Dáil Éireann - Volume 315 - 27 June, 1979

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Holding of Court Trials.

7. Mr. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice if he is aware of considerable difficulties in arranging court trials and conducting other legal business due to the postal dispute and the proposals, if any, to alleviate the situation.

8. Mr. Keating asked the Minister for Justice the present position in relation to civil trials by jury; if such trials no longer take place due to the postal dispute and the action he intends to take to effect an improvement in this situation.

[1181] 9. Mr. Keating asked the Minister for Justice the present position with regard to the holding of trials by jury in civil cases; if such cases are now suspended in view of the postal dispute; and, if so, the number of cases pending and the action it is proposed to take in the matter.

Mr. D. Andrews: With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 9, inclusive, together.

It has not been possible to serve jury summonses since the commencement of the postal dispute with the result that juries have not been available for High Court actions in Dublin since 9 March 1979. No civil jury trials have been held in Dublin since then.

There were 1,748 jury actions awaiting hearing in the High Court on 31 May last, the end of the Easter law term, as compared with a total of 1,411 at the end of the 1978 Easter law term.

The right to trial by jury of a High Court action is provided by law and in the absence of jurors the courses open to litigants are to opt for trial without jury or to have their cases adjourned. The Trinity law term commenced on 13 June and the President of the High Court has directed that outstanding jury actions are to be listed for trial as from 26 June with an indication that they would be tried without a jury unless a party asked to have a case adjourned to next term. So far applications for adjournment have been made in about 70 per cent of the cases listed.

Criminal trials in the District, Circuit and Central Criminal Courts have not been affected by the postal dispute and, while there has been a falling off in the amount of civil business coming into court offices, the business that is being received is being attended to.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Does the Minister see any prospect of a reduction in this appalling backlog in the immediate future?

Mr. D. Andrews: The Courts Bill was introduced in the Dáil last week and I will be dealing with it in the Seanad this afternoon. It is hoped to appoint three new judges under that Bill. This will help to alleviate the very serious backlog. The [1182] problem is the non-servicing of summonses to prospective jurors. Consequently there has been a delay from the setting down to the date of the hearing. The time lag has increased from nine months to 16 months. This is quite a serious matter.

Mr. Enright: When does the Minister expect that the three new appointments will be made?

Mr. D. Andrews: The Bill has to go through the Seanad. I hope we will get all Stages this afternoon. It will come back to the Dáil and then go to the President. Taking all that into account I would say some time in the near future. There is a certain urgency about it. I am not privy to the creation of judges, as the Deputy will appreciate. I do not want to mislead him or the House in relation to when those judges will be appointed.

Mr. O'Keeffe: The Minister is talking about a medium- and long-term solution. The question I posed was in relation to the immediate situation. Is the Minister aware that the long vacation is coming up and there will be no trials until next October?

Mr. D. Andrews: This will add to the problem. The long vacation interposes itself between the end of this term and the Michaelmas term. Everything possible will be done to reduce the backlog.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Because of the postal dispute and the long vacation the backlog will be huge.

Mr. D. Andrews: We will do our best. We are not unaware of the urgency of the problem.

Mr. Keating: The Minister said last week that by next October the backlog will have reached the order of 16 months. Does he consider that, in some circumstances, it is possible to argue that a decision relating to a particular award after that length of time might be so out of date in relation to the alleged crime involved that it could do less than total justice? Is there any way in which consideration can be given to the intervening period in the actual decision?

[1183] Mr. D. Andrews: The Deputy may be confusing the problem, not unreasonably. There has been no difficulty in relation to criminal juries. We are talking about civil juries. The award will be made on the day and that will take account of the time lag. From the experience of some practitioners the longer the time of the hearing from the date of an accident the more lucrative the award can be.

Mr. Harte: We are depending on three judges. If we appoint three judges all our problems will be over.

Mr. O'Keeffe: What about the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs?

Mr. D. Andrews: He is a man of the highest integrity.

Mr. Keating: No one questions his integrity. It is his competence.

Mr. D. Andrews: He is a man of great courage. It is a pity we have not more people like him in public life.

Mr. O'Keeffe: He sat on his behind for three months.