Written answers

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Department of Justice and Equality

Courts Service

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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541. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the current waiting time experienced in applying to be heard in the High Court and Supreme Court; the number of cases pending in these courts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41962/14]

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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As the Deputy will be aware, the Courts Service is responsible for the management and administration of the Courts. The scheduling of court cases and the allocation of court business is a matter for the Presidents of the courts and the presiding judge who are under the Constitution independent in the exercise of their judicial functions. The Presidents monitor waiting times across all courts lists and seek to ensure the optimum use of court time. The Deputy may wish to refer to Section 6 of the Courts Service Annual Report for 2013 which sets out details on waiting times across the various court jurisdictions, including the Supreme and High Courts.

However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and the Courts Service has informed me that the primary objective for the Service is to maintain the delivery of front line court sittings and services. The Courts Service continuously works to support the judiciary and assist in ensuring that cases are dealt with as effectively and as speedily as possible. Available resources and operational and organisational structures are under ongoing review to ensure that resources are targeted and focussed on keeping waiting times in the provision of services to a minimum.

In respect of waiting times in the Supreme Court, I am informed that the appointment of the two additional judges halted the increase in the waiting times for the hearing of cases in that Court even with an increase in appeals being lodged. Waiting times stabilised at 48 months for general cases and 11 months for the priority list.

Remedial actions were taken to reduce the number of uncertified cases to be heard. A total of 563 appeals were disposed of by the Supreme Court up to 30 September this year in its continuing programme of managing uncertified appeals. In the year to 30 September 2014 there was a 7.5% increased in new appeals lodged and a 223% increase in the number of appeals disposed of when compared with the same period in 2013.

Despite the significant number of appeals disposed of, at the end of September, it is estimated that there is still in excess of 1,000 uncertified appeals where the appellant has not taken the necessary steps, as yet, to certify the appeal as being ready to be heard.

The new Court of Appeal was established on 28 October 2014 and the Article 64 direction given by the Chief Justice on 29th October transferred 258 certified appeals to the Court of Appeal. This will impact positively on waiting times for individual appeals but it is too early to determine the effect it will have on average waiting times for hearings in the Supreme Court.

The Courts Service does not maintain statistics on the number of cases pending in the High Court as the number of cases set down for trial in any list of the High Court does not equate to the number of cases ready and waiting for trial. However, the level of delays in the High Court is very low across almost all lists. In general, waiting times vary from 1 to 5 months except in relation to Asylum cases where the delay is currently over 2 years and also in regard to the hearing of Personal Injury cases in Cork where the waiting time is just under 2 years. Waiting times in the Central Criminal Court are 17 months at present.

I have been informed that additional High Court sittings were held during August and September with a view to maintaining the improvements made in waiting times in recent years. During this period, the High Court dealt with bail lists on one or two days each week and sat each day and during several weekends to hear matters arising of an urgent nature.

The ongoing delegation to court officials of administrative functions previously dealt with by the High Court judges has also yielded significant savings in judicial times resulting in increased judicial availability for trial work. The re-organisation of sittings of the High Court outside Dublin by the President of the High Court also continues to achieve efficiencies in the use of judicial time.


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