15.
Minister Flanagan said:
I very much welcome the passing of this Bill which will increase the number of judges in the Court of Appeal by six, bringing the number of judges in that Court, including its President, to 16.
The Court of Appeal was established in October 2014 following a referendum of the people in 2013 which was passed by over 65% of voters. Prior to establishment of the Court of Appeal, average waiting times for cases to be heard by the Supreme Court had increased to over four years. For cases on the Priority List, the average waiting time was over 9 months, criminal cases were at 15 months.
While the introduction of the Court of Appeal has greatly improved the waiting times for cases before the Supreme Court, the volume of cases before the Court of Appeal has resulted in a waiting time for civil cases of approximately 22 months. The Minister is therefore proposing the expansion of the Court to ensure the efficient administration of justice.
The Minister added:
It is clear that the Court of Appeal has a very significant volume of work, in terms both of the caseload it inherited from the Supreme Court and the volume of new cases it is taking on in its own right. This Bill will address the waiting times for cases and improve efficiency in the appeals process for the wider benefit of our justice system.
The Minister will review the situation regarding judicial numbers in the Court of Appeal in consultation with the President of the Court in two years.
The Bill also changes the retirement age of District Court judges from 65 to 70 years, aligning them with other members of the judiciary in this regard. It further provides that the President of the Court of Appeal will be a member of the new Advisory Committee on the granting of Patents of Precedence (Senior Counsel) being set up under the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015.
The Bill also includes provisions which harmonise the current lodgement and tender procedure whereby parties can offer and consider reasonable offers of settlement of a case as an alternative to costly proceedings. The Minister particularly welcomed these provisions of the Bill on the basis that they help prepare the way for the coming into operation this autumn of the new Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicators.
The Minister said:
This will be a key support for the roll-out of the wider and much more consumer-friendly legal costs regime being introduced by the Government later this year under the Legal Services Regulation Act of 2015.
Note for Editors:
The Bill which was initiated under the title of the Courts (Establishment and Constitution) (Amendment) Bill 2019 will, following its amendment while before the Houses, be known as the Courts Act 2019.
The Bill amends the Courts (Establishment and Constitution) Act 1961 to increase the statutory number of ordinary judges of the Court of Appeal from 9 to 15. It also amends a number of other legislative provisions to make provision for those other matters referred to above.
The current waiting time for civil cases to be heard before the Court of Appeal is approximately 22 months which is considered problematic from an access to justice point of view. The current waiting time for criminal cases to be heard is five months which is considered to be at an acceptable level.
The appointment of six new judges will enable the President of the Court of Appeal to manage the civil list by convening additional courts to prioritise the hearing of the remaining appeals transferred from the Supreme Court in 2014 while at the same time bringing forward appeals which are on the priority list, and, bringing forward to earlier dates the appeals which are otherwise currently listed for hearing as far ahead as April 2021.