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Administration of Justice

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Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter)

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Snippet Contents:

I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 and 177 together.
As the Deputy will be aware, under the Courts Service Act 1998, the management and administration of the courts is a matter for the Courts Service while the allocation of the business of the courts, scheduling of cases and management of lists are matters for the judiciary and in particular the Presidents of the courts. The Deputy will also be aware that judges are, subject to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of their judicial functions. There are particular difficulties with the Supreme Court list which continues to experience lengthy waiting times now in excess of four years. Waiting times for priority cases are 9-12 months at present and the Chief Justice has recently directed that no new cases be admitted to the priority list unless it can be clearly demonstrated that it is an exceptional case where there are urgent grounds necessitating a priority hearing. Such urgent grounds would include appeals directly affecting the custody of an individual, child abduction, urgent family law matters, and appeals with urgent and systemic constitutional implications.
Although considerable efforts are being made by the Chief Justice to manage waiting times, the issue of capacity in the Supreme Court can only be fully resolved through the establishment of a Court of Appeal. I recently announced my intention to establish a Court of Appeal with both criminal and civil jurisdiction. The Government is committed to the holding of a Constitutional referendum on Article 34 which is necessary to achieve this and work has commenced in my Department in this regard. It is intended that the referendum will take place, together with at least one other referendum, in the autumn. The proposed Amendment would, if passed, allow for the establishment of modern court structures including a Court of Appeal and a new family court structure. These proposals have the potential to achieve significant change to the structure of our courts which have remained largely unchanged since 1924.