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04/06/2014

Reorganisation of Dublin District Court Planned

The Courts Service is seeking submissions and views on proposals for the centralisation of criminal business in the Criminal Courts of Justice and traffic cases into Blanchardstown courthouse as Dublin city and county courts are to be totally reorganised.

The Courts Service has written to court user groups in Dublin who would be impacted by any changes, to inform them of the proposals to overhaul the manner and location of District Court business in Dublin city and county. This is the first such review and re-organisation of such services in many years and it follows from a major reorganisation of services throughout the country over the past four years. The proposals will first be considered by the Building Committee of the Courts Service at the end of June - thereafter the Board of the Courts Service will make the final decision in relation to the closure of any venue. All submissions received from interested parties will be considered by both the Building Committee and the Board. Submissions should be sent to dublinreview@courts.ie by 5 September 2014.

Suburban Courts

The proposals are to:

  • close the offices in Swords and Dun Laoghaire and court venues in Swords, Dun Laoghaire, Balbriggan and Tallaght
  • create two new dedicated road traffic courts for Dublin, in Blanchardstown courthouse, with work re-distributed as follows:
    • all road traffic (RTA) summons offences dealt with in Chancery Street, Swords, Balbriggan, Dun Laoghaire and Tallaght to be transferred to the proposed dedicated road traffic courts in Blanchardstown
    • charge sheet criminal business and Garda summons dealt with in Swords, Balbriggan, Dun Laoghaire, Tallaght, and Blanchardstown to be transferred to the Criminal Courts of Justice in Parkgate Street
    • juvenile business in Blanchardstown, Dun Laoghaire and Tallaght to be transferred to the Children Court in Smithfield
    • all other business currently dealt with in Swords, Balbriggan, Dun Laoghaire and Tallaght to be distributed among existing civil/family law courts in the city centre
    • Criminal charge sheets from Blanchardstown court to be transferred to the Criminal Courts of Justice.

Benefits of the proposals

  • provides for the maximum utilisation of available court resources (staff and court accommodation) by concentrating business in the minimum number of office and court locations in the city and county
  • provides for administrative structures and processes which will deliver efficiencies for the Courts Service and other agencies across the criminal justice system while at the same time not unduly impacting on access to justice
  • provides courtroom capacity within the central Dublin courts to accommodate anticipated increased demand for courtroom accommodation
  • optimises the facilities and capacity available within the Criminal Courts of Justice.

 

The Courts Service said today that, "The changes we are proposing are a once in a generation opportunity, to improve the organisation and delivery of District Court business in Dublin. Our staff are currently stretched to the limit to meet and maintain existing service levels, and at the same time meet increasing demand. Consequently we must consider restructuring, reorganising and prioritising to ensure that a fully functioning court administration is in place for the people of Dublin. While it is fully accepted that the closure of any court office or venue whether in Dublin or elsewhere will inevitably cause inconvenience for some, these proposals will result in improved services for court users in offices and courtrooms which are fit for purpose, have facilities and support serviceswhich cannot be provided at suburban venues, and enable people to conduct their business with dignity and privacy. It is important that anything we do should not unduly impact on access to the courts. With no change, we will have to cut back services, our ability to service court sittings will inevitably be affected, and there will be consequential increased waiting times. If we do not reorganise there will inevitably be disruption to and cancellation of court sittings. Extensive consultation with all involved is planned and all submissions received will be given full consideration both by the Building Committee and the Board".

The proposals are strongly influenced by the following environmental factors within which the courts in Dublin are operating:

(a) whether the existing number and location of court venues is the most efficient or cost effective configuration given the number and type of cases coming through the District Courts in Dublin and in order to maintain access to justice

(b) the impact of reduced Courts Service staffing coupled with reduced funding on its ability to maintain frontline services including courts sittings in Dublin in venues of a suitable standard

(c) the anticipated increasing workload and demands over the next three years. Examples include:

  • the increase in the civil jurisdiction of the Circuit & District Courts
  • multiple transactions from instalment orders as a result of the enactment of the Fines Payment and Recovery Bill 2013
  • the anticipated increase in applications for repossessions in the Circuit Court
  • additional functions associated with the introduction of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Bill 2013, and
  • the anticipated ratification of the Children’s Rights referendum and consequent obligations on courts

 

(d) the pressure on courtroom availability within the Four Courts which will be further increased by the introduction of a Court of Appeal. Additionally, further pressure will be exerted on courtrooms in the city centre to accommodate the increase in the civil jurisdiction of the Circuit & District Courts and other developments.

(e) the poor custody facilities in the other Dublin Courts, including suburban District Courts, when compared with the Criminal Courts of Justice. It would not be possible or justifiable to invest in suburban courts to bring them to the standard available in the CCJ. Furthermore the Interim and Final Reports of the Working Group on Efficiency Measures in the Criminal Justice System submitted to the Chief Justice and the Minister for Justice and Equality recognised the need to optimise the usage of the capacity available in the Criminal Courts of Justice building. The final report further recognised that a comprehensive review of the delivery of court services in the greater Dublin area should be undertaken.

(f) Government policy (including Haddington Road Agreement) which requires the Courts Service in common with other public sector organisations to consider efficiencies, reorganisation, restructuring and prioritisation before seeking additional/replacement resources to address current and future challenges. The services delivered by court offices are dictated by statute and rules of court and discontinuance of service is not an option.

The Courts Service reviewed operations last year in consultation with all stakeholders and a range of options which could be considered to enable the service to more efficiently and effectively maintain frontline court services to all court users were examined. This process also offered the opportunity to strategically examine how services are currently delivered and to identify opportunities for improvement.

The proposals take into account a further reduction in staffing - already at 14.9% since 2009 - and demonstrates a critical situation - now and fast developing for the future - regarding staff resources to support existing court sittings in Dublin.

Other pressures that have arisensince the 2013 include:

  • a further family law court is required and must be staffed in Dolphin House
  • a need to ensure that waiting times for trials in the CCJ are maintained, is currently being addressed by the provision of extra sittings (and thus the need for extra staff) in both the Central Criminal Court and the Circuit Criminal Court.

Next Steps

• a period of consultation with all court user groups will commence immediately

• submissions are invited prior to the proposals going to the Building Committee of the Courts Service at the end of June, and

• final proposals will go to the Board of the Courts Service in July.

Subject to Board agreement, a start date of January 2015 is anticipated for the new arrangements, allowing a six month lead-in period for planning and implementation.