Further court cuts 'would cause lasting damage' – Denham
CHIEF Justice Susan Denham has warned that any further reductions to the Courts Service budget will cause "great and lasting damage" to the system after it faced its fifth consecutive year of cuts.
Speaking as she launched the Courts Service's annual report, Mrs Justice Denham said: "Ireland's courts are among the least costly in all the countries of the Council of Europe.
"Any further or continued subtraction of monies and staff from the Courts Service budget will cause a great and lasting damage to our courts system.
She added that 2013 "was the fifth consecutive year of reductions in the budget of the service – which we acknowledge is an experience we share with all areas of public service – but we contend we have absorbed more than our fair share."
Since 2008, the cost of running the service has been reduced from €100m to €57.8m – a cut of 42pc.
While criminal matters being heard before the District Court have dropped by 13pc, road traffic offences accounted for 58pc of all summary matters.
Chief Justice Denham said that this "puts a great strain on the courts system", and called upon new Transport Minister Alan Kelly to seek "imaginative alternatives", making court proceedings for these matters a last resort.
The chief justice also warned that the courts system in Dublin may face serious disruption if the resources and staff are not "streamlined".
She pointed out that the Courts Service in the capital is the only area yet to undergo "some form of reorganisation of offices and court venues".
She added: "Given our current resources, if we do not change the organisation of court venues and use the resources and staff available in a more streamlined way – it is inevitable that there will be disruption to the operation of courts.
"It will mean facing a situation where courts will have to be cancelled at short notice," the chief justice said.
Mrs Justice Denham praised the "input and flexibility of the staff" for making these changes possible, as the system continues to be "flexible and imaginative in its approach in doing so much, so often with less and less funds".
Some of the cost-saving measures taken by the Courts Service include the introduction of the 'LEAN' management system, which has overseen the combination of 25 court offices in terms of staff and buildings.
It is projected that this will generate savings of €2m by the end of this year.
Additional sittings have also been credited with contributing to the savings, and last year there were 14 extra Supreme Court sittings during vacation periods.
The High Court also sat 20 additional weeks during time- off periods, and the District Court sat 500 extra weekdays, as well as 700 times at the weekend and nights.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald praised the Courts Service for continuing to provide a "high standard of service" despite the economic challenges it faces.
She also said the Court of Appeal Act, which was signed by President Michael D Higgins earlier this week, will "enhance access to justice for all of our citizens", and described the establishment of the new court as the "biggest reform" since the foundation of the State.