The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter, T.D, has announced that the Government today approved, in principle, proposals for a number of major reforms to our Courts Structures. The Minster said that proposals accepted by his Government colleagues will require the holding of a Constitutional Referendum and have the potential to achieve some of the most significant changes to the courts structures which had remained largely unchanged since 1924.

The Minister said: "An amendment to Article 34 of the Constitution, as proposed, would permit the establishment of additional superior courts including, for example, the establishment of a Civil Court of Appeal and a new separate Family Court structure. This proposal would also allow the Oireachtas to consider the establishment of other specialist superior courts, should they be required. The work to be undertaken will also consider the constitutional change required to enable the State to participate in any arrangement providing for the establishment of a European Patent Court. "

The Government also agreed that consideration should be given to other constitutional changes including, for example, possible amendments to Article 26 dealing with the reference of a Bill by the President to the Supreme Court. The Minister said "I am of the view that we need to review the procedure whereby the Supreme Court is confined to delivering one judgment only and no minority judgment may be delivered in the determination of an Article 26 application. This may create an artificial appearance of unanimity and consideration is being given to whether there should be greater transparency and whether it is in the public interest that individual members of the court should be enabled to deliver individual judgements.

Also, consideration is to be given to conferring a power on the Supreme Court to determine whether a Presidential reference of a Bill to the Supreme Court under Article 26 should be capable of rejection by that Court for such adjudication due to the absence of a proper factual or evidential basis on which to conduct such adjudication."

Consideration is also to be given to possible amendments to Article 26 and Article 34, in respect of Bills referred by the President to the Supreme Court, to enable possible future constitutional challenges to Bills already upheld as constitutional following such reference. For example, such further constitutional challenge could be appropriate with regard to legislation where a question arises not addressed by the Supreme Court in its original decision under Article 26, and/or following the lapse of five years or some other specified period from the date of the original decision.

With regard to the establishment of a Court of Civil Appeal other issues also arise for consideration such as whether, following the High Court adjudicating in a constitutional matter, an appeal should be made directly to the Supreme Court or whether the Court of Civil Appeal should play a role.

Finally consideration will be given to adding a secular oath as an optional alternative to the current form of judicial declaration contained in Article 34.5.

Minister Shatter said "I would now expect to engage in a broad public debate on these matters as the time has come to explore the much needed reform of the current Constitutional framework. In this context I also intend to bring forward at an early date the long promised Judicial Council Bill." 

The Minister expressed his belief that, arising from this morning’s Government decision, the necessary first steps can now be taken towards making amendments to the Constitution to significantly improve the structure of the Courts for the benefit of all concerned. The Minister said he intends that work on these matters will commence shortly and a decision on when to hold the necessary referendum will be made at a later date.

17 July 2012


Notes for Editors$FILE/Report of the Working Group on a Court of Appeal.pdf