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Presentation of the Annual Report of the Courts Service 2010

Speech by the Chief Justice, Mr. Justice John L Murray, at the presentation of the Annual Report of the Courts Service 2010

Minister, judicial colleagues, Board members, CEO and guests,

First of all I welcome the Minister to this occasion marking the publication of the Courts Service Annual Report for 2010. There is no doubt that the year 2010 posed major challenges to the functioning and effectiveness of the Courts Service due to the inevitable budgetary constraints which arise from the current economic climate. This Report shows that many of these challenges have been successfully met by the identification and implementation of complex and innovative solutions.

In creating such solutions the management and personnel of the Courts Service have responded with the same versatility and acumen they have demonstrated since its establishment. The result has been that in a period of increased demand on services and reduced resources - both human and financial - the Courts Service has succeeded in fully maintaining its core functions and in providing the services essential to support the administration of justice. This is a testament to the quality and commitment of staff at all levels and also to the judiciary, who have proposed, advised on and implemented many of the changes and initiatives required in the current situation. All involved in the administration of the courts are to be commended on their great efforts in ensuring that access to the courts continues.

The preparation and continuing implementation of the Service’s Action Plan under the Public Service Agreement has been a key element in maintaining public services in these difficult circumstances. Much of this has been brought about by extra sittings and the deployment of over 80% of the Courts Service staff to frontline, court operational duty. In short, notwithstanding the problems faced by the Courts Service during 2010 it has effectively succeeded in providing "more for less".

One example of the core initiatives which have contributed to meeting the challenges referred to has been the progress made towards establishing unified court offices in county towns during the past year. It is initiatives such as this, along with identifying procedural improvements, which will allow for the maintenance of activity in each county with fewer staff, at least on the basis of the current limited budget.

The future will pose even greater challenges for the Courts Service and thus for the administration of justice throughout the country. Since 2008 the cost to the Exchequer of operating the Courts Service has been reduced by €30.5m - taking both pay and non pay elements into account.

As the Courts Service has limited discretionary expenditure, 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. This will of course not affect the commitment of the Courts Service, as already demonstrated, to continue to develop cost saving initiatives that will have the minimum impact possible on the delivery of core services and in particular in maintaining court sittings at their current level.

The administration of justice is a key pillar in the structure of any democratic State, which is the reason why its role and functions are carefully inscribed in their constitutions, as it is in ours. That role is essential to the protection of the fundamental human rights of citizens and thus the stability and well being of society. A properly functioning judicial system, operating to the highest professional standards is also essential - as World Bank reports have pointed out - to the effective functioning and development of national economies.

Since its establishment in November 1999 the management and personnel of the Courts Service, often working under great pressure (especially in current times), have demonstrated versatility, professionalism and enormous commitment in fulfilling the objectives of the Courts Service of supporting the administration of justice and the working of the courts. The evident success of the Courts Service as an independent statutory body with a public service remit was not achieved by routine every day efforts but through the kind of commitment of its management and personnel to which I have just referred - a sense of duty, public duty, as well as pride in the public importance of the work. This is an aspect of the public service too readily ignored by too many.

On behalf of the Board, and on my own behalf, I wish to express our full appreciation and acknowledgement of the achievements of the CEO Brendan Ryan, his management team and all the personnel of the Courts Service in 2010. Also on behalf of the Board I would like to express its appreciation and acknowledgement of the valuable contribution and support which members of the judiciary have freely given to the programme and initiatives of the Courts Service.

I would also like to express the thanks of the Board, to the Department of Justice and Equality, the legal profession and other services, including voluntary services, who have assisted and supported in important ways the Courts Service in the carrying out of its mandate.

Minister I would like to thank you personally for taking time out of your busy schedule to receive a copy of this report which records at once the difficult challenges facing the Courts Service and its achievements in meeting them.