354. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice the number of District Court judges appointed in County Kildare; the number of cases that are in a backlog to date in 2021; and the plans to increase the provision of judges at District Court level in 2021 and 2022. [48963/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Heather Humphreys): The Deputy will appreciate that, as Minister, I have no role in the scheduling of individual court cases and the allocation of court business. These are entirely matters for the Presidents of the Courts and the presiding judges who are independent in the exercise of their judicial functions, under the Constitution. Furthermore, management of the courts is the responsibility of the Judiciary and the Courts Service, which are independent in exercising their functions under the Courts Service Act 1998.
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. Since the easing of restrictions in May, the Courts Service informs me that courts have returned to normal sittings and are dealing with all business again.
To be of assistance to the Deputy, I have made enquiries with the Courts Service and I am advised that while the District Court throughout the country remained open for business during the Covid-19 pandemic, non-essential work was postponed due to Government public health restrictions. Unfortunately, this impacted on waiting times across the country including in Kildare. Waiting times can vary between Districts and within District Court areas.
The assignment of District Court Judges to Districts, including Kildare, is a matter for the President of the District Court. I understand there is one Judge currently assigned to District No. 25 (Co. Kildare).
A Working Group has 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 within all courts, and is expected to report in the Spring of next year.
The Government is committed to ensuring adequate resources for the courts in order to maintain access to justice for all citizens. The Courts Service received a €10 million increase in its capital budget last year, which has given flexibility for strategic infrastructural investment including in relation to ICT and accommodation. This commitment was reinforced with the highest ever budgetary allocation for the justice sector including €158.8 million for the Courts Service for 2021 including €8 million for the new Courts Modernisation Programme, and an additional provision of €5.7m for COVID measures to enable court sittings take place in a safe environment.