346. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Justice if she has considered the examination by the Chief Justice of government spending on the courts and justice system; her views on whether the funding is sufficient; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48861/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Heather Humphreys): The Government is committed to ensuring the courts are adequately resourced to ensure the efficient administration of justice and continues to commit substantial resources to enable this. €158.8 million has been allocated to the Courts Service for 2021. This includes €8 million in support of the initial phase of the Courts Modernisation Programme. There has also been an additional provision of €5.7m for COVID measures to enable court sittings take place in a safe environment.
The EU Justice Scoreboard, which presents an annual overview of the justice systems of all 27 Members States, shows that Ireland’s per capita expenditure is the third highest across the EU. Irish expenditure is by far the highest of the Members States with a similar common law legal system. Irish spending has also continued to increase for every year measured in the EU Justice Scoreboard.
I also welcome the significant capital allocations granted to the Justice Sector under the National Development Plan 2021-2030, launched this week. The Government has committed to investing over €270m every year for the next five years in capital projects in the Justice Sector, which represents a significant increase on recent years.
This investment will provide for the completion of vital projects including a new laboratory for Forensic Science Ireland in Backweston, a family law complex at Hammond Lane and redevelopment work at Limerick Prison.
Throughout the pandemic, the Judiciary and the Courts Service have worked closely and innovated through the use of technology to maintain the highest level of court activity possible, with a particular focus on families, victims of domestic abuse and people who are most vulnerable at this time. I expect that the progress made on new ways of working will be maintained into the future. I know that the Courts Service and the Judiciary are committed to ensuring that as much business as possible is dealt with and I understand that the Courts Service is also working on a plan on how to deal with demands that will arise after the pandemic.
Since the easing of restrictions in May, Courts have returned to normal sittings and are dealing with all business again. Additional High Courts sat in September together with the usual scheduled sittings to deal with emergency matters. High Court Civil Jury Trials re-commenced in the Kings Inns at the end of June and will continue from 2 November in Croke Park .
A Working Group has also been established in line with the Programme for Government to consider the number of and type of judges required to ensure the efficient administration of justice over the next five years. That Group is examining the wider judicial resource needs in all courts, and is expected to report in the Spring of next year. Notwithstanding this group’s important work, Government has recently implemented an increase in the number of High Court judges from 37 to 42, with four of those appointments made this week.