THE Irish Supreme Court is the busiest in the world, hearing nine times as many cases as New Zealand.
A survey showed that in 2007 our final court of appeal completed 229 cases compared to 82 in Britain; 74 in America , where the population is 305 million; 66 in Australia, and 58 in Canada. New Zealand, which created a final court of appeal in 2004 and has a population of approximately 4.29 million, only heard 27 cases.
The gulf in caseloads is a result of the fact that, unlike other countries, Ireland has no intermediate court of appeal.
There has also been an enormous growth in litigation coming before the courts, including a 50pc rise in High Court cases in less than two years, that has left the Supreme Court unable to hear cases within a 30-month period. A high-level working group yesterday called for a referendum on a new intermediate court that would act as a final court of appeal for all civil cases, unless they involve cases of major public or constitutional importance.
The Working Group on a Court of Appeal, chaired by Supreme Court judge Mrs Justice Susan Denham, has warned of serious consequences to the economy, infrastructure, international obligations and Irish society if the current system is allowed to continue.
At present, appeals in High Court cases can only be brought to the Supreme Court where almost one-in-five cases are fought by litigants who represent themselves, such as drug dealer John Gilligan.
And because of an automatic right of appeal, the court spends much of its time correcting errors from the High Court. The judges are also presiding over a three-year backlog of cases that poses a serious threat to the economy, as individuals and companies cannot secure speedy access to judicial decisions.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said the report's recommendations would be examined in detail.
A referendum has not been ruled out by the Cabinet, which discussed the Working Group on a Court of Appeal at its last meeting on June 27. Mr Ahern added: "The delays at Supreme Court level are of concern. I have asked my officials to conduct an examination, in consultation with other relevant departments, to devise a cost-effective solution."
The report was also welcomed by the Courts Service.
"The proposal for a new appeal court will aid greatly in ensuring a quicker access to justice and bring the courts structure in Ireland in line with those of other common law countries," said Brendan Ryan, CEO of the Courts Services.