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Courts Service Annual Report 2017

The Courts Service Annual Report 2017 was presented to the Minister for Justice and Equality by the Chief Justice Mr. Justice Frank Clarke in Dublin today.

The Report refers to the 650,000 matters that came before the courts last year - of which 427,000 were criminal offences. The net cost to the State of running the courts was €85 million inclusive of investment in infrastructure and capital projects. The courts collected over €10 million in fines and €45 million in court fees was generated.

The Courts Service continues to implement new legislation. The Chief Justice acknowledged the effect that new legislation had on the work of the courts and said specifically of environmental and planning legislation, “that without clearer legislation there will continue to be projects which, even though they may successfully clear all hurdles at the end of the day, they may suffer by being held up for too long”. He welcomed the proposal to establish a working group to analyse all new legislation and how it might impact on the work of the courts.

Highlights of the Annual Report 2017

The report highlights the constant level of many areas of work in the courts, and changes in others. The Chief Justice said that 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.

There was a 16% increase in new appeals in the Supreme Court 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 deceases 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. The Chief Justice pointed out that these “increases and decreases might well reflect changes in the law, or in the environment in which we conduct commerce or organise society”.

He said that the matters coming before the courts were administered and heard by 160 judges supported by 1,025 staff, 48 judicial assistants and 50 court criers. He pointed out that the Presidents of the jurisdictions continue to introduce initiatives to improve the efficient disposal of cases.

“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”.

The Courts Service capital investment programme saw three courthouses completed in 2017, offering world class facilities and services to court users. The Chief Justice said that “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”.

Statistical highlights

Civil and Family
  • Personal injury awards totalled €206 million: ranging from €500 to €15 million

  • 50 of these were medical negligence awards – totalling €99 million

  • 193 cases in High Court Commercial List – a 23% increase on 2016

  • 37% reduction in cases for specific performance relating to a contract, and 32% for breach of contract

  • 84% increase in debt settlements: to 1,734

  • 58% decrease in employment dismissal appeals: from 121 to 50

  • 85% decrease in defamation cases in Circuit Court and 39% decrease across all courts

  • 19% decrease in self-declared bankrupts – from 559 to 454; and 32% decrease in creditors seeking bankruptcy declarations – from 69 to 47

  • 27% decrease, year on year, in summonses for non-payment of marked debt and 45% since 2015

  • 37% increase in personal insolvency applications over two years - to 2,385 from 2,114 in 2016 and 1,735 in 2015

  • No applications to disqualify company directors, compared with 47 in 2016; 50% reduction in applications to restrict directors: from 29 to 14

  • 48% decrease in applications regarding regulation of professions: from 283 to 147

  • 19% decrease in possession orders in Circuit Court: from 1,088 to 878

  • 52% decrease in new possession cases over four years

  • 42% increase in European Arrest Warrant cases: from 243 to 344

  • 30% decrease in barring orders granted over past 6 years: 1,165 down to 822 but a similar increase in protection orders: to 5,006 from 3,849.

  • First full year that the second Special Criminal Court was fully operational. The Court sat for 273 days - the most in its history

  • 25% increase in criminal appeals in all courts: from 15,000 to 20,000

  • 391,000 less serious offences dealt with in the District Court – with most areas of work remaining similar in case numbers to previous years. 15% increase in drugs offences: from 20,000 to 23,000

  • 15,000 serious crime offences heard in the Circuit, Central and Special Criminal Courts

  • 33% increase in appeals from District Court to Circuit Court: 18,813 from 14,132

  • 22% increase in rape trials heard in Central Criminal Court

  • Increase in total number of trials in Central Criminal Court: from 93 to 106

  • Sentencing in Central Criminal Court: Manslaughter - 47% of sentences between 2-5 years, 47% between 5-10 years, and 4% over 10 years; Rape - 5% of sentences between 2-5 years, 47.5% 5-10 years and 44% over 10 years.