· Minister welcomes continuing roll-out of Garda Court Presenters and the use of Video Link between Courtroom and prisons

· Video link technology employed in 1,879 court cases in 2014

· Minister to progress Criminal Procedures Bill - to provide for introduction of Pre-Trial hearings

· Minister proposes introduction of Performance Indicators on Court Efficiency 

 

11 December 2015


The Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD, has today published the report for the period 2013/2014 of the Working Group on Efficiency Measures in the Criminal Justice System.

The report outlines the developments and measures adopted across the criminal justice system in the period 2013 -2014. The report is focused on initiatives directed at delivering greater efficiencies and cost reductions at District and Circuit Court level where the relevant Justice agencies interact.


Minister Fitzgerald congratulated the Working Group on the progress achieved to date which she described as "very encouraging".

 

The Minister stated: "The Government and I are driving reform and innovation in order to deliver a more accessible and efficient Justice System for the 21st Century.”

 

"We want to ensure that citizens and businesses alike can access the Courts in a timely fashion and that justice can be delivered in criminal cases without unnecessary delay. This has the double benefit of reaffirming public confidence in the Justice system and reducing legal costs which too often get inflated by lengthy court processes."

 

"The reforms being implemented under the remit of the Working Group are delivering real efficiencies in term of savings in personnel deployment across the system and better use of court time."

 

Court Presenters and Video Link

The Minister welcomed the continuing roll-out of Garda Court Presenters and the use of Video Link between Courtroom and prisons.


Currently, the Court Presenters programme is progressing in the three divisions (Limerick, Wexford & Thurles) with plans underway to extend it to a further eight. Under this programme a dedicated member of An Garda Síochána is based in the Court and presents evidence in multiple cases, instead of different Gardaí presenting in each case.


The Working Group report indicated that video link technology was employed in 1,879 court cases in 2014. This reduced the need to provided escorted transfers for prisoners to Court, particular for minor hearings.


The Minister added: "The increasing use of Court Presenters and Video Link is resulting in reductions in prisoner movements and associated costs, savings on Garda attendance at court and more efficient use of court resources.”

 

Pre-Trial hearings

Minister Fitzgerald confirmed her intention to legislate for the introduction of Pre-Trial hearings. The Minister thanked the Working Group for their work in advising the preparation of the new Criminal Procedures Bill.


The Minister stated: "The Criminal Procedures Bill will allow courts to put an end to the situation where a jury is empanelled and then put on hold for weeks while legal arguments are heard in their absence. Preliminary Trial Hearings will allow trial courts to settle a wide range of legal issues before a jury is called. Preliminary Trial Hearings will be most useful in complex white collar crime cases where a court has to decide on the admissibility of large amounts of technical and documentary evidence.”



Introduction of Performance Indicators on Court Efficiency

Minister Fitzgerald noted the recommendation of the Working Group "that a formal set of performance indicators should be developed to allow for measurement of specific efficiencies"

The Minister stated: "I would fully support the introduction of Performance Indicators on Court Efficiency, which would allow Ireland to be benchmarked internationally against comparable jurisdictions. I intend examining how this initiative can be progressed”



Further Reforms

In addition to the initiative being progressed under the remit of the Working Group, Minister Fitzgerald highlighted the range of further court and legal reforms being progressed by the current Government.


The Minister stated: "We have established and opened the new Court of Appeal. I have set-up a second Special Criminal Court to reduce delays in trials and I am currently progressing a Courts Bill through the Oireachtas which will allow for the appointment of two further High Court justices, again to reduce delays in trials and court proceedings."

 

The Minister noted that budget 2016 included an additional allocation of €1.75 million for the Court Service to increase staffing and improve efficiencies. The Minister welcomed plans by the Courts Service to assign additional staff to address delays in the Family Courts.

 

Referring to future developments, the Minister highlighted the plans to complete the establishment of a dedicated Family Court system, involving standalone Family Courts within District, Circuit & High Courts. The Minister also confirmed that Public Private Partnership funding was being provided for the development of a new state-of-the-art Family & Children’s Court complex at Hammond Lane in Dublin; as well as for the construction or redevelopment of Courthouses at seven regional locations.

 

The Minister also committed her support to working with the Court Service to develop enhanced case-management IT systems in the Courts.


The Minister concluded: "This comprehensive and ambitious range of Court reforms coupled with the expected enactment shortly of the landmark Legal Services Regulatory bill and the planned establishment of the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority proves that this Government has been one of the most reforming in the history of the state when it comes to Justice.

 

"These reforms will support equality of access to Justice for all and cumulatively will help to reduce delays and thereby reduce legal costs to the benefit of citizens, SME’s, the State and the economy as a whole."


The Working Group Report is available to view via the following link http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PB15000638



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NOTE FOR EDITORS


The Working Group on Efficiency Measures in the Criminal Justice System - Circuit and District Courts - was established in November 2011 at the request of the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Chief Justice.


The Working Group is chaired by the Department of Justice and Equality, and includes a judge each from the Circuit and District Courts, as well as senior representatives of the Courts Service, An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Office of the Attorney General and the Legal Aid Board.


The remit of the Group is to identify and report on how greater efficiencies and cost reduction measures could be achieved in the operations of the Circuit and District Courts, with particular emphasis on how the agencies in the sector interact with the courts and with each other.