herald

Thursday 14 December 2017

Cuts will avoid courts chaos, says top judge

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Chief Justice Susan Denham. Courtpix
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Chief Justice Susan Denham. Courtpix

Court sittings in Dublin will have to be cancelled at short notice unless the service is streamlined, Chief Justice Susan Denham has warned.

"If we do not change the organisation of court venues and use the resources and staff available in a more streamlined way it is inevitable that there will be disruption," she said.

"It will mean facing a situation where courts will have to be cancelled at short notice."

Under proposals for an overhaul of the system, courts in Dun Laoghaire, Tallaght, Swords and Balbriggan would close.

Outcry

When the plans were first aired, they caused an outcry in the legal profession.

Criminal work decreased last year, with district courts making 13pc fewer orders than in 2012. Almost 348,000 orders were made during the year and 13,000 cases were sent to the Circuit and Central Criminal Courts for trial.

"This reduction brings the figures back to the normal levels of other years, down from historic highs," said Mrs Justice Denham in the Courts Service annual report for last year.

She suggested ways of lightening the workload for judges and courts staff.

"Unlike other jurisdictions, non-payment of fines for traffic offences automatically results in a driver being summonsed to court," she said.

"Last year, 58pc of all summary matters related to road traffic offences. This puts a great strain on the courts system.

"I understand officials of the Courts Service continue to make . . . positive suggestions to increase collection rates and avoid court proceedings."

The net cost of running the service was €57.8m last year, compared with €100m in 2008. Total current expenditure was €97m and capital expenditure was €8m. Income was €47m.

"Ireland's courts are among the least costly in all the countries of the Council of Europe," said Mrs Justice Denham.

Among the efficiencies is the use of video conferencing in more than 50 cases a week. It saves on security costs as well as the cost of escorting prisoners to court for each appearance, or the cost of expert witnesses having to travel.

The report outlines that the courts dealt with 342,180 criminal matters last year.

Murder

Appeals lodged in the Court of Criminal Appeal decreased by 19pc from 346 in 2012 to 279.

The Central Criminal Court dealt with 1,693 offences and 125 defendants in 72 jury trials. There were 28 murder offences and 10 manslaughter offences.

Some 567 rape offences and 923 indecent/sexual assault offences came before the court. Guilty pleas were entered in of 160 of these, with 556 going to trial. There were convictions in respect of 35 rape offences and 130 indecent/sexual assault offences.

comurphy@herald.ie

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