Sunday 17 December 2017

Lack of judges 'holding up crucial cases'

Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Shane Phelan and Tim Healy

The Government is coming under pressure to relax its moratorium on the appointment of judges after two senior members of the judiciary indicated a shortage on the bench was resulting in important cases not getting a hearing.

The block on appointments has been insisted upon by the Independent Alliance, with Transport Minister Shane Ross in particular arguing against appointments before a new judicial selection process is put in place.

However, with the new system still possibly several months away, pressure is mounting to fill vacancies across the courts.

Yesterday, High Court President Mr Justice Peter Kelly said he was unable to accede to a request to allocate an urgent family law case to a judge who had previously been dealing with the matter as they had since been assigned to a different court list. He also said he had no additional judges to call upon.

Meanwhile, similar issues were highlighted by another High Court judge, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, who manages the judicial review and non-jury list. He said a dozen cases listed before him could not proceed because there were "no judges available" to hear "enormously important" and in some instances "life changing" actions.

The situation of not having enough judges has become a "recurring theme" and not being able to get cases on for hearing was adding to the stress of parties involved, he said.

There are currently seven judicial vacancies across the court system. Two exist at the High Court following the retirement of Mr Justice Raymond Fullam and the appointment of Mr Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh to the General Court of the European Union.

There is one vacancy at the Court of Appeal, one in the Circuit Court and three at District Court level.

The chairman of the Council of the Bar of Ireland, Paul McGarry SC, said the judicial vacancies were a source of concern and that they should be filled under the current system.

He said such vacancies would hurt efforts to attract businesses to Ireland that are currently considering relocating from the UK in the wake of Brexit.

"At a time when we are trying to persuade people that our legal system is fit for purpose and can compete with other EU member states post-Brexit, this will not help," he said.

Mr Ross appeared unmoved by the comments of the judges.

"I am looking forward to the rapid appointment of additional judges under the new, non-political, robust and transparent system. This is due to become law before the summer recess," he said in a statement.

Irish Independent

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