Rules must be changed to widen access to justice – Chief Justice

‘High costs and outdated procedures’ deter many people from taking legal action

 Mr Justice Frank Clarke was making his first major speech since replacing Susan Denham as Chief Justice. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Mr Justice Frank Clarke was making his first major speech since replacing Susan Denham as Chief Justice. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The civil justice system must be reformed to allow access to justice for all citizens, the Chief Justice has said.

Mr Justice Frank Clarke, in his first major speech since replacing Susan Denham in the role, said current court procedures meant litigation was not an option for many people due to the high costs involved.

It is understood the Chief Justice intends to make the issue of access to justice the centrepiece of his tenure.

In a speech to senior legal figures to mark the opening of the new law term, Mr Justice Clarke said there was little doubt “that at least some aspects of our civil procedural model are beyond their sell-by dates”, noting that many of the rules of court date to 1870.

He said there was little point “in having a good court system, likely to produce fair results in accordance with law, if a great many people find it difficult or even impossible to access that system for practical reasons”.

Discovery

It is believed Mr Justice Clarke is particularly concerned with the current system of exchanging evidence before a hearing – a process known as discovery. Ireland’s discovery procedures are complicated and can greatly increase the length and cost of a case, and have led to situations where well-resourced litigants can purposefully draw out the process and run up legal costs to the point where their opponents must drop out of the case.

The Chief Justice’s comments come at a time of huge pressure on civil legal aid resources. According to the latest data, individuals are waiting up to 31 weeks for an initial consultation with a legal aid solicitor.The expense of litigation is also forcing many people, particularly those at risk of eviction due to mortgage arrears, to represent themselves in court.