High Court president’s forthright interview on ‘shortage’ of judges causes stir

Senior civil servants set for discussions with the heads of the five main courts

The Chief Justice and the presidents of the four other courts will hold discussions today with senior civil servants, who are due to report next year on the number of judges the Courts Service needs.

The meeting is being held in the wake of the publication of complaints by the president of the High Court, Ms Justice Mary Irvine, who has said the High Court alone needs 17 new judges, not the six so far appointed.

In an interview with Parchment magazine, published by the Dublin Solicitors Bar Association, Ms Justice Irvine said the High Court was in “a desperate scenario” because of the shortages. “To make a real difference, we need 17,” she said.

Ms Justice Irvine’s comments are understood to have caused surprise in the Department of Justice – one of the departments to be represented at today’s meeting – because of their forthright nature.


The courts’ heads have set up a committee to produce a report for the judicial planning working group to argue for significant extra resources, given extra demands caused by population growth and case law.

The working group comprises officials from the Department of Justice and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and is to hear from a number of bodies before drafting a report some time next year.

‘Investment needed’

Responding, Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys said legislation passed last month, which provided for five new High Court judges, and possibly six, was "one of the largest increases in judges in recent memory".

The chairwoman of the Bar Council, Maura McNally SC, said significant investment in staff, buildings and IT was needed. "People want their day in court, but many are at the end of their tether because of delays," she said.

People injured at work and with medical bills to pay, or those left waiting for years for a court hearing, or those unable to sell assets because of delays, “are all tearing their hair out”, she said.

The fast-track commercial court is “groaning” under its load, while changes to the European Arrest Warrant have also increased demand for judicial time, said Ms Justice Irvine.

She was appointed last year and did not believe she would be in post for five years, saying she wanted to have “great times with my grandchildren” while still in good health.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent