Chief Justice warning on Courts Service budget


THE COURTS Service does not expect to be able to achieve significant further savings without impacting on court services, the Chief Justice has warned.

Mrs Justice Susan Denham, who chairs the Courts Service board, said yesterday the service had implemented savings of 28 per cent in its non-pay budget last year. She was launching its annual report for 2011.

Describing this as a “lion’s share of austerity”, she said that it compared to an average reduction of 2.6 per cent in the budgets of other agencies in the Department of Justice “family”. The reduction in non-capital spending since 2008 had been 38 per cent, she said.

“At the same time as these severe cuts, there has been a cumulative increase of 29 per cent in court matters since 2005,” she said. “Staff cuts of over 11 per cent have seen the number of cases per staff member increase from 580 to 797, a 37 per cent increase in productivity in the handling of case numbers.”

This increased productivity was achieved by a number of measures, including the president of the High Court scheduling additional sittings in September, with the assistance of High Court judges; the High Court assuming the hearing of notices of motion for discovery, previously dealt with by the master’s court, which reduced waiting times in that court from 26 weeks to eight; the president of the Circuit Court assigning extra judges to criminal cases, and by additional sittings in August and September of the District Court.

County registrars had had their role extended to take advantage of their legal qualifications and experience, enabling them to perform a wider range of quasi-judicial functions, freeing up judges for trial work, she said.

Court venues were being amalgamated, involving the closure of small venues that sat only once or twice a month, the Chief Justice added, and circuit and district courts were combining to pool their administrative resources, thus freeing up staff for court sittings.

The increased use of technology in the courtroom had already produced savings, not only for the Courts Service, but also for other agencies including the Prison Service and An Garda Síochána, Mrs Justice Denham said.