Courts Service still using IT system from 1990s, says chief executive

Angela Denning tells conference much of technology being used not fit for purpose

Unfit for purpose IT systems running the justice system remain in place despite intentions to replace them in the 1990s, the head of the Irish Courts Service has said.

Outlining a litany of historic and ongoing tech problems, chief executive Angela Denning said archaic, disjointed IT networks languished behind international standards.

She described a dysfunctional computer operation in which data is difficult to access, technology is outdated and unsupported, and reliant on a “multitude of systems that don’t talk to each other”.

The ICS technology and its use, all of which is due to be overhauled in line with a strategy published on Friday, services the nationwide physical administration of justice across 33 court offices and 11,000 staff.


“Many features of [the] current IT systems are not fit for purpose,” Ms Denning told the first day of an Access to Justice Conference. “When I joined the central office in 1995 I was told that the IT system would be gone in a couple of years. We’re still using it.”

Legacy systems do not support data sharing, a blind spot that caused “huge difficulty” for management during the pandemic lockdown around waiting times and identifying where larger court backlogs existed.

“IT in the court service requires particular attention because it was not resourced or configured to delivery effectively.”

However, despite the warts-and-all assessment of legacy problems, Ms Denning offered a favourable view of future plans to modernise the service generally. Expert staff have been recruited and Deloitte will assist with a three-year upgrade.

Teams will focus on four key reform areas – family, civil, criminal and organisational aspects of the ICS management. Budget funding has been sought for a “plain English” expert to look over its new website which attracts three million hits per year.

Pandemic technology introduced to facilitate remote testimony in cases, while basic, is world leading and certain to improve, Ms Denning said. A €2.2 million investment will provide 103 video enabled court rooms by the end of the year.

Chief Justice Frank Clarke, addressing the conference shortly before his retirement from the bench, tempered expectations regarding the pace of reform.

“You can’t shut down the justice system for four years while we build a nice new shiny one,” he said. “We have to keep it going while we are developing . . . the first call on resources has to be to keep the show on the road.” He also told the conference that sizeable investment required political support.

Addressing the broader theme of the conference, Mr Justice Clarke said Ireland is near the bottom of the international league table on the amount of money invested in the justice system.

While tax payers contribute much less for courts services, litigants pay far more than in other countries, he said.

“There are undoubtedly areas where the problems of access to justice can be particularly acute,” he said.

“Minorities, marginalised groups or the vulnerable obviously run a real risk of having less effective access to justice than others. Particular areas of the law also can throw up special challenges.”

The Government is due to introduce sweeping legislation shortly that will reform judicial review, discovery, multi-party actions and changes to improve court procedures.

Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys said the moves, based on recommendations contained in a review of the administration of civil justice chaired by Mr Justice Peter Kelly, would be brought before Government by the end of the month.

Ms Humphreys said it would include the simplification of court forms, wide ranging operational changes in Irish courts including more information for those without legal representation, and a comprehensive update of IT systems.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times