Frustration mounts over court delays as more judges sought

New judges expected to be announced within two weeks

An announcement by government of additional judges for the High Court is expected within the next two weeks as frustration in legal circles mounts over delays in having cases heard.

An announcement of at least three more High Court judges has been awaited for several weeks.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott, who manages the Central Criminal Court list, earlier this week expressed concern about the lack of judges available to him to run trials. Of six serious crime trials listed to open last Monday, including rape trials, just one got on for hearing late this week.

Bar Council Chairwoman Maura McNally said lawyers are increasingly concerned about the delays and their impact on access to justice.

“This government is good at banging the drum about access to justice and law and order but it won’t announce the appointments when it is clear more judges are needed, not just in the High Court but also the Circuit and District Courts,” she said.

Delays in getting cases heard worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic with some criminal cases now getting trial dates in late 2023 and early 2024, she said. “More than 100,000 summonses are awaiting hearing dates in Dublin,” she added.

Delays in the High Court are likely to be exacerbated with the retirement in the coming days of two judges assigned to the court's personal injuries list. Ms Justice Bronagh O'Hanlon retires on Friday and Mr Justice Kevin Cross retires next Thursday.

The retirement last September of another High Court judge, Mr Justice Michael White, created a vacancy in the Central Criminal Court list which has yet to be filled. The government has also to appoint a High Court judge to replace Mr Justice David Barniville, nominated last June for appointment to the Court of Appeal.

There is considerable frustration in legal circles about the delay, which can extend up to two months, in replacing judges who have either retired or been promoted. That problem has persisted over years.

High Court president Mary Irvine expressed concern in September that, due to a lack of judges, some cases listed for trial in October, including murder and rape cases, would not get on and faced being deferred into next year.

Current waiting times for trials in the Central Criminal Court and circuit criminal courts are between one and three years, with priority given to cases where the defendant is in custody and those involving children and vulnerable witnesses.

The government announced the appointment of five judges to the High Court in September. One of those, Ms Justice Marguerite Bolger, an employment law specialist, cannot take up her position for a number of months as she continues to act as government appointed facilitator of discussions concerning a new hospital consultants' contract.

The government earlier this year established a Judicial Resources Working Group to assess the judicial resources required by all courts. Submissions to the group must be provided by today Friday and it is due to report in April 2022.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times

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