Annual Report 2016
Message from the Chief Justice and Chairperson of the Board
The Courts Service supported over 24,000 sittings of the courts throughout the country last year. Its 976 staff supported up to 165 judges sitting in every county and court jurisdiction. No court time was lost due to an absence of staff support or the absence of facilities.
The above paragraph should not be surprising, but it is one which I, who chair the Board of the Service, am pleased and proud to recount. We have a modern and lean administrative organisation to support the operation of our courts which has taken a huge effort to design and develop, and which has survived the great economic recession of the recent past.
Strong governance arrangements at both organisational and Board level ensure accountability, fairness and transparency across a range of activities of the Service. This is vital in the provision of direction and clarity and to ensure proper management in all areas.
Working with others
The Service exists as a resource for the judiciary, for all in the justice community, and to those who rely upon the courts for redress, action, protection, judgment and solutions. This annual report illustrates how much the Service interacts and reaches out to other groups. For example, 70 of our frontline staff, who work with victims groups and agencies, took part in training and workshops in cooperation with these groups in 2016.
Also, many of our staff were trained in dealing with vulnerable witnesses and in the process of giving evidence by video-link. The High Court Central Office helped in the training of 70 new solicitors in accessing and navigating the courts system. Mediation services with other groups take place via court offices so that court hearings were avoided in areas such as family, property, noise, nuisance, pets and boundary disputes.
Liaison efforts are made in mediation and support services with other groups in the area of family, domestic violence and child law, in Dublin, Portlaoise, Kilkenny, and Bray. Outreach to community groups, colleges, students of law, of journalism and social sciences continues via, tours, talks, seminars, mock trials and various programmes across the courts system.
Advances in the courtroom
The Service plays a major role in supporting the efforts of the judiciary in terms of making the administration of justice more efficient. In the Supreme Court - where last year we experienced a 58% increase in the numbers of new applications for leave to appeal - the efficiencies of the Service helped the court determine new applications in an average of three weeks and for full case appeals to be dealt with within nine months. Also, the vast majority of legacy appeals from the old Supreme Court regime have been completed.
New practices in the Court of Appeal brought about efficiencies in the court’s time. The practice of asking litigants to identify net issues in appeals to make the best use of the time allotted to oral argument, along with bringing together cases with similar legal principles, allows for delivery of judgment in many cases on the same day as the hearing.
The Service worked hard to help with the establishment of the second Special Criminal Court, which led to a reduction in waiting times from two years to 15 months. Also, in the High Court, staff efforts have helped the judiciary maintain waiting times as low as six weeks for most areas of work – from the time cases are ready for hearing to a date being available. In the Central Criminal Court waiting times have been reduced to 13 months, thanks to the efforts of the judges and staff, and the allocation of extra resources by the President of the High Court and the Chief Executive of the Service.
A review of probate services is seeking to improve and modernise this important area for the next of kin of those recently deceased, with the provision of an online service being explored.
There is impressive work ongoing in the Circuit Court and District Court. You will read of the myriad of activity and effort of these courts, and the staff associated with these courts, who deal with the greatest volume of cases in our system.
I am grateful for the efforts of all who make the courts operate and the Service excel. I thank the Chief Executive of the Service, Brendan Ryan, his colleagues on the Senior Management Team, and managers and staff across all areas of work. I thank my fellow Board members and the judiciary for their steadfast support over many years.
I thank the Minister and her colleagues in the Department of Justice and Law Reform for their efforts on our behalf in so many areas.
I would like to acknowledge and thank the wider justice community - including the Bar of Ireland, the Law Society, An Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Chief State Solicitor, representative groups of court users, the Prison Service and the Probation Service, who all play a vital role in supporting the administration of justice.
This report gives an insight into the effort, change, and adaptability of the Service. It is a window into the trials and tribulations of our society, and an opportunity to read about the nature and extent of our court system.