Court of appeal vote could bring about major shake-up of courts system
Waiting time for appeal to Supreme Court is four years
What is the Court of Appeal referendum about?
It has been overshadowed by the debate on the abolition of the Seanad, but there’s a second referendum taking place on October 4th.
If passed, it would bring about the biggest shake-up in the courts system since 1937. Voters are being asked to amend the Constitution so as to allow for the creation of a new intermediate court between the High Court and Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal would hear most of the appeals currently heard by the Supreme Court, virtually all appeals from decisions of the High Court and – if laws are passed to provide for this – appeals
from other courts as well.
Why would we need
The appellate court system is under huge pressure. Unusually among equivalent courts elsewhere in the world, the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal for all cases thrown up by the High Court, regardless of whether or not they have a constitutional element. While the High Court has expanded to handle the increasing volume and complexity of the cases coming before it, a bottleneck has developed farther up the chain in the Supreme Court.
In 2003, the waiting time for an appeal at the highest court was four months. Today, it’s four years.
Let’s flesh this out a little. Would a decision of the court of appeal be final?
In general, yes. In some cases, however, there may be a further appeal from the court of appeal to the Supreme Court, and there may be some direct appeals from the High Court to the Supreme Court.
Under what circumstances would the Supreme
Court hear appeals from
the court of appeal?
If it considered that: (a), the decision involved a matter of general public importance;
or (b), the interests of justice required such an appeal.
The same considerations would be weighed up by the Supreme Court in deciding whether to hear an appeal directly from the High Court.
Would the new court
deal with civil or
Both. On the criminal side, it would take over the work of the Court of Criminal Appeal, which currently sits on an ad hoc basis with a combination of Supreme Court and High Court judges and has its own backlog of cases.
How many judges would
sit on the new court?
The referendum Bill is silent on this, but Minister for Justice Alan Shatter’s
“preliminary assessment” in July was that the new court would require 10 judges.