Thursday 14 December 2017

Courts system under pressure as cases linked to economic crisis – Chief Justice Denham

Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

THE courts have taken the lion's share of austerity cuts while dealing with a huge number of cases linked with the economic crisis, the country’s leading judge has warned.

Chief Justice Susan Denham revealed the workload had soared by almost a third despite 38pc in savings being achieved in recent years.

Staff cuts have resulted in each employee handling 797 cases, a 37pc jump from 580, she said.

Mrs Denham reported increases in rape cases, theft, fraud and robbery cases in the criminal courts last year, with a drop in murder, drugs and road traffic cases.

"In the civil courts, there were increases across all jurisdictions in applications relating to the recovery of debt though, notably, there were decreases in applications for possession in the High Court and applications for committal regarding debt in the District Court," she continued.

"These decreases might well reflect changes in the law.

"In dealing with such change we are also dealing with what might well be said to be a lion's share of austerity and the paring back of budgets."

Figures for last year showed the amount of financial cases remained high:

- 16,060 personal injury claims.

- 305 applications to wind up companies in the High Court, a 12% increase.

- 33 new bankruptcies in High Court, a 14pc hike.

- 634 orders for possession - 281 in the High Court, a 14pc drop, and 353 in the Circuit Court, a 15pc increase.

- 21,741 cases for breach of contract and recovery of debt, down 21pc but still half of all civil claims.

- 7,549 judgment mortgage certificates issued, up 16pc.

- 3,783 judgments for recovery of debt, a 35pc increase on 2010 and 77% from 2009.

- 4,443 execution (of debt) orders, up 38pc on 2010 and a 77pc increase on 2009.

- 7,795 judgments registered across all jurisdictions, up 42pc.

- More than 1,000 committal orders for non-payment of debt in District Court, down 63pc.

The number of care orders granted to the Health Service Executive more than doubled to 2,287, while divorce and separations applications dropped slightly to fewer than 5,000.

In the criminal courts there were:

- 39 murder cases, an 8pc increase on 2010 but a 26pc decrease on 2009.

- 80 rape cases, with some historical cases accounting for the 27pc rise.

- 32 suspected terror and gangland defendants brought before the non-jury Special Criminal Court, up 52pc.

- Dangerous driving dropped by 7pc, while drink driving fell by 12pc.

The Chief Justice claimed further saving of any magnitude would impact on court sittings.

She revealed the courts budget, excluding pay, had been cut by 28pc since 2008 to 113 million euro, while court matters had risen by 29pc since 2005.

"This is compared to 19.5pc for the next closest agency in the justice family and compared to the 2.6pc average for all justice agencies," Mrs Denham added.

"It could be argued that the courts are dealing with a disproportionate cut in non-pay funding relative to other justice agencies."

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