Appeal court proposal a ‘crude device’, says High Court master

Delays could be addressed with existing resources, says Edmund Honohan

The Supreme Court: Master of the High Court Edmund Honohan estimated that of the 500 appeals waiting to be heard by the Supreme Court half would be settled “on the spot” if they were called for review today. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The Supreme Court: Master of the High Court Edmund Honohan estimated that of the 500 appeals waiting to be heard by the Supreme Court half would be settled “on the spot” if they were called for review today. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Mon, Sep 30, 2013, 01:00

The Master of the High Court has said the proposed Court of Appeal is unnecessary, describing it as a “crude device” that will lead to a rise in appeals.

Edmund Honohan said the four-year delay in the Supreme Court – cited by the Government as the reason for setting up a new appeals court – could be reduced with better case management by the judiciary.

“The judges have come up with this idea for a Court of Appeal with lots of judges but it’s a crude device which avoids addressing the problems of excessive complexity and paperwork,” he said.

Mr Honohan, who prepares cases for hearing, is the most senior legal figure to express misgivings about the proposal, which will be put to voters in a referendum on Friday. All the main parties are calling for a Yes vote.

Asked if a new court was needed to ease the backlog, Mr Honohan said: “There are pros and cons, and on balance I think we don’t.”


Case management
“There has to be a court of ordinary appeal. At the moment it’s the Supreme Court. The question is: can the Supreme Court handle that? I think it can if it addresses the practical issues of case management, time management, paper management, submissions and so forth in a way that deals with the essence of the case,” he said.

Last April, Mr Honohan became involved in the dispute between the Government and judiciary when he said judges had “a sense of entitlement” in their dealings with the executive.

Mr Honohan estimated that of the 500 appeals waiting to be heard by the Supreme Court half would be settled “on the spot” if they were called for review today, as many litigants were filing appeals as a way of “freezing the status quo”.

“For the next two years you could allocate one Supreme Court judge and one High Court judge to hear, on a daily basis, a review of each appeal filed within the previous six months, to see what is the reality of it and how can it be expedited. It would be possible to progress appeals much more quickly,” he said.

He added that a new court would lead to a rise in interlocutory appeals – appeals of a ruling by a trial court before the trial itself has finished – as clients would conclude they “might as well roll the dice again”.