Thursday, 3 June 2021
Department of Justice and Equality
167. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the way the courts will prioritise the digital agenda and online hearings; the increase in the number of remote hearings taking place; the investment which is being made; the way progress is being measured; the impact the investment is having; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29600/21]
I am committed to driving the modernisation and Digital First agenda across the entire justice sector. Under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service, which is independent in exercising its functions. Furthermore, the scheduling of individual court cases and the allocation of court business are matters for the Presidents of the Courts and the presiding judges who are, under the Constitution, independent in the exercise of their judicial functions.
Last year, the Courts Service adopted a Modernisation Programme aimed at improving access to justice in a modern, digital Ireland. This programme sets the agenda for reform over the coming years with a digital first user-centric approach at its core, and is overseen by a dedicated Modernisation Programme sub-committee of the Courts Service Board. As part of the initial phase of the programme, a framework is being developed which will track and measure progress throughout the programme’s implementation.
I particularly welcome the goal of the Courts Service, as set out in its recently published Corporate Strategic Plan 2021 – 2023, to maximise the use of digital technologies to provide an improved and user-centred service.
The Courts Service and the judiciary have adapted with innovation and speed during the pandemic and many of the practices introduced due to Covid-19, such as the increased use of video links and e-filing, point the way towards a Digital First future for the Courts Service.
Remote court hearings have been an innovative feature of the response by the judiciary, County Registrars and the Courts Service to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Courts Service recently announced a programme of courtroom technology expansion. This programme will deliver 49 new or upgraded video courtrooms throughout 2021, at a cost in excess of €2.2 million, with 18 delivered to date. In 2015, there were just 26 video link enabled courtrooms. Since then, this number expanded to 65 last year, and will reach 104 courtrooms by the end of this year.
Between April 2020 and April 2021, a total of 4,917 remote court sessions were held. Over the same period, there were 16,995 Irish Prison Service remote video-link courtroom appearances by prisoners compared to 3,798 in 2019.
This progress has been supported by the Government’s commitment to ensuring adequate resources for the courts and maintaining access to justice for all citizens. This year the Government agreed the highest ever budgetary allocation for the justice sector including €158.8 million for the Courts Service. This included €8 million for the Courts Modernisation Programme along with an additional provision of €5.7m for COVID measures to enable court sittings take place in a socially distanced and safe environment.