138. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to alleviate the backlog of divorce cases to be heard by the courts; his further plans to expedite the appointment of appropriate judges to clear the backlog of divorce cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7606/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): As the Deputy will be aware, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service, which is independent in exercising its functions. Furthermore, the scheduling of court cases and the allocation of court business is a matter for the Presidents of the Courts and the presiding judges who are, under the constitution, independent in the exercise of their judicial functions.
However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and the Courts Service has informed me that the Circuit Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the High Court in family law proceedings (including judicial separation, divorce and nullity), with the High Court generally dealing with cases involving considerable assets or income as well as appeals from the Circuit Court. Where the market value of lands exceeds €3 million the Circuit Court must, on application to it by an interested party, transfer the proceedings to the High Court.
The Courts Service has advised that the current waiting time in the High Court for a hearing date for a divorce case is three months from the time the parties indicate to the Court that they are ready for hearing. Issues which may arise between parties before trial may result in a case taking considerably longer, but there is currently no backlog in the High Court of cases awaiting hearing dates.
The Courts Service has also advised that waiting times for the transaction of family law business in the Circuit Court are listed in the table, noting that waiting times are collated on a Court office basis rather than on an individual Court basis and that the waiting times are not specifically collated on a case type basis e.g. divorce cases.
Circuit Court Family Law - Waiting times in months
|Carlow||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Carrick on Shannon||6||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Castlebar||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Cavan||6||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Clonmel||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Cork||6-9||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Galway||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Kilkenny||6||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Limerick||Next sitting||Next sitting||3-6|
|Longford||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Monaghan||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Mullingar||6||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Portlaoise||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Roscommon||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Sligo||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Tralee||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Tullamore||6||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Waterford||3-6||Next sitting||Next sitting|
Note: The waiting time is from receipt of notice of trial/notice of motion to listing for hearing in contested and uncontested matters.
The Courts Service has further advised that delays in the hearing of cases and the size of court lists can be impacted by a number of factors, many of which are outside the control of the courts and the Courts Service, for example, the unavailability of a witness or vital evidence, delays in the furnishing of reports or because the parties and/or legal practitioners are not ready to proceed on allocated dates. This gives 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. Most adjournments are sought by parties to a case.
The Courts Service has also informed me that the Presidents of the High and Circuit Courts monitor waiting times and workload across all court lists and seeks to ensure the optimum use of court time and judicial resources. Wherever possible, the Presidents targets additional judicial resources at the areas of greatest need.
The Government is committed to significant reform of the courts, including the establishment of a family law court structure that is streamlined, more efficient, and less costly. My Department is currently working on the General Scheme of a Family Court Bill which will aim to streamline family law court processes, clarify jurisdictional issues and provide for a set of guiding principles to help ensure that the Family Court will operate in a user-friendly and efficient manner. The intention is to establish a dedicated Family Court within the existing court structures. The Family Court Bill will support the provisions in the Mediation Act 2017 by encouraging greater use of alternative dispute resolution to assist in more timely resolution of family law cases.
I hope to secure Government approval in the coming months for the General Scheme of a Family Court Bill. Once the General Scheme has been approved by Government, it will be referred to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting and to the relevant Oireachtas Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny.