SIX "specialist judges" appointed to speed up thousands of insolvency actions – earning salaries of €140,623 a year – are doing administrative work because so few debt actions have come before the courts.
The judges – former county registrars – were nominated by the Government last June to deal with any court delays arising from debt forgiveness disputes between debtors and lenders under the supervision of the new Insolvency Service of Ireland (ISI).
But the Irish Independent has learnt that the new judges are undertaking administrative work in the Circuit Court, including hearing motions, as they wait for the anticipated "wave" of insolvencies.
Only 19 debt cases under the new the Personal Insolvency Act 2012 have been registered with the courts, despite hundreds of cases being registered with the ISI.
The ISI will hold a special conference next month for personal insolvency practitioners (PIPS) to devise new protocols to streamline the insolvency process for people trying to work out deals with banks and other creditors.
The protocol, designed to make debt deals more "straightforward", efficient and acceptable to debtors and banks, will cover arrangements involving secured debts, such as mortgages, as well as unsecured loans.
The ISI, which employs more than 80 staff, has been hampered by a very low uptake because many believe the new system is too costly and complicated.
The Personal Insolvency Act has encountered a number of stumbling blocks.
Last Christmas Eve, President Michael D Higgins signed new laws to reduce the cost of bankruptcy and to render workable sections of the 2012 act aimed at helping people on low incomes with debts of less than €20,000. The bankruptcy fee was also reduced.
As well as the need for a new protocol, it has emerged that thousands of financially stricken people may be unable to get credit union loans included in debt deals. Credit unions forced people borrowing more than €20,000 to take out a life policy on the loan. This means that the loans cannot be included in a debt settlement arrangement (DSA).
The appointments of the specialist judges of the Circuit Court proved controversial as Justice Minister Alan Shatter said he will set the holidays and working hours for the new appointees.
The move to appoint county registrars as judges with new working hours and conditions alarmed the country's senior judges.
Last night, the Department of Justice said that it is the minister's intention that these judges will also be given jurisdiction to deal with applications to the Circuit Court under the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013. The law has not yet been passed.
Mr Shatter said the scheduling of court cases and the allocation of court business is a matter for the president of the Circuit Court who is, under the Constitution, independent in the exercise of his judicial functions.