Seanad Éireann - Volume 110 - 18 December, 1985
Courts Bill, 1985: Second Stage.
Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Minister for Justice (Mr. Noonan, Limerick East) Michael Noonan
Minister for Justice (Mr. Noonan, Limerick East): This is a short and straightforward Bill to provide for:
(i) an increase from 14 to 15 in the statutory number of ordinary judges of the High Court for a limited period;
(ii) an increase from 12 to 15 in the statutory number of ordinary judges of the Circuit Court; and
(iii) an increase from five to six in the number of Circuit Court judges permanently assigned to the Dublin Circuit.
At the moment there are two “temporary” judges serving in the Circuit Court in addition to the statutory complement of twelve permanent judges. Accordingly, in practical terms, the net increase in the membership of the Judiciary which this Bill proposes to effect will be one judge of the High Court and one judge of the Circuit Court. I might mention that necessary support staff will be made available to the new judges but that is not a matter that comes within the scope of the Bill itself.
 The temporary increase in the number of High Court judges, as provided in section 1 of the Bill, is necessary to clear up a backlog of High Court jury actions which is beyond the capacity of the existing judges to clear within an acceptable period of time. Most of these actions arise from road traffic accidents and delay in these cases can result in severe hardship and stress for the plaintiffs involved. These delays have, for some time, been the subject of much public criticism and the Government consider that if a substantial improvement is to be made in the present unsatisfactory situation an extra judge is needed and the present statutory restriction temporarily eased.
To highlight the seriousness of the situation it is sufficient to point out that the overall delay between the setting-down of a jury action and the trial ranges from ten months at Dundalk to 12 months at Dublin and elsewhere, with the exception of Cork. The delay at Cork has been as long as 30 months but following special steps taken by the President of the High Court, including extra court sittings, the delay has been reduced to about 26 months. It is expected that this will be reduced to at most 22 months in 1986. I would like to say at this point that the President of the High Court expects that to be 18 months in 1986.
Senators will be aware that there are other factors which may delay hearings. In many cases, for example, a substantial period may elapse before proceedings are set down. Senators will also be aware that there may be delays in proceedings which are not attributable to the non-availability of judicial time. However, the proposed increase in the number of judges will meet the State's direct responsibility in the matter. I should make it clear, of course, that the extra judge is not intended exclusively for Cork or anywhere else. When the extra judge is appointed, his assignment to help with the overall arrears situation will be a matter for the President of the High Court.
The last occasion on which an increase in the number of High Court judges took  place was in March 1982 when the Courts (No. 2) Act, 1981, increased the number of ordinary judges from 12 to 14. At that time it was thought that the increase, together with the enactment of the Courts Act, 1981 — which provided, inter alia, for an increase in the civil jurisdiction of the Circuit Court from £2,000 to £15,000, as well as the giving of extra family law jurisdiction to the District and Circuit Courts — would arrest and contain the arrears situation in the High Court. This view has turned out to be only partially correct. Following the coming into operation of the relevant provisions of the latter Act, in May 1982, the volume of new business being entered in the High Court decreased substantially and if this trend continues it is expected that the present number of High Court judges will, in the longer term, be adequate to deal with the reduced level of business. However, there is still a substantial problem as regards the level of arrears which built up prior to the change in jurisdiction brought about by the Courts Act, 1981. There is no substantial spare capacity among the existing judges which could be utilised to make inroads into the arrears. It is against that background that a temporary, rather than a permanent increase, in the High Court Bench was considered to be the best way of dealing with the problem.
I might mention that the date shown in section 1 (2) of the Bill, that is April 1987, was chosen because there will be a retirement from the High Court Bench on 3 April 1987. On that date the authorised number of ordinary judges will revert to 14. The automatic reduction in numbers will allow for review of needs depending on the state of work in the High Court at the time. Should it be found necessary to continue the number at 15 new legislation will be needed.
The maximum number of permanent ordinary judges of the Circuit Court authorised by statute — section 30 (a) of the Courts Act, 1981 — is 12. However, section 14 of the Courts of Justice Act,  1936, authorises the Government temporarily to increase that number whenever it appears to the Government that such a step is necessary to prevent the work of the Circuit Court getting into arrears either generally or in any particular circuit or circuits. Successive Governments have, over the years, found it necessary from time to time to increase temporarily the number of Circuit Court judges to cope with the continuing growth in the business of that court. As I mentioned earlier the full complement of Circuit Court judges at present includes two “temporary” judges. These appointments were necessitated by the continuing growth in the volume of court business. The Government are satisfied that the business of the Circuit Court will continue to grow for the foreseeable future and that an additional judge to the existing complement of 15 judges, including the President of the Circuit Court, is needed. The Government are also satisfied — and I am sure the House will agree with them in this — that in such circumstances it is unjustifiable that two judges should continue to hold office on a temporary basis. Accordingly, the Bill provides for an increase of three in the statutory maximum number of ordinary Circuit Court judges. I may add that it is the intention of the Government that the two serving “temporary” judges be made permanent so that only one new appointment will arise as a result of this provision.
The increase from five to six in the number of Circuit Court judges permanently assigned to the Dublin Circuit is necessary to cope with the increasing volume of business there.
This Bill is vital to the proper administration of justice and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Lanigan Mr. Lanigan
Mr. Lanigan: We welcome any move to ensure that there is a speeding up in the administration of justice. The delays taking place from the date of the start of proceedings to the end of proceedings is too long. Because of this people have lost confidence in the courts. The situation at present in too many cases is that because  of the small number of judges and the archaic method of administration of justice delays cannot be avoided. The only knowledge I have of this is from going down to the High Court which resembles a cattle mart, a fair, or a temple of Mammon rather than a place where justice is being administered. People in gowns are running around, shaking hands with each other. The only thing they do not do is spit on their hands when they have a deal finished and so avoid placing a particular matter before a court.
While we have such a situation it does not mean that in the courts themselves, when people get there, they do not have a system of justice which is fair and seen to be fair. For a number of years we have been privileged with the judges we have had in all courts. At times it may have seemed that in the sentencing policies of various judges there has been unevenness. This has been a cause for public concern. It would appear that some sentences were too light and in other cases too heavy. The differing circumstances of each case have to be taken into account when one is considering what a sentence should be. It is not fair that one sentence should be compared with another; each case has to be isolated; one cannot generalise in court cases.
People seem to be going into litigation on civil matters more often now than in the past. This is probably one of the reasons why we see such an increase in the number of cases being processed through the judicial system. Why is this so? Is it because over the years we have seen an increase in the monetary amounts being awarded by juries as a result of civil litigation? I feel that if one were to analyse all the cases that were taken in the civil courts the legal profession were the only people to gain in the long term. We have the situation at present that not alone do lawyers receive fees for the work they do but in many cases they are now taking 10 per cent of the actual amount of money which is given to them in judgment in civil matters.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
 An Cathaoirleach: I am afraid that is a different matter.
Mr. Lanigan Mr. Lanigan
Mr. Lanigan: It all comes into the reasons why we have to increase the number of judges in various places. The increase from five to six Circuit Court judges in Dublin has to be welcomed because there has been a much bigger increase there in the demand for Circuit Court judges than there has been throughout the country. If the number of people living in Dublin were to be analysed it would be clear that this is the case. In Kilkenny, when the court comes on circuit, there are two judges present whereas in the past there would be one judge sitting for a week in a particular session. Now the two judges are sitting for one, two and possibly three weeks at times. It shows the build-up that exists.
When judges go on circuit they have to be provided with the accoutrements of their trade. They have to be provided with courthouses which are suitable for the job being carried out and litigants also have to be given accommodation where they can sit down with their barristers or solicitors to discuss matters pertaining to the case. In many courts throughout the country we do not have the accommodation for this privacy. It is the county councils that have to provide the courthouses. During the Estimates every year at county council level we have this problem that the Department of Justice which should be providing the facilities for our courts and judges are not doing so. These facilities are being provided in the main by the Department of the Environment. This is partly why we have such a hassle about the estimate for the county registrar's department or the department dealing with our courts.
There is a need for a critical examination of the whole system of justice. That includes the situation regarding the numbers of judges and justices needed. It appears that in the area of justice in general we are working under archaic laws and under a system of law which is archaic. It may be good in that it has been impartial but the ordinary citizen has absolutely no doubt that it is archaic. It should be brought up to date and the  Minister should address himself to this as well as addressing himself to the increases that are being made through this Bill. By increasing the numbers here we should have some increase in the efficiency of the courts throughout the country. I sincerely hope this will be the case.
I would like to ask the Minister what training a person goes through on his appointment as a judge, or prior to his appointment as a judge, or after his appointment, to ensure that he just does not carry into his practice his knowledge of law either from the point of view of being a barrister or a solicitor. The fact that one is a professional in one area of justice should not be the criterion upon which one should base an appointment to another area. Is any training given to somebody who is appointed, and if not, why not? I presume that judges, just like everyone else, must learn their profession; they have to learn how to be impartial; they have to learn how to behave in a reasonable and sympathetic manner on the bench. Too often we have seen, in all areas, cases in which a judge makes a facetious remark or who, in sentencing somebody, makes a remark in which he calls somebody by a word which should not be used. A judge sentencing somebody should impose the intended sentence and leave it at that. The imposition of the sentence is enough without the sometimes facetious and very hurtful remarks. No judge or justice should be allowed to pass a comment about the personality or personal circumstances of a person being sentenced.
I do not see in this Bill any provision being made for the appointment of a judge for a family court. No mention has been made of the setting up of family courts. This is an area which must be addressed again. I sincerely hope that in the very near future we will see some attempt being made to have family courts properly set up. At present we have Circuit Court judges dealing with family matters; they have absolutely no training in the sensitivity which is needed in order to deal with matters of family importance.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
 An Cathaoirleach: I do not think this is relevant but I have been kind enough to you.
Mr. Lanigan Mr. Lanigan
Mr. Lanigan: Thank you. I have almost finished. The justice is dealing with these family matters in the same courthouse and on the same day as criminal offences and civil offences are being dealt with and everybody in these courthouses knows that when certain people go in they are going in regarding family matters. We need training for justices dealing with family law. I appeal for the setting up of special family courts with justices, trained in family matters assigned to them.
If this Bill does shorten the period during which people have to wait to have cases heard that is to be welcomed. I hope, with the increases which have been granted, the necessary accommodation will be forthcoming for these extra judges and that the various ancillary services which are needed will not be impeded by the embargo on recruitment to the public service.
Will the Minister tell us how he will be able to provide the necessary staff in the setting up of these extra posts? If it is intended that this extra staff will come from the present numbers in the Department of Justice it would appear to me that you are on a hiding to nothing from the start because anyone who is dealing with the area of justice will tell you that everybody in this area is at present working to capacity. If people from within the Department are assigned to help these judges in various areas the numbers will be decreased in other areas and you will not get the speeding up of the process which is envisaged by the increase in the number of judges. Increasing the number of judges is one thing but if they do not have the ancillary services in terms of people and offices it will not expedite the process. I welcome the Bill.
Mr. Durcan Mr. Durcan
Mr. Durcan: The Minister somewhat dramatically concluded his speech by saying that this Bill is vital for the proper administration of justice. In making that statement the Minister suggested that the  passage of this Bill would alleviate the problems existing within the justice system in this country. I must differ from the Minister because whereas I welcome this Bill, on the one hand, in that it recognises a need within the court system and will alleviate some of the problems, the Bill goes no way towards relieving the major problems which exist within the court system and which have if anything, brought the administration of justice in this country into disrepute in recent years.
There are many problems within the court system. I regret very much that we are not debating here today a Bill which would address in the broadest way possible the problems existing within the court system and existing within the whole administration of justice. We have to recognise the fact that the court system, as we now experience it, was established in 1924, reestablished in 1961 and other than minor amending Bills for the purpose of increasing judicial numbers and doing other minor matters, very little has been done to change the court structure existing and very little has been done to bring it into line with the modern age in which we live.
The time has come when his Department should look very critically at the entire court structure which was established 60 years ago. We still have by way of minor courts — if I can use that phrase — a structure that was established in the 1920s and which I would submit is no longer working. I am referring in particular to the Circuit Court system with which this Bill is in some measure concerned and also with the District Court system which, while there is no direct reference to that in the Bill, nevertheless has a certain concern because, of course, appeals come from the District Court to the Circuit Court and they can have the effect of clogging up that system. Once again it is necessary to examine the civil jurisdictions of the Circuit Court and the District Court. The Minister's Department must take steps to ensure that many matters which come before the District Court and which take up a considerable  amount of time there are removed from the court arena altogether unless an aggrieved party wishes to bring them before the court. By that I mean the ordinary summary matters, the thousands of simple road traffic offences with which people are charged every single day and which upon conviction can lead to appeals to the Circuit Court.
These are matters which should not come before the District Court in the first instance unless the aggrieved party disagrees with the charge against him. If the aggrieved party disagrees then he should have the right to have his case entered for hearing before a judge. Other than that it is a scandalous situation that district justices are spending many hours of every day in District Courts, in the city of Dublin and courts throughout the country dealing with matters which could be dealt with automatically. I believe if their time was spared from that type of work, then an amount of the civil work which is currently being dealt with by the Circuit Court could be given to the District Court which I believe should have an expanded jurisdication.
The whole structure of our Circuit Courts should also be looked at. I do not think the appointment of one additional Circuit Court judge or rather the making available of power to appoint an additional Circuit Court judge will deal with the problem. Certainly the experience which practitioners have of observing the Circuit Court in rural Ireland is one whereby overworked Circuit Court judges are dealing with a whole plethora of cases. Our Circuit Court judges are men who frequently work until 7, 8 and 9 o'clock at night dealing with a vast array of work, dealing with many appeals from the District Courts, dealing with licensing matters which should not be coming before them at all, dealing with family matters in which they have got no particular expertise and then at the end of the day dealing with road traffic matters and equity matters.
I would like to refer to a speech the Minister made during the summer. I did not realise until about 20 minutes ago that we were debating this Bill today.  The Minister spoke during the summer about the need to reduce costs in the Circuit Court. Of course there is a need to reduce costs in the Circuit Court. The one way you can do that is by completely overhauling the court structure and by ensuring that people who come into the Circuit Court are not coming back to the same courtroom five, six, seven and eight times and turning up for two years and three years because their case it not being dealt with. There are such delays in some of our Circuit Courts dealing with particular types of cases. I refer in particular to cases on the equity side which are frequent, cases that cause considerable hardship and distress and cases which by virtue frequently of the professional witnesses who are necessary to prove them, can prove expensive for the litigant, and that expense can be quadrupled or multiplied many times if the unfortunate parties to the proceedings with their witnesses are dragged back to court time and time again because there is not time for their case to be dealt with.
That situation can be resolved if the entire court structure is looked at and if things which come before the courts are removed from them because our Circuit Courts in particular deal with many things which they should not have to deal with. I ask the Minister, as a matter of urgency, to ensure that the entire court structure which we have and which in many respects has served us well until recently, is examined with a view to providing a better service.
The Minister said that necessary support staff will be made available to the new judges but that that is not a matter which comes within the scope of this Bill. I agree it is not strictly a matter that comes within the scope of this Bill but it is relevant to the Bill. If the Judiciary and the court structure are not provided with sufficient staff, then it will not work properly. One of the problems that the Circuit Court has at the moment is that it is totally understaffed. At the moment suggestions are being made by people in Government that certain aspects of what county registrars do should be removed  from their jurisdiction, that is, the work of the sheriff's office. The reason why that suggestion is being made is that there is no staff there to deal with it. The opposite also follows in relation to court work. There is not adequate staff in the Circuit Court offices to assist county registrars, thereby assisting the judges and thereby assisting the legal profession and the public who use the system.
I would also take up the point made by Senator Lanigan in relation to the condition of courthouses. It is a most appalling travesty that people are expected to come in, have their cases pleaded on their behalf in the most appalling surroundings. We can appoint additional Circuit Court judges, we can appoint additional staff and we can try and improve the situation, but that is doing very little good if the conditions within which people have their cases dealt with are as deplorable as they are at the moment. Certainly anybody who goes in and uses most courtrooms at present is in danger of leaving with pneumonia. They are draughty, dank, dangerous, badly heated, badly lit establishments and certainly an urgent injection of capital is needed from central funds to ensure that the work which local authorities are attempting to do in this regard is improved and that court buildings are made more suitable.
It is an interesting fact that we have in this House debated in recent times Bills which have established a new rent tribunal. Members of this House and indeed of the other House came into the two Houses and supported that Bill on the basis that it was unfair to bring people affected by rent problems into court buildings or unfair to bring them into the court structure because it was inadequate. That was a clear response by the Oireachtas to the fact that the court system was unsuitable for trying many cases. I would ask the Minister to ensure that there is urgent movement on that front. So long as there is not movement on that front the lack of confidence which is increasing in our court system will increase further and that in turn can lead  to far more serious problems in our society.
In relation to the High Court and the Circuit Court there is an urgent need for the rules committees to examine the rules of the various courts and to ensure that there is simplification. I believe that many of the delays which occur in the High Court are due to the cumbersome rules of court existing and an urgent examination and a simplification of the procedures which practitioners have to deal with in getting their cases for hearing is urgently needed. I would ask the Minister to ensure that steps are taken in that regard. I do not know what the reason is for the delay in producing new rules or examining existing rules. The rules of the Circuit Court in their primary form go back to 1950 and they have been amended in many respects. The rules of the District Court go back to 1948 and whereas we are told there are new rules, we have been told that for years they still have not been promulgated.
I would like to turn briefly to two of the sections of the Bill. Section 1 deals with the temporary increase to 15 in the number of High Court judges. The Minister indicated that the number was purely for the purpose of getting rid of an existing backlog of cases. The suggestion has been made that when the next normal casual vacancy occurs in the High Court that will not be filled. That is my understanding of the suggestion. I disagree with the Minister's suggestion that the delays are minimal in the areas outside Cork and Dublin. The delays in the High Court in Galway between the moment of setting down and the moment of trial of an action is longer than the period the Minister has mentioned.
I would like to ask the Minister why the increase in the number of High Court judges is not being made permanent, why is it to be a mere temporary measure? The Minister referred to the increase in jurisdiction of the District and Circuit Court and he said that when that increase was brought about it was felt that it would alleviate permanently the backlog of cases in the High Court. The Minister also admitted it had not done so. There  will still be a backlog in 1987 in the High Court. There should be an additional roving judge made available to the public, to the legal profession and to the courts to deal with backlogs wherever they may occur or to deal with problems that might exist in any particular place. I would like to know why the increase is not a permenent rather than a temporary increase.
Section 2 (a) increases to 15 the number of circuit judges. I welcome this increase but I fear that the increase is purely for the purpose of ensuring that the number of permanent judges assigned to the Dublin circuit will be six rather than five. There is a need to assign additional Circuit Court judges to deal with backlogs which occur in the rural circuits. My belief is that the reason why we do not have that is resistance by the Bar because they do not find if possible to be in many places at the one time. There is pressure on the Department of Justice from the Bar Council to ensure that the number of sitting Circuit Court days is kept to a minimum and to ensure that the number of judges operating on any particular day is kept to a minimum. Obviously if the number of judges sitting on a particular day expands, junior counsel cannot be in two places at the one time, briefs have to be handed over, with the result that the amount of fees earned by some of these gentlemen and ladies will be less than heretofore. I believe that is the reason why we are not having the same kind of support afforded to the Circuit Court.
If that is not the reason I would like the Minister to tell me what the other reasons are. I would also like to receive an assurance that in the next courts Bill there will be provision made to provide the kind of necessary support within the Circuit Court. I will not accept that there are not delays in the Circuit Court. If the Minister wants to get copies of court lists existing in some of the circuit-going towns in my part of the country I will provide them for him and he will see from those lists that there are many cases listed six, seven and eight times and unfortunate  litigants are not getting what they deserve.
There is a need to restructure the whole court system. Many of the Circuit Court judges with the best will in the world find a problem in dealing with family law cases. The problem is not their inability or their lack of expertise; the problem is that there is an appreciation on the part of the Bench that these are cases which must be dealt with in a very definite, particular and careful way. These cases cause delays and hold up other work in the Circuit Court. The time has come to ensure that there are two or three Circuit Court judges who would circuit the entire country dealing with nothing other than family law cases. It would, on the one hand, assure those troubled by matrimonial problems that they were receiving attention from a judge who was absolutely conversant with that area of law and secondly, it would ensure that an amount of pressure would be removed from the normal Circuit Court lists. This is becoming a problem in the Circuit Courts areas of which I have got experience.
I welcome the Bill so far as it goes. I hope the Minister will take steps in the course of his reforming ministry — and that is what his ministry has proved to be to date — to ensure that the entire administration of justice and the court system is critically examined with a view to gearing it for the next 20 or 30 years.
Mr. O'Leary Mr. O'Leary
Mr. O'Leary: I would like to briefly comment on the Second Stage of this Bill. The Minister has made an impressive case for the increased number of judges both in the High Court and the Circuit Court. I would like to give him the benefit of my limited experience in the matter, to re-emphasise a lot of the points he has made and maybe, together with Senator Lanigan and Senator Durcan, indicate what the position is on the ground in a lot of places. The Minister might find that helpful.
There has been a continuing problem in the High Court in general which has not been solved by the increase in the  jurisdiction of the Circuit Court because of the delay in bringing cases to hearing in the High Court. The delay that has been a feature of the High Court work in the last few years has meant that the prechange in jurisdiction is only now in some parts of the county being revealed but the reduced workload has not become apparent. I believe the Minister is justified in bringing before the House legislation to increase only temporarily the number of judges who will be in operation in the High Court. I think we should work on the principle that the High Court and the Circuit Court and all the branches of the court and the back-up facilities of the court must gear themselves to be as efficient and as cost effective as possible. I think the Minister's decision in making a temporary appointment to the High Court, recognising that he may have to come back and change that to a permanent appointment is to be welcomed.
The situation is fluid enough to relieve the matters still unresolved with regard to the number of permanent appointments which are necessary. In the context of the growth in the number of judges over the last few years and in particular since the limits were set in the Courts (Supplementary Provisions) Act, 1961, one must take a number of things into account. One of the things that should be taken into account is the growth in the population of the country and the growth in the number of the population active in an economic sense. It is inevitable that the facilities of a personal kind which are represented by the court, by barristers and solicitors and other officials, have to respond to the increase in the population. The increased number of people will give rise to the increased number of cases and in particular the younger age structure of our population has given rise to a situation where the amount of petty crime has disproportionately increased. That increase in crime, petty or not so petty, must be responded to by making the facilities available on the criminal side to ensure that society is adequately protected in that area. We should not underestimate the change that has taken place in the population of our country over  the last few years. We see a change in prosperity. It is a little bit shocking to think that between the 1971 census and the 1981 census there was an increase of almost 500,000 people or one-sixth in the number of people in the country. That did not just start in 1971. It predates that by a number of years. Of course, since 1981 there has been a continuing increase in the population. This, of course, gives rise to the demand for extra facilities. When that is coupled with the age structure of our population coinciding with the age in which it is likely that people will come in contact with the law — which is the younger age group, both on the civil and on the criminal side — the growth in the amount of work being demanded of the High Court, the Circuit Court and the District Court is to be expected. In that regard the Minister is on very solid ground in seeking to increase the number of judges who would service that population.
The Minister is also right in saying that a lot of the delay in the High Court is delay which takes place before the setting down of cases. This is not widely enough recognised. It is not always necessarily the case that the delay before the setting down of cases is the responsibility of the lawyer, or indeed of the plaintiff or defendant, as the case may be. Many of the complaints which people make in this area are related to personal injuries. A lot of them have arisen because of the necessity to proceed down into a pattern which can make for a realistic assessment which will last and which will take into the account the settled effect of the injuries during the whole life of the person claiming compensation. There are certain procedures in law which take a length of time to come to fruition. The Minister is quite right in recognising that not all delays would be eliminated even if one were to supply overnight judicial availability in respect of every item set down for the High Court and the Circuit Court. There would still be substantial delays necessitated by the preliminary work, which is such an essential part of preparing a successful  case for somebody in the High Court or the Circuit Court.
It is very important to recognise that many people who go to court go only once in their lives. It is a very important day in their lives and they are entitled to the proper preparation for that. That takes time. The number of people involved — the solicitor, the client, the barristers on both sides — have all to be consulted at each stage to ensure that the case is properly handled. This is a time-consuming process. I am not saying that it cannot be improved or speeded up, but it is a time-consuming process and one which we should not assume will automatically disappear just because an increased number of judges are appointed.
I would like to mention also the Circuit Court problem. The Minister is quite right in saying that the increased jurisdication of the Circuit Court has given rise to an increased number of cases at the upper end of the scale. These have taken a proportionately greater amount of time to deal with. That is only right and proper. If the previous jurisdiction of the High Court was £2,000, which is my memory of what it was, and it is now £15,000, obviously the care and attention which is necessary in order to adjudicate on something with a potential value of £15,000 is in excess of what would be necessary in respect of £2,000. The client will demand a standard of attention which will reflect the financial benefit or penalty which the successful or unsuccessful court action will mean to him. Therefore, in those circumstances, while the number of writs might not have increased because of the increased District Court jurisdictions, the complexity and the quantum of the Circuit Court has increased substantially. The Minister's comments in that regard are justified.
I would like to mention briefly the question of Cork, both in the High Court and the Circuit Court context, but particularly in the Circuit Court context. I do not think the Circuit Court in Cork — and I am using that term in a broad sense — has been fairly treated with regard to facilities. It is not generally recognised that there are over 12 per cent of the  people of the country living between Cork city and county. The general pattern has been, except for the last few years, to have only one judge out of 13 or 14 available for that job. In other words, 7 per cent of the judges were expected to service 12 per cent of the population. As a result of that everything got behind.
It would be unreasonable to assume that Cork people are less litigious than the remainder of the population. There is no indication that they are more litigious, but there is certainly no indication that they are less litigious. The correct proportion for the Cork situation is one and a half Circuit Court judges. We are far short of that at the moment. As a result of that there is a very serious backlog in the Cork area which has been used as a springboard for attacks on our court system, quite unjustified attacks by some people who should know better — people not in this House but some people in the other House. In addition to that, the population in the Cork and Munster region has contributed again to the very serious problem which has arisen in the High Court in Cork. That is a problem which this Minister and the President of the High Court — the present one and the last one — are tackling.
In tackling it they must recognise that there are 12 per cent of the people living in the Cork area and, naturally, they require approximately 12 per cent of the service. They have not been getting that. As a result justice has been seriously denied in the Cork area. That has been particularly important in the area of criminal law. I refer to the length of time people have been forced or have willingly delayed the hearing of criminal matters in the Cork area, the way in which criminals have been able to postpone cases by using the long list and by using the natural priority which must be given to people who are in custody. The result is that the punishment for a crime in the Cork area is separated by a long distance from the actual commission of the crime.
That is against all logical principles of  jurisprudence, under which the punishment and the crime itself should be as close as possible. Take a person of 17 or 18 years of age who commits a crime. There is not much point in leaving that person unattended by the court until they are 21 years of age. By so doing one is almost giving them a licence to carry on with their previous life. They have not had the benefit of the experience which a conviction and a trial would have meant for them if it had been speedily carried out in the first place. In regard to the Circuit Court in particular, with its criminal input, it is very important that this matter would be properly dealt with.
There are other matters which the Minister might consider in regard to the Circuit Court but which, I am sorry to say, are not in this Bill. For example, the variety of cases coming to the Circuit Court has changed dramatically. The Minister will be aware of the changes which have come in the last few years whereby employment appeals matters, for example, have come before the Circuit Court. There is now the ludicrous situation with regard to employment appeal cases that they are held first before the Employment Appeals Tribunal. They may or may not have been investigated by the Labour Court previously. Then they are appealed to the Circuit Court and then they are appealed to the High Court on circuit. It is really over-stretching the case and putting extreme pressure on the system in that regard.
I have a certain sympathy with Circuit Court judges who are forced to deal with family law matters. These are matters for which they feel inadequately trained, and they feel unwilling or uncomfortable dealing with them. That is quite understandable. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to this problem. The whole principle of justice — and, ultimately, the failure of a marriage leads to a judicial situation — has to be handled by people who have as broad a view as possible of life. I certainly am not in favour of the specialisation which would be involved in one judge specially dealing with all family law matters. That would be a very  unhealthy development. I am not necessarily against the idea of judges from time to time being put into a family court situation and taken out of it again, but the idea of a person dealing with family matters and nothing else would, in my opinion, have a restricting effect on the person's breadth of vision which would not be to the ultimate benefit of the unfortunate protagonists in the family law matters before the court. I am sure that is something which the Minister will consider in the context of the various discussions taking place in this House and in the Dáil with regard to these problems.
In regard to the question of the jurisdiction of the various courts, we can have a discussion on that at any time. It obviously has a considerable relevance with regard to the number of judges and justices. I think it is important that the Minister, having established what I consider to be fairly realistic levels between the District Court and the Circuit Court, should look regularly at these levels and change them. The sum of £15,000 is not the same as it was when it was originally decided on. There should be a system whereby, on a bi-annual or three-year basis, there would be a look at, and an automatic change in, the levels of jurisdiction in so far as they relate to monetary values in order to take into account any change in the value of money which is taking place. Similarly, the sum of £2,500 which was set for the District Court has not kept its value in that period of time. That matter should be looked at, not necessarily in the sense of doubling it or anything like that, in order to make an orderly change in the level which can be claimed in these jurisdictions.
I have dealt with the other matters which have been mentioned with regard to family courts. I have introduced the question of employment appeal matters. There is also an important matter which has developed over the last few years. The number of appeals from the District Court to the Circuit Court is taking an increasing amount of time in the Circuit Court. Everybody is entitled to appeal, and we must preserve that right. But appeals very often arise because the case  has been inadequately dealt with in the lower court, usually through no fault of the accused. For example, a substantial portion of the time of a Circuit Court is taken by examining certificates of insurance which should have been adequately dealt with in the District Court. All this is a terrible waste of time and is distracting the court from its main work.
The device used by the Minister in section 1 (2), whereby he will reduce the number of ordinary judges immediately after 2 April 1987, is the correct approach to this, and the Minister has my support in that regard. Finally, I congratulate the Minister on steering this Bill up to this stage. It has something to contribute to the system of justice in the country which, in spite of all its flaws, has considerable support among the ordinary citizens as being independent of the Government, the courts being tribunals which can be appealed to in order to protect the rights of the citizens which, in the final analysis, is their only justification and primary role.
Minister for Justice (Mr. Noonan, Limerick East) Michael Noonan
Minister for Justice (Mr. Noonan, Limerick East): I would like to thank the Senators who contributed to this debate. This is an important piece of legislation and I am glad it is passing through the House expeditiously.
When I came into office there were very long delays, indeed, especially in the High Court. Those delays were averaging around 30 months from the time of setdown to the date of the hearing of the action. The reasons for the delays were threefold. First, there was a lack of accommodation. There simply were not enough jury courtrooms, especially in Dublin city, to deal with the amount of business that was being transacted. We put in two new courtrooms in the Four Courts building, with full jury rooms. That has helped very much in Dublin.
It has been suggested to me from time to time that some of the preliminary work could be done by, for example, the Master of the High Court. I have legislation in preparation which will increase the role of the Master of the High Court.  I think that will help as well. But it became clear during this year that if we were to deal effectively with the backlog we would need more manpower. In the High Court we would need an extra judge, at least for 12 to 15 months. The courts have been working very efficiently. I compliment, in particular, the President of the High Court and his predecessor for the work they have done in clearing backlogs. There has been a significant improvement and, as I said, the modifications which were carried out in the Four Courts now allow three High Court judges to sit simultaneously in Dublin. For example, in the 1984 legal year there was an increase of 84 per cent in the number of jury actions disposed of during the year, that is, 5,725 as compared with 3,107 in the previous year. There was an increase of 26 per cent in the number of non-jury common law actions disposed of. Tremendous credit is due to the President of the High Court who organised this and to his judges who co-operated so effectively with him.
We now have a situation in the High Court where the judges are disposing of more business than is actually being set down, so if there was not a backlog the present complement of judges could deal with the business that is coming before the courts. That is why I am asking this House to pass the Bill in the form in which I have proposed it. I do not think we will need the extra High Court judge as a permanent appointment. If that judge is used to clear the backlog, which still exists in Cork in particular and in other places in the country also, the problems will be removed and the existing complement of judges in the High Court will be able to deal, as they are dealing now, with the amount of business that is being set down.
It would be impossible to bring about a situation where there were no delays at all. We are talking about, principally, jury actions and people who sue for damages as a result of car accidents. When somebody is injured in a car accident in the normal course of events he goes to hospital and it takes a while for him to  recuperate. Of necessity, time must elapse until the injured party has fully recuperated before a court is in a position to assess damage. That, I am told, is usually nine or ten months. When we are talking in terms of 12 month delays we are talking about a situation where we can only reduce the delays by two months. Otherwise, one would be simply waiting for the medical evidence and it would not work out.
I hope the situation in Cork will improve substantially. It has improved already this year. The President of the High Court went down there and called over the lists. He is putting extra judges there. There is an absolute blitz intended for Cork in 1986. I hope the delay that is running now at 20 months will be reduced substantially in line with what is happening in the rest of the country. I hope the extra judge which the President of the High Court will have at his disposal as a result of the appointment which will ensue from this legislation will help him in that respect.
With regard to the Circuit Court, there is a delay in Dublin of approximately 11 months in the hearing of criminal cases. Custody cases as Senator O'Leary pointed out, are given priority and dealt with as expeditously as possible. There are no delays in the Circuit Court on the civil side in Dublin. In Cork, there is an arrears situation in the Circuit Court, both in the civil and criminal cases. Again, priority is given, as is the practice everywhere, to people in custody. There has been a huge increase in Cork. Between 1979-84, for example, the number of criminal cases increased by 50 per cent and the number of civil cases increased by 35 per cent in the Cork area. During the legal years 1983-84 and 1984-85 a second Circuit Court judge sat in Cork for a total of 64 days and 70 days respectively. There will be one new appointment when we allow for the 12 permanent Circuit Court judges and add on the two temporary Circuit Court judges whom we are now making permanent. I know it is the intention of the President of the Circuit Court to appoint this judge to Cork. Rather than having a  second judge there for a number of sitting days, there will be a second permanent appointment of a Circuit Court judge to Cork which, I think, will effectively deal with the backlog there.
One final comment of a general nature before I go to specific points raised by Senators is that the practice of having temporary judges is something I have been uneasy about for some time. There has never been any suggestion that because judges were temporary they were at the grace and pleasure of the Government and the Government would not make them permanent. There was always the possibility of a challenge because of the position of the temporary judge, since constitutionally the Judiciary are independent. No Government since the foundation of this State made any attempt whatsoever to direct a judge on the grounds that he was a temporary appointee and, consequently, was there at the grace and pleasure of the Government. That is not the point which is at issue. The point which is at issue is the very fact that the situation pertaining, where somebody is temporary rather than permanent, takes away somewhat from the independence of the Judiciary and their independent role. As I said in my opening remarks, it is the intention that the two temporary judges who are practising at the moment in the Circuit Court would be made permanent, and that then there would be a new appointee who would subsequently be assigned to Cork. That is it, in effect.
There were a number of points raised by different Senators which I would like to deal with very briefly. Senator Lanigan talked about training of the members of the Judiciary. On the question of training, as we know, there is no formal training. In the District Court the appointee needs to be a barrister or a solicitor of ten years' standing. In the Circuit Court or the High Court the appointee needs to be a barrister who has ten years' experience. One can ask what training has a Senator, a TD or a Minister.
I do not think the idea of running AnCO course for judges particularly appeals to me. If we pick our candidates  carefully, as we do, we know that they are people of repute who are familiar with the courts because they practise in them. They learn quite a lot over the minimum period of ten years, which every judge has to have in practice. As well as that, the President of the District Court is empowered, for example, to bring all his justices together for the purpose of discussing matters relating to the discharge of business of the court. He has the formal power. The other presidents bring their judges together informally. They have discussions on sentencing policy and on various other matters. There is no provision in law for that, but the Chief Justice has over the past few years convened regional and national conferences of judges and justices in order to discuss the administration of justice. The holding of regional conferences was recommended in the twelfth interim report of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure. Also, members of the Judiciary regularly attend national and international meetings and conferences, which keeps them in touch with new ideas and developments. Because of the constitutional independence of the Judiciary the initiative regarding briefing, training and so on must be left to the judges themselves. Certainly, they are very well in touch with what is happening in Europe and America. That area is not being neglected at all.
Senator Lanigan and other Senators also asked about staff. We are appointing the necessary staff and they will not be drawn from the existing pool of staff. There will be new registrars appointed as well as criers, drivers and so on. Such staff are provided with the appointment. That sanction was obtained before we came this far with the Bill. There are certain problems of staffing in various areas. The courts are subject to the embargo, as are other areas of the public sector, but there are some improvements. The courts are coping better now than they were. It might be of interest to Senators to know that there are a number of developments — for example, the assignment of 57 temporary clerical trainees.  Most of them will go into District Court offices. That will help quite a lot. A lot of routine work causes the backlog. Also, there is a major computerisation project now, particularly in Dublin, but also in Cork and Limerick. The issuing of summonses, fines and warrants is computerised. That will help also.
Senator Durcan made quite a number of points. He talked about removing from the courts certain matters which should have automatic penalties — fines on the spot for Road Traffic Act offences and so on. It is something that has been suggested before. There is an objection to it. I am not ruling it out completely. I will certainly consider it again. But there is an objection. I do not think it is the best procedure to have the gardaí on duty handling money. I do not think that is necessarily the best way to do business. If there are fines on the spot, obviously the people who find the transgressor transgressing will have to collect and then to account for money. Gardaí have a lot of problems at the moment. I do not want to put another duty on them of having to keep track of money while on duty. They would have to account for it and pay it in when they came back. We have to weigh that against the advantage of removing matters such as this from the District Court.
We are doing quite a lot of work on buildings here in Dublin, but court buildings around the country are the responsibility of local authorities. There are enough people in politics in both Houses who are members of local authorities and who can make an impact in their own areas. I cannot see why county councils and corporations should decide that the local court house is always the last item on the list of priorities. If local government is to mean anything those involved in local government certainly should have a very strong interest in the dispensation of justice in their own areas. We have district justices appointed to local areas and I cannot see why the local authorities cannot accommodate them better, because it is their responsibility to do so.
 Nationally, we have a number of building projects under way at the moment. Everybody knows that work on the construction of an office block on the site of the former Four Courts Hotel commenced early in 1984 and will be completed by 1987. It is expected to be ready for occupation before the end of 1987. When it is completed the office block will facilitate the redevelopment of the existing accommodation within the Four Courts to provide additional accommodation and ancillary accommodation. As well as the jury rooms already provided, and, the court rooms in the Four Courts buildings, we are providing extra space in the Four Courts. When the Four Courts Hotel office block is built all the office facilities which are in the Four Courts can be moved. There will then be extra accommodation in the Four Courts for actual court work. That will help quite a lot. It will make a major improvement there.
I have dealt with the various other items in my preliminary remarks or now. I was particularly impressed by Senator Durcan's speech. There are a number of points there which I will be taking up to see can we implement some of the suggestions he made.
Senator O'Leary went over some of the ground covered by some other Senators. I would like to thank him very much for his support. I am aware of the Cork situation. This Bill will help the Cork situation in particular. It will probably help Cork more than any other part of the country.
I also agree with what Senator O'Leary said about family cases. There is a danger that we would go for over-specialisation to deal with a very real problem. Certainly, family cases must be dealt with sensitively, but I would agree with the view that somebody has to have a broad view of life which is open to change. One should not be restricted in a specialised way for an over-long period in the area of family law. When the deliberations which are at present going on in the other House are concluded and when decisions are made, obviously the area of family law is going to be very important. We  will have to provide the facilities, the judges and the training, if necessary, to deal with the situation.
I would like to thank the Senators again for their support. As Senator Durcan pointed out, the claim in the last sentence of my introductory remark may be extravagant, but it certainly will make a contribution to the easement of a problem which has existed now for a number of years.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 19 December 1985.
Professor Dooge Professor Dooge
Professor Dooge: On the Order of Business of the House I anticipated that I might wish to vary items 3, 4 and 5 from the order they are on the Order Paper. My suggestion now is that we would take No. 4, followed by No. 3 and followed, if time is available, by No. 5.
Mr. Lanigan Mr. Lanigan
Mr. Lanigan: Agreed.
Seanad Éireann 110 Courts Bill, 1985: Second Stage.