Monday 21 October 2019

Chief Justice hits out over failure to appoint judges as cases face delays

Chief Justice Frank Clarke. Picture: Colin O'Riordan
Chief Justice Frank Clarke. Picture: Colin O'Riordan
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The Chief Justice has sharply criticised the Government's failure to nominate new judges to the enlarged Court of Appeal, saying many cases scheduled for the coming months now face being delayed.

Legislation to increase the number of judges on the court from 10 to 16 was signed into law last July in a bid to address long waiting times and improve the efficiency of the appeals process. However, additional judges have not been nominated to the court by the Government since then.

In his annual speech marking the beginning of the new legal year, Mr Justice Frank Clarke said that as soon as the legislation was passed, arrangements had been made to bring forward the likely hearing dates of a number of cases which otherwise would not have been heard until well into 2021.

"Against that backdrop of expedition on all sides, I have to say that I find it regrettable that appointments have not yet been made," said Mr Justice Clarke.

He went on to say it was his understanding the President of the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice George Birmingham, would be making arrangements next week "to remove from the early list those cases which had been promised a speedy hearing".

The Chief Justice said without appointments it would not be possible to empanel a second bench of judges to deal with those cases.

"That process of removing cases from the list will have to continue for as long as the appointments are not made," he said.

"This is, quite frankly, most unfair to litigants who were given the reasonable expectation of an early hearing."

He said the problem would have been "avoidable" if timely appointments had been made.

It is unclear why new judges have not been nominated since the enlargement legislation became law.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said: "The process of appointing the necessary additional judges under the Courts Act 2019 is well under way and the minister intends to bring a memo to Cabinet with proposed judicial nominees shortly. There is no intention on the Minister for Justice's part to delay these necessary appointments."

Last year it was reported objections raised by Transport Minister Shane Ross of the Independent Alliance blocked the nomination of judges to the District Court and High Court. Mr Ross has been anxious to introduce a new system for judicial appointments, but has encountered resistance in the Oireachtas to the necessary legislation passed.

Current waiting times for hearings in the Court of Appeal are 20 months, while "fast-tracked" cases can take up to nine months to be heard.

In his speech, Mr Justice Clarke also said the judiciary and administrators were actively engaged in establishing the new Judicial Council.

The council will have a key role in the ongoing education and training of the judiciary, developing sentencing guidelines and dealing with complaints against judges.

However, one of its most anticipated functions will be the recalibration of personal injury awards, amid concern high awards are driving up insurance premiums.

Mr Justice Clarke said the judiciary was committed to having the council established by the end of the year.

However, he warned that in the rush to have the council up and running it was important shortcuts are not taken and that it be properly resourced.

Irish Independent

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