95,000 summonses awaiting listing date at District Court

Minister tells Dáil of drive to clear backlog of minor cases due to pause caused by Covid-19

It is not uncommon for there to be up to 30,000 summonses waiting for a listing, the Courts Service has said. Photograph: iStock

It is not uncommon for there to be up to 30,000 summonses waiting for a listing, the Courts Service has said. Photograph: iStock

 

There are currently 95,000 summonses awaiting a listing date at District Court level.

The sharp reduction in the cases coming before the court since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the Republic in March led to an unprecedented backlog of cases that were waiting for a listing date.

The majority of the summonses that are in the backlog relate to alleged traffic offences, a spokesman for the Courts Service said.

They also involve alleged minor offences involving such matters as drug possession or assault.

A new focus on addressing the backlog has led to a reduction over the past seven weeks of 27,000 in the number of summonses awaiting a listing, the spokesman said.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee told the Dáil huge work had been done to clear the backlog which had reached 122,000 summonses at its peak.

She told Sinn Féin justice spokesman Martin Kenny that “97,000 cases have been heard since July in this particular area”.

Discussions are ongoing about expanding the hours of sittings within the District Court “to try and make sure as many cases as possible are heard”.

During question time in the Dáil, she also said that up to November 27th “1,941 hearings have been conducted remotely across all jurisdictions”.

In addition “remote hearing equipment will be installed in 43 more court rooms over the next few months which will allow more cases to be heard and further reduce the backlog”, the Minister said.

Ms McEntee added that “we need to see if there are enough judges and invest in digital technology”.

The Government allocated €5 million to the Courts Service in the July stimulus package and €1.7 million of that “will be invested before year end in ICT to install video technology systems to support holding remote courts”.

The Minister said this is part of her “overall plan to digitalise the justice sector in general and obviously the courts is a huge part of that”.

Highlighting the tens of thousands of cases caught in a bottleneck because of the pandemic, Mr Kenny said “there are up to 95,000 now in a backlog and about 4,500 summonses are being generated a week on top of that”.

Mr Kenny called for more investment to ensure more staff as case numbers were dramatically cut for social distancing reasons.

He said cases caught up in the backlog that “some of it is family issues and others are small cases of criminal matters which normally would not be something that would be overbearing on people”.

But he said “because it is going on for so long and it’s hanging over them and can’t be dealt with and continue to be deferred it is causing a lot of pressure”.

The Sligo-Leitrim TD added that there was also pressure on solicitors and the legal profession who have expressed frustration at the delays and trying to get access for their clients to the courts.

Ms McEntee acknowledged that there were 122,000 summonses “in terms of the initial backlog and huge work has been done to clear that and 97,000 cases have been heard since July in this particular area”.

She said that courts have continued to sit on priority matters, particularly in the area of family law and similar matters, especially cases involving people in custody, bail, urgent injunctions and domestic violence cases.

The Minister added that the courts “have shown impressive innovation and adaptability during the pandemic in maintaining vital services”.

The Courts Service spokesman said it was not uncommon for there to be up to 30,000 summonses waiting for a listing.

The Courts Service receives 4,600 new summons applications for hearings in the District Court every week.

The service now has 47,000 summonses scheduled for court hearings from July to mid-October.