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Question

1400. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice the number of outstanding cases and the likely timeframe to address the backlog of cases in the Dublin District and Circuit Civil Court Office. [18758/21]

Answer

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): 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 individual court cases and the allocation of court business are entirely matters 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 inquiries made with the Courts Service who have advised me that it is currently in the process of compiling data regarding caseloads. I will share this information as soon as it is 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.
The Courts Service continue to work with the Judiciary to prioritise business and the holding of courts to address areas of most concern. Urgent family law cases, including domestic violence cases, have been dealt with at all times during the current period of Level 5 restrictions. Consent orders have also continued to be made when parties to such cases applied to Court.
Through staggering of court lists, positive callovers of cases on hand and the introduction of new people management procedures, the Courts began to operate at near full capacity in the Summer and Autumn of last year and good progress had been made in dealing with arrears that built up during restrictions. I understand that the Courts Service expects similar results will be possible once current restrictions ease and continues to work closely with the Judiciary to identify areas of work that require particular attention and schedule as much work as possible during current restrictions.
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, including through the use of remote courts. Family law proceedings have been heard remotely in Clare, Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Louth, Monaghan, Sligo, Tipperary and Westmeath. Videolink facilities will be rolled out to 43 additional courtrooms across the country this year in order to assist in addressing the current caseload, reducing backlogs and ensuring that remote hearings are held in every county of the country.
With greater use of technology in virtual courts and by the implementation of Covid-19 people management procedures, the Courts in Dublin and elsewhere have endeavoured to proceed with as many civil cases as possible. Dublin District Civil Court made over 300 orders in the first quarter of the year and those cases that could not be heard have now been given dates from April to September.
The Dublin Circuit Civil Court has seen extensive use of virtual hearings for infant rules and insolvency matters so these matters have not been greatly impacted during lockdown. Approximately 440 trials which were cancelled have now been rescheduled from April through the Summer and into Autumn. Mental health appeals, nursing home support scheme applications and other urgent matters including licensing matters and injunctions are being granted hearing dates including physical hearings when required.
This work has been possible because of the support of this Government, which is committed to ensuring adequate resources for the courts in order to maintain access to justice for all citizens. This commitment was reinforced recently with the highest ever budgetary allocation for the Justice sector including €158.8 million for the Courts Service. This included €8 million for the new 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. A significant priority for my Department and the Courts Service in the years ahead will be to significantly invest in digital technology, to transform the experience of practitioners and of court users.