Annual Report 2017
Message from the Chief Justice and Chairperson of the Board
The Hon. Mr. Justice
Chief Justice of Ireland
While numbers and statistics can never tell the full story of the work of the courts, they can offer a broad stroke vista of levels of activity.
Our courts received over 655,000 new matters in 2017 - of which over 425,000 were criminal offences, and over 228,000 were civil matters. In the Supreme Court there was a 16% increase in new appeals, and a doubling of new appeals resolved. Despite utilising all available resources, appeals lodged in the Court of Appeal exceeded the number disposed of. At High Court and Circuit Court level, there were increases in defamation and personal injury cases, and slight decreases in divorce and judicial separation applications. And after several years of increases, the number of possession orders made in both jurisdictions decreased. At District Court level there was a slight increase in applications under the domestic violence legislation. These increases and decreases might well reflect changes in the law, or in the environment in which we conduct commerce or organise society.
The matters coming before the courts were administered and heard by 160 judges supported by over 1,025 staff, 48 judicial assistants and 50 court criers. The Presidents of the jurisdictions continued to introduce initiatives to improve the efficient disposal of cases with an initiative in the asylum list in the High Court particularly effective at reducing waiting times. Although it must be said that we have experienced increasing difficulty in recruiting and retaining judicial assistants.
The net cost of operating our entire courts structure was €85 million inclusive of investment in infrastructure and capital projects. The courts collected fines of over €10 million, and €45 million in courts fees were generated. In addition, the courts handled €17 million in family law payments, and supported the investment and management of €1.8 billion in funds held for Minors and Wards of Court.
We work to achieve a greater understanding of our courts through access programmes for students and community based groups. We are improving our presence on social media sites and video channels, and continue to share news via our quarterly e-zine. One initiative to bring access to the courts and understanding of the justice system to a wider audience saw decisions of the Supreme Court broadcast on TV for the first time in 2017. Our capital investment programme saw three courthouses completed in 2017, offering world class facilities and services to court users. In all of our investments we seek to accommodate the needs of all who use our courts. It is particularly pleasing that there are now victim support/vulnerable witness rooms in over 50 courthouses across the country.
In my first year as Chief Justice and as Chairperson of the Board of the Courts Service, I have witnessed from a new angle the energy and commitment of the staff. Their creativity and flexibility is critical to the success of the plans and tasks set out by the CEO, his Senior Management Team, and the Board of the Service. I acknowledge the work of my colleague judges, the members of the Courts Service Board and those who serve on committees of the Board. I appreciate the continued support of the Minister for Justice & Equality and his Department, and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for taking our needs into account when allocating resources. A partnership approach has enabled the Courts Service meet the current challenges and manage the courts so that there is continued access to law. Our partnership with agencies across the justice community is also vital in this success. I thank all involved for their ongoing efforts.
I commend this report as a rewarding insight into the complex and busy world of our courts.