Annual Report 2018
Message from the Chief Justice and Chairperson of the Board
The Hon. Mr. Justice
Chief Justice of Ireland
Managing the courts and supporting the judiciary presents a challenge for the Courts Service every year. It cannot be measured by the number of civil cases issued or the number of offences presented to our criminal courts.
The caseload may vary – up or down – but the need for skilled staff and facilities to support the courts is constant. Litigation gets ever more complex and litigant expectations continue to increase. In our digital age, where people are used to round the clock online access to services, the courts must deal with the twin challenge of facilitating such access while at the same time ensuring that the court process is secure and that cases are allocated the time and consideration they require.
The allocation of additional, and vital, resources in recent years has enabled the Courts Service to advance many projects which have been under consideration for a long time. Much effort was concentrated during 2018 on identifying and planning for those changes which we have all known for some time are sorely needed. Projects including electronic filing of documents, online access to court registers, and systems to enable online payment will hopefully lead to a significant improvement in the way in which we all work and deliver services to the community.
The judiciary continues to develop more streamlined ways for the courts to operate. This includes ongoing review of how we manage court lists, issue of practice directions to improve efficiencies, and participation on court rules committees and groups such as that reviewing our civil law. In a changing world, we must ensure that the courts of Ireland continue to maintain our reputation for competency and efficiency as we deal with over 400,000 criminal, and 200,000 civil matters annually.
Last year I highlighted how legislative proposals impact on the work both of the courts and the Courts Service. In 2018 we established a protocol for communication with government departments with an emphasis on highlighting how legislative proposals affecting court jurisdiction and/or operations impact the Courts Service. This will be of particular benefit in the development of our ICT Strategy where competing demands, some prompted by legislative requirements, can intervene to divert us away from our stated course with the consequent need to re-organise planned projects.
We announced last year that we would be investing in a new ICT platform to allow the filing of appeals to the Supreme Court as a starting point for future online filing in general. It would not have been enough to just replicate online what we were doing on paper so we reviewed our processes and used practice directions and rules to allow for more efficacy in our procedures. In the Court of Appeal, a new one stage process in the allocation of dates for the hearing of civil appeals streamlines the administrative process and is more cost effective for parties. The increased involvement of High Court registrars in quasi-judicial work together with new practice directions delivered improved efficiencies in that jurisdiction. And the Court Office Review Implementation is delivering real change to the operation of Circuit Court and District Court offices around the country.
My involvement as Chief Justice and as Chairperson of the Courts Service Board gives me particular insight into the work of the courts and the array of people, internal and external, that keep it operating. In particular, I have an overview of changes which bring real improvement in the courtroom and for those who use our courts. I thank my judicial colleagues for their work and for their support for the work of the Courts Service. I acknowledge the continued efforts of the staff to ensure that courts around the country are always open for business and their support for modernisation initiatives promoted by the Chief Executive and his Senior Management Team and approved by the Board. The legal profession and other groups and agencies provide us with vital support for which I thank them. I am also grateful to the Minister for Justice & Equality and his staff and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for their ongoing support.
I commend this report to you as an insight into a great enterprise of effort and public service - an overview of change for good reason and administration for the common good.