Six more judges due this year for the High Court

 

The Government has approved two additional posts for High Court judges and will provide four more by the beginning of the new term in October, the Courts Service has announced.

Mr P.J. Fitzpatrick, its chief executive officer, said the appointments were being given high priority by the High Court Board.

Mr Fitzpatrick, who was speaking at a seminar to mark the 10th anniversary of the Victims Support Group, said the board was very conscious of the distinct lack of judges in the High Court at the moment and the subsequent long delays in bringing cases to trial.

He said the Courts Service and the board shared the concerns expressed by Mr Justice Paul Carney, who had earlier addressed the seminar as keynote speaker.

Mr Justice Carney has frequently voiced his concerns about the delays during court hearings where several jury panels in the past month alone had to be sent home because there was no work for them without a trial judge.

He said at the seminar that speaking out on the issue might be a mere symbolic gesture from him, as his powers to take practical issues on the matter were limited."Yet symbolism is better than indifference," he said.

In speaking about the delays in return to trial, he referred to the Royal Commission on Assizes and Quarter Sessions (1966-1969), a review of the British court systems, by Lord Beeching which said the limit of acceptability for a case getting on was between four and eight weeks.

According to the review, which has been adopted as a guideline here, "under four weeks was too short, over eight weeks was totally unacceptable for both custody and bail cases." He said that while the Circuit Criminal Court was able to meet this criterion, cases in the High Court, which deals almost exclusively with murder and rape, took more than 18 months to reach a hearing.

Mr Justice Carney described the situation as "chronic and out of control". He said it was bound to get worse in the future as all dates in 2003 had already been occupied and the only dates now available for murder and rape trials were in 2004.