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Circuit Court divorce applications up by 11% to 5,856

28 Jul 2022 / court Print

Circuit Court divorce applications up 11% to 5,856

New Circuit Court personal-injury actions were down by 15% in 2021, according to the Courts Service’ annual report – from 17,810 in 2020 to 15,071.

The report describes the “immediate impact” of the personal-injuries guidelines with a spike in new applications in April 2021 to almost 1,200, with numbers averaging 280 per month for the rest of the year.

However, a final picture has not yet emerged. Of 27 cases that began after April 2021, 16 were settled with terms not revealed.

Average award amounts

The average award for the remaining 11 came in at just under €136,000, with awards ranging from over €450,000 to €30,000.

Under the terms of the Judicial Council Act 2019, the guidelines must be reviewed within three years of being adopted, and every three years thereafter.

There were:

  • 5,145 cases in the High Court – a 23% decrease on the 6,682 cases in 2020,
  • 8,856 in the Circuit Court – a 12% decrease on the 10,083 cases in 2020,
  • 1,045 in the District Court, a 2% increase on the 1,045 cases in 2020.

The lowest amount awarded in the High Court in 2021 was €2,154, and the highest was €30 million, with total awards of €281,832,361.

There were total Circuit Court awards of €21,949,204, while the District Court figures stood at €3,809,294. Its highest pay-out was €17,500.

The High Court heard 84 medical negligence cases with awards ranging from €7,000 to €30 million, and a total pay-out of €203,600,714 – up from the 2020 figure of €183,128,023.

There was a 24% increase in High Court negligence cases in 2021 with 260 cases, up from 210 in 2020.

Defamation cases down

New High Court defamation cases also reduced by one quarter, to 109 from 156 in the previous year. Assault cases were down to 114, from 164 the previous year.

Property (possession) cases were up 75% from 272 to 477 in the Circuit Court last year.

The reduction in high-street commerce during the pandemic is reflected in District Court small claims going down by 40%, having already dropped 20% the previous year, writes Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell in his foreword.

Circuit Court divorce applications increased by 11%, but there was also swifter progression in family-law progression hearings, with a 35% increase in finalised cases.

There were 5,856 new cases, with 4,279 cases finalised.

Licensing applications

The pandemic also brought a drop in licensing applications, which were down 18% across the District and Circuit Courts, following a 70% decrease in 2020.

New matters before the District Court decreased by 7.5%, with a 35% increase in cases resolved, a 40% increase in orders made in respect of road-traffic offences, and a 37% increase in orders made in summary cases.

The District Court also recorded a 31% increase in indictable offences dealt with summarily.

The courts remained extremely busy in 2021, with 531,000 new cases. The report notes a one-third increase in the numbers of criminal cases finalised.

Criminal-law stats

391,233 new criminal matters were brought to the courts, with 298,917 cases resolved,

There was a one-third increase in finalised criminal matters – up 32% from 225,776 in 2020, to 298,917 in 2021,

There was a one-third increase in the numbers of serious criminal cases before the Circuit Court over the past six years,

There was a 57% increase in the numbers of murder and serious sexual-offence trials held.

There were also 20,634 video-link appearances with the Irish Prison Service. The calculated saving to the State was €7,127,400, the report says.

The number of new video technology-enabled courtrooms increased from 59 in 2019 to 104 in 2021.

Pilot charge-sheet project

A pilot project to electronically transfer charge-sheet offences from An Garda Síochána began in Q4 of 2021.

The Courts Service currently receives 100,000 typewritten charge sheets from An Garda Síochána each year, and the data is then re-entered.

Initial pilot results are promising, the annual report has said.

Mr Justice Colin Daly of the Circuit Court comments in the report that a planning dispute concluded two days’ early as a result of a blended hearing with the use of video technology.

The Central Criminal Court continued its practice of sitting outside of Dublin, with hearings in Cork, Castlebar, Kilkenny, Sligo, Tullamore, and Waterford. 

Family law trends

Chief executive Angela Denning points out in her foreword that the high level of divorce applications reflects societal trends, and the difficulties experienced by families during lockdown.

Divorce and domestic violence matters were prioritised by the courts during the pandemic, she adds.

2021 saw:

  • 810 barring orders granted,
  • 6,917 protection orders granted,
  • 2,461 safety orders granted,
  • 1,141 interim barring orders granted,
  • 291 other orders granted.

Since 2018, there has been a year-on-year increase in protection order applications.

Monday motion lists in the High Court continue to be dealt with remotely, to the benefit of legal representatives who no longer must spend time waiting for short matters to come up, Denning stated.

The wards-of-court list is also dealt with remotely or on a hybrid basis, allowing family members to attend, as appropriate. Examiners’ office business is also being conducted remotely.  

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