Chief Justice Frank Clarke to address major conference on access to justice

Contributions from incoming Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell and Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys will also feature

Chief Justice Frank Clarke. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Chief Justice Frank Clarke. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

A conference aimed at helping improve access to justice across many sectors, including for the poor and disadvantaged, opens on Friday.

The two-day event is hosted by a working group set up by Chief Justice Frank Clarke and will feature contributions from him, incoming Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell, Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys and Judge Siofra O’Leary of the European Court of Human Rights.

Other contributors include Independent Senator Eileen Flynn and disability activist Robbie Sinnott.

The conference will discuss barriers to access and the steps being taken to address some of those, including plans for implementation of some 90 recommendations of a major report of the review group on reform of the administration of civil justice.

Many stakeholders agree a major barrier to access is litigation costs, particularly in the higher courts.

A majority of the working group recommended legal cost reforms should be addressed via non-binding guidelines.

A minority, including the group’s chair, former High Court president Peter Kelly, expressed the view that prescribing maximum costs levels is necessary. Judge Kelly previously remarked the level of costs effectively means only “paupers or millionaires” can access the higher courts.

Other issues for discussion include the impact of the growing numbers of personal litigants and how the courts should address this issue.

Up to 70 per cent of home repossession cases in the Circuit Court involve litigants in person and litigants in person also feature in about one third of appeals before the Court of Appeal.

The conference will also hear of the Courts Service’s ongoing scheme for modernisation of the courts’ IT systems, regarded as vital for improving access. Funding of some €9 million was advanced towards the modernisation programme for 2021.

In a press statement announcing the conference, Chief Justice Frank Clarke said it will ask: “How do we ensure that the constitutional guarantee of equality before the law is upheld in the day-today operations of the justice system, as Irish society becomes more diverse and the needs of different groups must increasingly be taken into account?”

“A major theme of the conference will be to ask how can we ensure that people have information to identify and address their legal problems in the first place, that alternative ways of resolving legal issues are organized, and how the court systems might be made accessible to all in terms of infrastructure, accessibility, technology, procedure as well as costs?”

The online conference is organised in conjunction with the Bar of Ireland, the Law Society, Legal Aid Board and the Free Legal Advice Centres.