The cancellation of several High Court hearing lists outside Dublin due to a shortage of judges could delay hundreds of cases and is causing serious concerns among lawyers.
The cancellations, announced on different dates since the new law term began in October, affected planned sittings in Cork and Kilkenny.
Sittings in Dundalk and Waterford, both due to start from next week, have also been cancelled.
The High Court lost five judges earlier this law term as a result of their appointment to the Court of Appeal. It had previously lost the services of another judge, Mr Justice Brian Cregan, following his appointment as the sole member of the Siteserv tribunal.
According to sources, the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly had, some 18 months ago, well before losing the five judges to the Court of Appeal, made a case to the Government that the High Court requires an additional six judges to cope with the demands on it and to ensure an efficient service over the coming years.
Arising from the appointments to the Court of Appeal, the Government recently announced five appointments to the High Court, which leaves the court with seven judges less than Mr Justice Kelly considers is necessary.
Seals of office
The new High Court judges will receive their seals of office next week and will begin work on December 9th.
As a result of the shortage of judges, Mr Justice Kelly earlier this term announced the cancellation of sittings of the High Court in Cork to deal with judicial review and non-jury cases.
That cancellation was followed by a decision to cancel hearings of personal injuries and circuit appeals case in Kilkenny set for last month.
Most recently, Mr Justice Kelly announced the cancellation of sittings ofthe High Court in Dundalk and the south eastern circuit appeals list in Waterford, both due to begin on December 2nd.
Barristers and solicitors, including the president of the Kilkenny Solicitors Association, who wrote to the Courts Service expressing concern about the cancellations were informed those were directly related to a shortage of judges.
Among those concerned about the situation is solicitor Richard Grogan of Richard Grogan & Associates, who said the High Court has been "decimated" of judges in recent years. The current situation means serious adverse effects for lawyers and litigants who incur additional costs and stress as a result of having their cases delayed, he said.
The situation is causing “huge frustration” and it is notable it is also happening in a context where the government has highlighted the opportunities for Ireland, as a common law country, in the event of Brexit, he added.
He said the lack of sufficient judges affects all High Court lists, including in Dublin, for reasons including that the level of extra work means judges have to take on the hearing of more and more cases.
This means there can be insufficient time to prepare judgments,leading to more delays for litigants, he said.