Annual Report 2016
Introduction by the Chief Executive Officer
Chief Executive Officer
The Courts Service continued to benefit from the improving economic climate in 2016 with a welcome increase in our budgetary allocation for the second successive year.
We used the increase to enhance the quality of our services – particularly in the areas of information and communications technology (ICT) and staffing. An additional €1 million for ICT was vital for the development of the infrastructure necessary for several major projects. Notwithstanding the funding shortfall in recent years we remain committed to exploring the potential of technology as it offers the best solution to enhancing customer service and delivering improved value for money.
Just as important is our commitment to supporting and developing our staff. An additional €1.25 million for our pay budget enabled us add 33 to our staff complement and fill vacancies in frontline and support offices. The replacement and up skilling of staff is a priority for us given the age profile of our staff and the loss of significant institutional knowledge as they retire. We operate in an increasingly complex political, business and international environment and must plan for an uncertain future that is likely to place ever more demands on our remaining staff. It is therefore critical that we engage in workforce planning to identify skills gaps and prepare for the years ahead. Our Workforce Plan identifies critical supply and demand staff issues in the three years to 2017 and we commenced work on a review of the Plan during the year to prepare for the years to 2020.
Additional funding allowed a supplementary programme of work in the provision of video conferencing facilities, an important contributor to the efficient running of civil and criminal cases in our courts. We continue to work with the Prison Service to increase video conferencing opportunities between courts and prison centres for the benefit of all involved in the criminal justice system.
Our emphasis on improving services reflects our commitment to supporting Government policy. As part of the wider Public Service community of organisations we support Government agreements and initiatives which seek to improve efficiencies and provide better value for money.
Our modernisation efforts reflect those identified in the Public Service Reform Plan 2014-2016. In our contribution to the Justice Sector Integrated Reform and Delivery Plan we set out key milestones and actions in respect of a number of important projects during 2016 which are mentioned throughout this Report. They include:
» our major building project which will deliver seven new or refurbished courthouses around the country in 2017
» our proposed new courts complex in Dublin which will provide a dedicated family law and children court building, a new location for the Supreme Court, and new office accommodation for the Service
» information and communications technology projects which will facilitate payment of fines by instalment and lodgement of licensing applications online
» our project to improve staff learning and development with its renewed emphasis on coaching, mentoring, and training and
» our participation and contribution to justice wide sector reform initiatives.
The actions set out in the Government’s Civil Service Renewal Plan are focused on delivering practical change. We have long identified such change as critical to improving our services. Our project to combine the offices of the Circuit Court and District Court was evidence of our commitment to streamline our services and improve conditions and opportunities for our staff. It continues to provide the basis for the introduction of more efficient ways of doing business across all our offices. We continue to employ a LEAN approach to review processes and are constantly examining how we do things so as to eliminate unnecessary practices.
We established a Change Management Office to build on the momentum gained by our modernisation initiatives and drive our various change projects. And following several years of limited investment, we renewed our focus on staff learning and development placing significant emphasis on coaching and mentoring alongside the more traditional approach to training.
Our seven courthouse building projects made impressive progress and are on course for completion in towns and cities around the country during 2017. Together with our plans to construct a major civic complex in Dublin for family law and children court cases, and the Supreme Court, we can move forward with confidence that court users will avail of the best facilities we can provide.
We continue to take steps to embed the principles of good governance into our operations. Our revised governance framework document published in April 2016 is in line with the revised Corporate Governance Standard published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in 2015. We also published a Protected Disclosures Policy to confirm our commitment to supporting staff who wish to raise issues of wrongdoing, or potential wrongdoing, in the workplace. Being made aware of anything that is going wrong within the organisation provides an opportunity to deal with an issue before it leads potentially to a loss of standards and reputation and prevents further potential wrongdoing.
We were proud to join with the State’s commemoration of events that occurred during 1916. The inclusive nature of the centenary initiative saw both the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme acknowledged with many fitting tributes. Hundreds of people joined us at events in the Four Courts and around the country to remember those who fought and died. President Michael D. Higgins spoke enthusiastically of the potential of the new Kilmainham Gaol visitor attraction when he officially opened the combined gaol and courthouse facility in March. It is gratifying that our return of that historic courthouse to the Office of Public Works has resulted in such an impressive venue.
The efficient operation of the courts system requires the support and co-operation of a wide variety of groups, agencies and departments throughout the country. The Service is only one part of a greater community of interest working to ensure access for all court users. I extend my gratitude to the staff of the Service for their untiring dedication to delivering a high quality service across all court jurisdictions and in a variety of support areas. They remain our greatest resource and are assured of my unstinting support, and that of my Senior Management Team colleagues, for their work. I thank the Chief Justice and the members of the Board of the Service and other members of the judiciary for their involvement and continued interest in our various projects. The support of the Minister for Justice and Equality, the staff of her Department, and others in a variety of other government departments is also an important support to us. Likewise colleague organisations including An Garda Síochána, the Bar of Ireland, the Law Society of Ireland, the Prison Service, the Probation Service, and the Office of Public Works, and organisations supporting victims and others, provide us with support that we hugely value and for which I extend sincere gratitude.
Throughout this Report you will read about the efforts made during 2016 to deliver on our mandates – manage the courts, support the judiciary, provide information on the courts system for the public, provide court buildings, and provide facilities for court users.