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We're alone with automatic right to appeal

BECAUSE they're worth it? Irish judges are among the highest paid in the world.

Chief Justice John L Murray, who takes home almost €300,000 a year, earns more than his American counterpart Chief Justice John G Roberts Junior, who earns $218,000 (€154,000) per year.

Justice Roberts presides over a Supreme Court whose decisions affect the lives of over 305 million US citizens. In Ireland, the population is less than 4.5 million, but our Supreme Court has a case load that is three times that of the US court and almost nine times as much as New Zealand's final court of appeal.

How can this be so?

Ireland stands alone in the common law world because our Constitution allows an automatic right of appeal to the Supreme Court from the High Court.

In other countries, such as Britain, Australia, New Zealand and America -- that share our legal tradition -- an intermediate court of appeal acts as a filter, allowing only cases of major public importance to reach the Supreme Court.

But because of the open-ended nature of our appeal system, the Supreme Court ends up correcting mistakes made by judges in the High Courts rather than deciding major issues.

The court's error-correction role poses a serious threat to the economy.

This threat was outlined yesterday by Supreme Court judge Mrs Justice Susan Denham who chaired a working group on a new court of appeal.

The report, which identified a six-fold increase in Supreme Court waiting times since 2003, said the delays could undermine Ireland's attractiveness as a destination for high-value commercial activity.

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The introduction of a Court of Criminal Appeal in Ireland has demonstrated the critical need for a general intermediate court of appeal: only a handful of cases are appealed from that court each year. A new appeal court, which would require a referendum, would result in a major restructuring of the courts.

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