'It should not happen' - Extra security planned for courthouses for property case protests
Published 13/07/2016 | 02:30
Court officials are seeking extra security around home and property repossession cases after a series of disturbances at courthouses around the country.
Officials are now profiling upcoming cases to assess where additional gardaí should be drafted into courthouses when it is feared there may be a flashpoint.
It follows the agreement of new pre-case protocols between Courts Service officials and senior gardaí.
Action has had to be taken after several courts were "taken over" by members of anti-authoritarian groups such as the Land League and Integrity Ireland. In some instances court officials have been forced to flee from their bench or hearings have had to be adjourned.
Brendan Ryan, chief executive of the Courts Service, said: "No judges have had to leave the bench, but some country registrars have."
County registrars are not members of the judiciary, but do have a quasi-judicial role and can conduct case progression hearings and arbitrations.
Incidents have occurred at courthouses in Mayo, Wexford and Limerick over the past year.
Mr Ryan told the Irish Independent that a high-level security review was conducted 18 months ago and new arrangements were recommended in a subsequent report produced last March.
"Arising out of that there were various recommendations, including trying to profile these cases to ensure that the courts inform the guards at the appropriate time that there may be an issue," he said. "The guards also do their own profiling."
During one incident in Castlebar, Co Mayo last September, a judge was forced to adjourn proceedings amid shouting from the public gallery and efforts by the Integrity Ireland group to place the judge and a garda superintendent under citizen's arrest.
There were chaotic scenes in Limerick last May when a county registrar had to vacate his bench twice after protesters approached him shouting.
Mr Ryan said it was "appalling that the judicial system should be attacked" in this manner.
"It should not happen. At the end of the day in any democratic society you need a functioning efficient independent court. That is the basis to every democracy," he said.
David Barniville, president of the Bar Council, said such incidents were becoming "more prevalent".
"Some of these groups, their sole objective seems to be to undermine the State, undermine the judiciary, undermine the rule of law," he said.
"There have been a lot of cases of judges being physically intimidated, verbally intimidated, interfered with, and their courts being taken over by groups of these people."
Meanwhile, figures published in the Courts Service annual report yesterday revealed court-sanctioned debt settlements increased by 84pc last year, up to 1,735.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said this was down to the reform of personal insolvency legislation which allows courts to review and, where appropriate, approve insolvency deals that have been rejected by banks if the borrower's home mortgage is involved.
"Court rules and procedures for repossession cases were also streamlined to assist people who are unfamiliar with court rules and proceedings," she said.
The report said there had been a 40pc decrease in High Court possession orders, down to 113 last year.
New cases for possession in high and circuit courts amounted to 5,169, down 38pc on 2014.
There was a 5pc increase in bankruptcy cases.