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Courts Service Annual Report 2010

The Annual Report of the Courts Service, published today, shows a continuing increase in court work in the areas of debt collection and serious crime. The Report provides evidence of major public sector reform which has reduced the cost of funding the Service by more than €30 million in the past two years.

CEO Brendan Ryan says that within this environment, "the Courts Service continued to deliver a commendable service notwithstanding ongoing reductions in staff numbers, further significant reductions in the budget allocation and an increased workload". He says the Report shows that "the Service was uniquely prepared for reform and change, as it had undertaken a root and branch examination under its own initiative a year before the Croke Park Agreement".

Commenting on the response of the Service to the reduced resources of the recession, Chief Justice Mr. Justice John L Murray in his foreword to the Report states that "in doing so the management and personnel of the Courts Service have responded to all of the challenges of 2010 with the same versatility and acumen they have demonstrated since its establishment". He said the Service had managed to provide "more for less" throughout 2010.

The Chief Justice pointed out that since 2008 the cost to the Exchequer of operating the Service has been reduced by €30.5m taking both pay and non pay elements into account. He said "the Courts Service has limited discretionary expenditure and it is inevitable that further reductions of resources, financial or human, will have adverse implications, potentially of serious dimensions, on the functioning of the courts and on ensuring access by citizens to them, even at current levels".

Efficiencies, technology and change

Modernisation initiatives have helped the Service absorb a 9% reduction in staff numbers over the past two years, and an increase in court business of approximately 40% on 2006 figures.

Past and recent investment in technology has allowed the Service to reduce costs. Video conferencing facilities are now fully operational at 25 locations across the country - reducing the need for some defendants to be transported from prison and witnesses to travel long distances. Discussions are ongoing with the Irish Prison Service to increase the usage of these facilities and to maximise savings to the public purse. Digital audio recording of court proceedings has introduced great efficiencies in 159 courtrooms across the country.

The electronic transfer of information between the Courts Service and An Garda Síochána has reduced the administration associated with the old manual methods by 75% and freed up hours equal to approximately 105 full time equivalent staff - 100 equivalent posts in An Garda Síochána and five posts in the Courts Service.

Online services

Efficiencies come in many forms, not least in the direct provision of information about the courts to legal professions and the public. There were over 2.5 million visits to the website (www.courts.ie) during the year by those seeking information on a range of matters including court lists and judgments, paying fines, making small claims or searching for details of High Court cases.

In 2010 such online provision of information was expanded to a qualitative overview of sentences in the criminal courts with the launch of the Irish Sentencing Information System. This was a first attempt at providing an insight into the circumstances and responses to crime in the courts.

Reducing footprint

The Service is reducing its environmental footprint and cost base by co-locating the storage of secure data with the Revenue Commissioners. Court business has been transferred from underused venues i nto nearby courts. Eleven such transfers took place in 2010, saving on upkeep and maintenance, freeing up judicial time to hear more cases in one location and creating extra sitting days for discreet issues such as family law or children cases.

Cases before the courts 2010 - highlights

Criminal cases
  • 36 murder cases in Central Criminal Court - a 32% decrease on 2009
  • 63 rape cases in Central Criminal Court - a 29% increase on 2009
  • 457 European Arrest Warrant applications in High Court - a 43% increase on 2009
  • 16 trials in Special Criminal Court - a 60% increase on 2009
  • 1,186 drug offences dealt with in Circuit Criminal Court - a 24% increase on 2009
  • 34 sentences of 10 years or more imposed in Circuit Criminal Court - mostly for drugs offences
  • 236 sentences of between five and ten years imposed in Circuit Criminal Court - more than half for drugs offences
  • Over 1,000 sentences of between two and five years imposed in Circuit Criminal Court - 26% for theft and robbery offences, 23% for drug offences
  • 73% of summary cases disposed of in District Court related to road traffic offences
  • 13% decrease in drink driving offences in District Court
Civil cases
  • 116 orders made in High Court to wind up companies - a 9% decrease on 2009
  • Applications made in High Court to restrict the directors of 69 companies - a 6% decrease on 2009
  • 29 new bankruptcies in High Court - a 71% increase on 2009
  • 293 new cases admitted to Commercial List in High Court - a 21% decrease on 2009
  • 326 orders for possession made in High Court - an 11% increase on 2009
  • 306 orders for possession made in Circuit Court - virtually unchanged from 2009
  • 6,103 claims for recovery of debt in High Court - an 8% increase on 2009
  • 27,629 cases for breach of contract and recovery of debt in Circuit Court - a 3% decrease on 2009
  • 2,792 judgments for recovery of debt in High Court - a 25% increase on 2009
  • Almost 2,800 committal orders for non payment of debt made in District Court
  • 1,581 applications for judicial review in High Court - a 20% increase on 2009- 59% of applications relate to asylum
  • 32 hotel licences granted - decrease of 52% on 2009
Family cases
  • 731 applications by HSE for supervision orders - a 16% increase on 2009
  • 1,046 applications for care orders - an 11% increase on 2009
  • 1,380 applications for custody - a 44% increase on 2009
  • 4,784 applications for access - a 10% increase on 2009
  • 1,057 applications for both custody and access - an 8% increase on 2009
  • 2,783 applications for guardianship by unmarried fathers - a 12% increase on 2009
  • 1,420 applications for judicial separation - a 13% decrease on 2009 - majority by wives (89% in High Court; 74% in Circuit Court)
  • 3,381 applications for divorce - a 9% reduction on 2009 - majority by husbands in High Court (54%) and by wives in Circuit Court (54%)
  • 41 applications for nullity - a 25% decrease on 2009 - majority by wives
  • 1,380 applications for custody in District Court - a 44% increase on 2009
  • 9,945 applications under the domestic violence legislation
  • 3,561 applications for safety orders - a 7% increase on 2009
  • 2,726 applications for barring orders - a 5% decrease on 2009
  • 2,926 applications for protection orders - a 7% decrease on 2009

Over half of all applicants for domestic violence protections are spouses.

Courts Service Annual Report 2010.pdf