800. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice if her attention has been drawn to the delays in the Circuit Court for civil cases (details supplied); the measures planned in relation to same; when such measures will be put in place to deal with the substantial backlog; and when the Court will reopen for the hearing of these type of cases. [16638/21]
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 and the Courts Service has advised me that they continue to work with the Judiciary to prioritise business and the holding of courts to address areas of concern. As part of this overall approach, I am informed that the President of the Circuit Court has issued a number of practice directions in relation to Circuit Court proceedings, the most recent on 12 February 2021, which can be viewed on the Courts Service website at: www.courts.ie.
The Courts have continued to sit on priority matters in the areas of family law, criminal matters, bail and urgent injunctions. Prior to the latest imposition of Level 5 restrictions, additional capacity was added by the Courts Service to the courts infrastructure to facilitate the holding of numbers of courts close to pre-Covid levels. While every effort has been made to facilitate as much court business as possible, backlogs have accrued in certain case categories.
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 remote courts being conducted. The Courts Service is currently rolling out videolink facilities to 43 additional courtrooms across the country this year, in addition to the investments made last year, in order to assist in addressing the current caseload and reducing backlogs.
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. 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. Work is on-going to manage day to day issues and to plan for reopening, including regular engagement with key stakeholders such as the legal profession.
The Government is committed to ensuring adequate resources for the courts in order to maintain access to justice for all citizens, which was reinforced in 2020 with the highest ever budgetary allocation for the Justice sector including €158.8 million for the Courts Service. Preparation of a Justice Sector Plan for recovery, which will consider the impact of Covid in terms of backlogs, pent-up and unmet demand, and the interdependencies across the sector, is currently being prepared by my Department and its agencies, including the Court Service.