The courts have implemented five years’ of change thinking, planning and actions in the space of five recent months, the Chief Justice Frank Clarke said this morning, launching the Courts Service annual report.
The Courts Service has been working to restore throughput to the maximum extent possible in the light of government COVID-19 guidance and regulation, he said.
Additional legislative measures approved by the cabinet will expand the use of video conferencing and begin the use of electronic filing.
The chief justice also welcomed a commitment in the Programme for Government to establish a process to identify the current and medium-term requirement for judicial numbers, and also to advance a new structure for the delivery of family justice.
The Courts Service’s Digital First programme is also under discussion with Department of Justice officials.
“We can also expect the report of the Civil Justice Review Committee, which former President Peter Kelly has chaired, to be published by the end of September.
“These will form important building blocks for the development of a significantly modernised civil courts structure in the coming years,” the chief justice said.
He added that further discussions are afoot about securing additional premises in which criminal jury actions can be tried, given that the space requirements to conduct such cases in accordance with social distancing are now so much greater.
The chief justice welcomed the announcement of additional funding so as to enable the Hammond Lane project to go ahead.
He said that after discussion with the Justice Secretary General it was agreed that it might be useful to have direct judicial input into various bodies which are planning for the future.
“I think we all realise that some things are exclusively judicial and some things are exclusively policy but there are many areas which lie in the intersection which involve elements of both and where mutual input from all sides can produce a much better result.
“The medium term groups established to look at, respectively, criminal and civil justice in these difficult times are a case in point. I was delighted to be able to nominate judges to those groups and my understanding is that they are working very effectively.
“To like mind, I have also now nominated judges to be part of the Family Justice Oversight Group which will engage with practical aspects of the implementation of the policy behind the new family court structure.”
The chief justice concluded that the plans under discussion will probably require three to four years before they can come to fruition.
“The 2019 Courts Service Report may, therefore, provide a very useful benchmark against which we can measure progress in, say, 2023 or at the time of the centenary of the independent Irish courts in 2024,” he said.