The Courts Service’s annual report for 2020 shows that, while the number of personal-injury cases coming before the courts fell last year, there was an increase in the number of serious criminal cases.
The courts body also said that increased pressures on family life, due to COVID-19 restrictions, were likely to have contributed to an increase in applications linked to divorce and domestic violence.
The Courts Service also recorded what it described as a “remarkable” drop in the number of cases linked to personal finances and debt.
The report shows that a sharp rise in drugs cases before the district courts continued in 2020 – up 16% to 38,635. This figure has now risen by 66% over the past four years.
Fewer minor crimes
Overall, the number of serious crime cases and appeals coming before the courts last year rose by 15% to 21,322. The figure for the Circuit Criminal Courts was up 11% to 18,275, and has jumped by just over 30% over the past four years.
The Special Criminal Court received cases involving 116 offences and 31 defendants last year – up from 70 offences involving 24 defendants in 2019.
The report shows, however, that there was a reduction in the number of less serious and minor crimes coming to the District Courts – down 6% to 382,455.
New personal-injury cases filed were down 19% to 17,810 last year, with an €8 million drop in the total amount of awards at High Court level, and a €5 million (22%) reduction in the circuit civil court.
The Personal Injuries Assessment Board yesterday (27 July) said that COVID-19 restrictions had also led to fewer claims coming before it last year.
Divorce applications up
The family-law courts – which remained open during the pandemic – recorded an increase of almost 30% in new applications for divorce.
There was also a 12% increase in the number of protections against domestic violence sought, with a 27% rise in childcare orders aimed at protecting the interest and safety of vulnerable children.
The courts body’s report shows that the number of domestic-violence applications sought from the courts over the past five years has jumped by 65% to 22,970.
Government policy on debt
The Courts Service believes a sharp fall in personal-finance cases may have been due to a number of factors – including Government policy or guidance not to pursue certain debt actions. An increase in savings may have also enabled some people to tackle legacy issues of debt, the report says, adding that a rise in such actions is expected after restrictions are lifted.
New property-possession cases dropped by almost three-quarters – just 327 cases, compared with 1,217 in 2019. The Courts Service points out, however, that cases in this area had already been falling in recent years.
There was a 44% fall in new recovery-of-debt cases, with a 77% drop in new bankruptcy summonses, and a 65% decrease in bankruptcy petitions. Personal-insolvency cases filed at the Circuit Court were down 28% compared with 2019.
The report shows the knock-on effects of pandemic restrictions on commercial cases coming before the courts, with a 70% fall in licensing applications as pubs and nightclubs closed for much of last year.
Small claims recorded a 23% decrease, while employment-law cases dropped from 113 in 2019 to just 16 last year. There was, however, an increase in new cases on the High Court’s commercial list.