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Courts Service Annual Report 2016

The Chief Justice Mrs. Justice Susan Denham presented the Courts Service Annual Report 2016 to the Minister for Justice & Equality Mr. Charles Flanagan T.D, at an event in Phoenix House, Smithfield, Dublin today.

The Report highlights that Ireland’s courts received almost 750,000 new matters last year and yet showed a reduction in day to day running costs. There was a 52% saving on running costs compared to 2008 with some of these savings a result of the use of ICT systems – which accounted for €5.5 million in savings. The net cost to the State of running the Courts Service has reduced through a combination of reduced funding and an increase in fees generated.

The Service continues to implement new legislation such as the Fines Act – where it has introduced payment by instalment in An Post offices and postal reminders to those fined. This has resulted in a reduction of those being imprisoned for non-payment of fines.

At the event today, the Chief Justice acknowledged the effect of social media on society. She will distribute a discussion document later this week regarding use of social media and request that new guidelines or rules be drafted about its use in court. She said “the courts do not operate in isolation. It is essential that decisions of the courts are communicated widely. The advent of social media a decade ago caused a revolution in how we communicate. It remains a great tool for the mass dissemination of information. However, concerns over social media are widespread and real. There are genuine concerns over the dissemination of false claims which damage social debate, learning, and understanding.”

The Chief Justice noted that the Annual Report highlights the constant level of court activity in many areas and the changes in others. Examples include personal injury where there was a 15% increase in cases last year; possession where there was a decrease of 42% in new cases year on year; debt resolution mechanisms under the Personal Insolvency Act where there was a 125% increase over two years; and, in the area of crime, an increase of 48% in the number of trials heard in the central Criminal Court.

Use of technology producing efficiencies for Courts Service

It is estimated that annual savings in the region of €5.5m have been achieved from technology initiatives. For example, the deployment of courtroom technology particularly digital audio recording and video link/conferencing has brought significant benefits for the administration of justice, and generated savings for the Irish Prison Service. The Criminal Justice Interoperability Project (CJIP) facilitates data exchange between An Garda Síochána and the Courts Service, generating significant savings for both organisations.

Court generated financial transactions valued at approximately €1.8 billion have been transformed and centralised in a shared service centre utilising modern financial accounting technology, and which has enabled the online payment of fines. And electronic filing is in place for Small Claims and Insolvency cases.

Courtroom activity

The Service continues to support the judiciary to introduce efficiencies in the administration of justice. 

The Supreme Court, which experienced a 60% increase in new applications for leave to appeal, determined new applications in an average of 18 days, and full case appeals within six months. In addition, the vast majority of legacy appeals from the old Supreme Court regime had been dealt with by the end of 2016.

New practices in the Court of Appeal brought about great efficiencies in the court’s time and the Service assisted with the establishment of the second Special Criminal Court. This has realised a reduction in waiting times from two years to 15 months.

In the High Court, staff efforts have helped the judiciary to maintain waiting times as low as six weeks for most areas of work from the time cases are ready for hearing to a date for hearing being available. In the Central Criminal Court waiting times have been reduced to 11 months following the allocation of extra resources by the President of the High Court and the Chief Executive of the Service

Throughout the Report the activity in the Circuit and District Courts is documented. The District Court hears the majority of applications. In 2016, a total of 516,000 new matters were received in the District Court (134,000 civil and 382,000 criminal).