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Question

315. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality given the very serious backlog in the senior courts' ability to hear cases, the steps she proposes to take to resolve this matter and ensure the human rights of citizens are protected in cases where the person awaiting a hearing is incarcerated. [6555/16]

Answer

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The Deputy will be aware that the scheduling of court cases and the allocation of court business is a matter for the respective 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 court lists and seek to ensure the optimum use of court time. Available resources and operational and organisational structures in the Courts Service are kept under ongoing review to ensure resources are targeted and every effort is made to ensure waiting times are kept to a minimum.
I have been informed by the Courts Service that the Supreme Court would only deal with a small number of cases where the person awaiting a hearing is incarcerated. The Supreme Court has made significant progress in dealing with its backlog and has been engaged in a pro-active review and management of its total caseload under the direction of the Chief Justice. The Court's list is in transition following the establishment of the Court of Appeal in October 2014. I am informed that all priority legacy appeals have now been disposed of by the Supreme Court. The Court continues to sit in two panels to deal with new and legacy appeals. In addition, the Chief Justice assigns applications for leave under the new Constitutional jurisdiction to panels to assure the speedy determination of these applications.
In regard to the Court of Appeal, I am informed that the current waiting time for criminal appeals is approximately four months from the date on which the legal submissions of the appellant are lodged. Hearing dates are generally allocated at a List to Fix Dates session held every term and appeals are included in that list when legal submissions are filed. Criminal Appeals are actively monitored by the Court on an ongoing basis including a recent review of dormant appeals going back to 2012.
The President of the High Court assigned an additional High Court Judge to the Central Criminal Court on a full-time basis in October 2015 and the Courts Service assigned an additional registrar to support the work of this additional court. This has resulted in waiting times for trials to be listed in the Central Criminal Court reducing from an average of 18 months in September 2015 to the current waiting time of an average of 12 months.
It should be noted that delays in the hearing of cases can occur for a number of reasons which are outside the control of the courts and the Courts Service, e.g. the unavailability of a witness or where the parties or the legal practitioners may not be ready to proceed. This can give rise to adjournments which can have an impact on the time taken to complete the hearing of a case and on the number of cases which can be disposed of in a court sitting.