1397. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Justice the number of judges attached to each court in the judicial system; the number of vacancies in each court waiting to be filled; the process by which it is decided to increase the number of judges at any given time; the number of cases in each court waiting to be processed; the reforms of the judicial system that she is considering; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18635/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts, including the provision of accommodation for court sittings, is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in its functions. However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made regarding insolvency cases in the Circuit Court.
The number of Judges assigned to each jurisdiction, as
|Supreme Court (10 posts)||Chief Justice and 9 ordinary judges|
|Court of Appeal (16 posts)||President and 15 ordinary judges|
|High Court (38 posts)||President and 37 ordinary judges
Plus 2 additional judges *
|Circuit Court (38 posts)||President and 37 ordinary judges
Plus 2 serving specialist judges**
|District Court (64 posts)||President plus 63 ordinary judges|
*The Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Courts (No. 2) Act, 1997 permit the number of High Court judges to be exceeded by one in each instance that a High Court judge is appointed as Chair of GSOC or as a member of the Law Reform Commission.
**In the Circuit Court the appointment of 2 specialist judges is provided for under the Personal Insolvency Act, 2012.
It is a priority of this Government to ensure access to justice for each person who needs it, including investing in technology to make justice more efficient and maintaining adequate judicial resources within the courts. To that end the Government will continue to ensure any existing and future vacancies are filled as expediently as possible in line with all legislative requirements. As at 20 April 2021, of the 166 posts there are four judicial vacancies in the Courts as follows: 2 Supreme Court (one Supreme Court position to be filled shortly following the nomination for appointment of Gerard Hogan on 20 April), 1 Circuit Court and 1 District Court. There are no vacancies in the Court of Appeal or High Court. Of these vacancies, it has been agreed with the Chief Justice to maintain one vacancy on the Supreme Court, given the additional judges assigned to the Court of Appeal in recent years, and the process for filling the two other vacancies has commenced.
Consideration of requests for additional judicial resources are carried out in consultation with the Judiciary, Courts Service and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. All cases made are subject to appropriate scrutiny, having regard to the level of demand for the Court Service, the existing resources in place, the impact on other areas of the criminal justice system and value for money considerations etc. The Government agreed yesterday to increase the number of judges in the High Court by 5 to ensure sufficient resources are available to the Courts to address areas of immediate need within the Court, in particular the pressures on criminal justice arising from Covid; the fact that Ireland recently joined the Schengen Information System to enable sharing of criminal information across borders and the particular issues arising in terms of strategic infrastructure development. This is one of the largest increases in judges approved in recent memory, the first increase in High Court Judges to be made since 2015, and a very significant investment by the State in judicial resources.
I was also pleased to receive Government approval yesterday for the establishment of a Working Group in line with the commitment in 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. I have also commissioned the OECD to prepare an independent review of the judicial resource needs, including benchmarks against international comparators, so that we have the numbers, skills, and processes to ensure access to justice over the next five years. I expect these processes to be complete within the year.
The Courts Service is currently in the process of compiling data regarding caseloads, which I will share as soon as this information becomes available, and I will continue to engage with the Courts to prioritise this process. Given the pandemic and the preparations of the Justice Sectoral Plan for Covid recovery it is essential that our policy responses, and our resource decisions, are based on good data. I conveyed this message directly to the Court Service CEO and her management team when I met with them on their plans for dealing with Court backlogs and recovery from Covid on 8th April, including rolling out of further remotely-enabled court facilities. In the last month the Court Service, with the support of my Department, has increased the number of jury trials; held court settings in new venues such as Croke Park for the first time; held additional sittings over Easter. It is also refining plans for increasing Court business in a manner that is safe for the citizen and staff and which will address the backlogs. This is an area I continue to monitor closely with the Court Service. All additional requests for funding and resourcing for this work have been fully met to date. Indeed Budget 2021 saw an allocation of almost €160 million for the Courts Service. This included €8 million for the initial phase of a Courts Modernisation Programme along with an additional provision of €5.7m for COVID measures to enable court sittings take place in a socially distanced and safe environment.
The recently published Justice Plan 2021 outlines how, working with the judiciary and the courts, my Department will introduce the most significant series of reforms in the last 100 years to how our civil courts operate, with a focus on the needs of the user of the court system. A new Family Court system, investment in building a new court at Hammond Lane, and new procedures to improve the experience of families at a time of difficulty are being progressed. There are specific plans outlined to ensure the justice sector is more reflective of modern Irish society by improving the diversity of the judiciary, the courts service and the professions by opening up pathways to working in the legal sector. I am also preparing a significant reform of the judicial appointments system to include the establishment of a new Judicial Appointments Commission, and it is proposed that the relevant Bill will be published in this Dáil term. This, combined with the work of the Judicial Council to bring forward guidelines for judicial work and skills, will further enhance the standing our judicial system at home and abroad and support our strong and independent judiciary, one of the successes of our State.