The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern, T.D., has today published the report of the Working Group on a Court of Appeal which was submitted to Government by a group chaired by Supreme Court Judge, Mrs Justice Susan Denham.
The Government has considered the report and agreed to examine in detail its recommendations with a view to identifying an implementation approach which could minimise additional costs. The Government has not ruled out a referendum, as recommended in the report, but will not be committing to a decision on that, pending the completion of the examination.
On 5 December 2006, the Government decided to establish the Working Group with the following terms of reference:
(a) review and consider the necessity for a general Court of Appeal for the purpose of processing certain categories of appeals from the High Court;
(b) address and consider such legal changes as are necessary for the purposes of establishing a Court of Appeal; and
(c) make such other recommendations as are appropriate for the purposes of ensuring greater efficiencies in the practices and procedures of the Superior Courts.
The report finds that there is an overwhelming case for additional judicial resources at the highest appeal stage. The appointment of additional judges in recent years combined with innovations such as the Commercial Court and the use of refurbished regional courthouses for hearings has had a huge impact on reducing delays in the High Court lists. The number of Supreme Court judges has remained at eight from 1995. However, a substantial backlog has developed at Supreme Court level with cases taking up to 30 months for listing. This is impacting negatively on many areas of Irish life, from business to the environment and on individual’s access to justice.
The Group considered a number of options and their possible implications (preserve the existing court structure; increase the number of Supreme Court judges; establish a Court of Civil Appeal modelled on the Court of Criminal Appeal; establish a statutory Court of Appeal with both civil and criminal jurisdiction; establish a combined Court of Appeal by Constitutional amendment) and considers that the best option is to establish a Court of Appeal, provided for in the Constitution and then established by law.
Welcoming the publication of the report the Minister said: "It is essential that people can access justice as speedily as possible. The delays at Supreme Court level are of concern. However, I am anxious to ensure, given the current Economic position, that additional costs to the State are minimised and I have therefore asked my officials to conduct an examination, in consultation with other relevant Departments, to devise a cost effective solution. It is also necessary to make certain that multiple avenues of appeal which would have a negative impact on costs and delays are not allowed to develop. "
The report is available on the Courts Service website www.courts.ie.
7 August 2009