Access to justice: The case for more judges

We need a legal system that is fit for purpose and does not impose inordinate delays and exorbitant costs on those who have to use it

 

The Oireachtas should heed the strictures of Mr Justice Richard Humphreys about the need for more judges to meet the ever greater demands on the court system.

Addressing the Parnell Summer School, the High Court judge pointed out that the State was “rock bottom” in Europe on the number of judges per head of population. He said there were at present 163 judges to cover a population of 4.8 million people, or 34 judges per million. The average number of judges in most European countries was seven times the Irish figure.

He is not the first judge to complain about inadequate numbers on the bench. In April the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, and his colleague Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, in separate courts on the same day, drew attention to the difficulty in managing High Court lists due to an insufficient number of judges.

These complaints should prompt the Oireachtas to end the squabbling over the terms of the Judicial Appointments Bill and at least ensure that outstanding judicial vacancies are filled immediately and that the question of appointing more judges is examined seriously.

The judges themselves also have a responsibility to conduct their work in a fashion that allows cases to be concluded efficiently and speedily. The inordinate length of time it takes for many cases to get to court and the length of some trials is something over which judges have direct control.

Another serious problem that has not been confronted, despite the pressure applied by the EU-IMF troika during the bailout, is the scandalous scale of legal fees in this country. The result is that most citizens do not have access to justice and the cost to the State, business and ultimately the taxpayer is far greater than it need be.

Politicians and judges need to engage in an honest examination of all the issues involved and get to the heart of the problem to ensure that we have a legal system that is fit for purpose and does not impose inordinate delays and exorbitant costs on those who have to use it.

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