Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Courts and Court Officers (Amendment) Bill 2007: Second Stage (Resumed)


9:00 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

When making my contributions on similar Bills in 2003 and 2004, I recall asking why the Minister did not set a higher figure for the judges to be appointed. I argued that if we had set a higher figure, we would not need to introduce further legislation when the court system had once again become bogged down, which is obviously the impetus for the Bill before us. New judges could have been appointed to help ensure that the courts operate efficiently. One of the reasons for granting bail applications is because judges have considered the length of time a defendant spends on remand as a result of backlogs in the system and have decided that 18 months is too long. I welcome that the Minister has produced this Bill but ask why we should stop at the numbers he set out? Why not allow ourselves the luxury of appointing judges when the need arises rather than when the Government wants to look after its friends? Retiring judges need not be replaced once there are sufficient judges and the backlog has been reduced to an acceptable level.

It is a pity we are not using the opportunity of this Bill to address other inadequacies in the Courts Service, such as the need for modern courts, facilities for witnesses and victims and video links for children. Situations should not arise like the one I observed in which bloodstained evidence was spread on the floor in front of the parents of a deceased child. We should ensure that the service is user friendly for everybody and that judges and court officials take pride in the speed at which they meet their responsibilities in terms of avoiding delays in the rest of the justice system. The High Court should be accessible rather than allowing damage to be caused to individual reputations because of lengthy delays.

I welcome this Bill and will be supporting it. However, it is regrettable that Members will not set a number greater than that which is proposed in this Bill. This would afford us the opportunity to use the next two or three years to address delays in the Courts Service. For example, it would enable the introduction of courts that could sit beyond 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. to address delays. Moreover, an increasing number of jury trials appear to take longer to come to a decision. This is to be welcomed, in that jurors are taking their role seriously. However, if some court cases take longer to complete and others take longer to start in the first place, Members must make proper provision for this and this Bill does not go far enough in this regard.


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