Courts Service Annual Report 2014
The Chief Justice and Chairperson of the Courts Service Board, Mrs Justice Susan Denham presented the Courts Service Annual Report 2014 to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Ms. Frances Fitzgerald, T.D., today.
At an event in Phoenix House, Smithfield, Dublin she said that 2014 had been a year when the work of the courts continued at a great pace. This was enabled by wide-scale administrative changes in court offices across the country. Praising staff for working under considerable pressure, with many demands made on their time, and operating within defined resources, the Chief Justice said that the administrative changes that staff and management of the courts had initiated in the past two years "puts the Courts Service in a good place to best use any increased resources which might become available as the economy and state finances recover".
Chief Executive Officer Brendan Ryan points out in the report that, "between 2009 and 2014 funding for the Service decreased significantly with a 44% reduction in non pay current expenditure, an 18% reduction in pay and a 73% reduction in capital. In the same period the fee income target increased by 19% - resulting in a 41% decrease in the cost to the Exchequer of operating the courts and the Service during this period". Mr Ryan welcomed the 4% increase in funding for 2015.
Court of Appeal
The report highlights that the biggest change last year in the courts was the establishment of the Court of Appeal. The Irish people decided in 2013 to establish such a court in a referendum – and throughout 2014, the new President of the court, along with many from the judiciary and the Courts Service, worked to ensure that it became operational from last October. There is now a new infrastructure for dealing with appeals within our judicial system, with new rules of court for the 21st century, which are set to enable the new court to succeed and also created a reformed Supreme Court.
Personal debt matters
On the area of personal debt cases, the Chief Justice said "this past year, may offer a high level of hope in the area of personal debt. It might be said that court figures are beginning to show that we definitely have gone from boom to bust in years past - but that recovery and a more realistic, empathetic approach to personal debt is being reflected in cases coming to court and maybe in how they are being litigated".
In 2014 judgments for debt marked before the courts decreased on the previous year dramatically - by 27% in the High Court, 43% in the Circuit Court, and 41% in the District Court. When it comes to lower debt amounts - dealt with in the Circuit and District Courts - summonses for non-payment of debts decreased by 34% in the District Court, while instalment orders decreased by 35%, and only 72 committal orders were made. There were 941 applications under the debt resolution mechanisms introduced under the Personal Insolvency Act 2012. 448 people were adjudicated bankrupt. 16 bankruptcies were on foot of applications brought by creditors and 432 were initiated by those in debt themselves – a 568% increase on 2013.
The Chief Justice pointed out that "this enormous increase in those in debt seeking bankruptcy themselves, is a dramatic turn of events: one which indicates that people see bankruptcy as providing some protection, as may not have been the case in previous generations".
New possession information initiative
Introducing a new information initiative for those facing possession hearings the Chief Justice told the gathering that the Courts Service is joining with MABS, the Citizen Information Bureau, and the Irish Insolvency Service to bring independentinformation and advice to court houses across the country.
Starting this month as a pilot in four locations - and being rolled out nationwide in September and October - the four services will ensure that every time the Circuit Court sits hearing possession matters that there will be space, information and personal debt advisers present in the courthouse to engage with people about their options.
There were 1,063 orders for possession made in the Circuit Court in 2014 – a 193% increase on 2013.
Work of the civil courts
o 1,355 civil appeals were transferred from Supreme Court to Court of Appeal upon establishment of new court in October
o Over 800 appeals retained to be dealt with by Supreme Court following transfer of appeals to Court of Appeal
o 7,047 personal injury suits in the High Court and 9,852 in the Circuit Court – a 26% decrease in the High Court and a 16% increase in the Circuit Court on 2013
o 187 asylum-related judicial review applications – a 51% decrease on 2013
o 111 cases disposed of in the Commercial List of the High Court – a 34% decrease on 2013
o 78 companies wound up by the High Court – a 20% increase on 2013
Work of the criminal courts
o 8,477 orders in respect of drink driving offences in the District Court - a 25% decrease on 2013, and a 33% decrease on 2012
o 62% of orders in the District Court continue to relate to road traffic offences
o 11,877 orders in respect of drugs offences in the District Court
o 30,194 orders in respect of public order offences in the District Court – a 26% decrease on 2013
o 42% of offences in Circuit Court relate to fraud/theft/robbery
o 114 defendants before Central Criminal Court – a 9% decrease on 2013. Murder convictions in respect of 21 offences. Rape convictions in respect of 125 offences
o 206 appeals lodged in the then Court of Criminal Appeal – a 26% decrease on 2013 and a 40% decrease on 2012
o 1,271 applications for judicial separation – a 3% decrease on 2013 – the majority (over 70%) in both Circuit Court and High Court by wives
o 3,831 applications for divorce – little change from 2013 – the majority in the Circuit Court (56%) by wives; the majority in the High Court (56%) by husbands
o 3,528 applications to the District Court under the domestic violence legislation – a 2% increase on 2013.