Law Society claims new Bill will cause delays in hearing of court cases

President of solicitors’ body calls on Minister for Justice to reconsider enactment of Courts Bill

The Law Society on Blackhall Place, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

The Law Society on Blackhall Place, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Fri, Jun 21, 2013, 17:57

The Law Society has expressed concern about the potential for delays in the hearing of court cases arising from the Government’s plan to increase the maximum monetary awards that may be made by lower courts.

Under the Courts Bill 2013 published by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter in March, the maximum award payable by the District Court will be increased from €6,384 to €15,000.

The maximum payable by the Circuit Court will increase from €38,092 to €75,000, but with a lower limit of €60,000 for personal injury cases.

Law Society president James McCourt called on the Minister to reconsider enacting the legislation until funding was available to provide the “appropriate resources”.

He said that since the proposal was first mooted, the society had taken the stance “that the suggested change in the jurisdiction limits is to be welcomed – but only if the inevitable extra workload that follows such an uplift is counterbalanced by a similar increase in resources”.

“As things stand, while most District and Circuit courts proceed without substantial delay, they are, in general, working to full capacity and, in some cases, are overworked.”

Mr McCourt said that if the new measures proceeded, a “large number” of cases which had up to now been brought in the High Court would in future be commenced in the Circuit Court.

This would have a knock-on effect in the District Court, he said.

“It therefore follows, as a certainty, that unless extra judges, courts staff and courtrooms are made available, delays in the hearing of cases will result.”

Mr McCourt said assurances had not yet been received from the Minister that such resources would be provided.

“It seems to us that, given the financial restraints within which the State must operate, it is highly unlikely that any extra funding will be provided to the Courts Service at this juncture.”

“We entirely understand why that would be the case, but fail to grasp why these measures are being brought in now when the current court system, at District and Circuit Courts level, operates relatively smoothly.”

Mr McCourt claimed that if the Courts Bill was enacted in its current form, consumers in civil cases would face “lengthy delays”. It was likely that criminal and family matters would suffer when judges were diverted to look after the “burgeoning” civil case load.

On publishing the Bill, Mr Shatter said the reforms were “ long overdue”.

He said the proposed changes to the jurisdiction limits of the Circuit and District Courts “should ultimately lead to a reduction in the burden of legal costs for individuals and companies involved in litigation”.

There has, however, been some concern the measures might increase insurance costs.

The Department of Justice’s regulatory impact analysis of the legislation examined this aspect of the Bill.

It noted that, when the idea was last mooted in 2002, increased limits were not introduced due to concern about “the potential impact on the levels of awards, which could, among other things, lead to consequential increases in insurance costs”.