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Plan for civil-law shake-up is set out

27 May 2022 / justice Print

Plan for civil-law shake-up is set out

The Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has published a plan setting out how the recommendations of a report on civil-law reform will be implemented.

The report of the Review of the Administration of Civil Justice, headed by former High Court President Peter Kelly (pictured), was published in December 2020, and included more than 90 recommendations.

The Department of Justice has said that the plan announced today (27 May) will be implemented “on a phased basis up to the end of 2024”, and that progress reports will be submitted to Government each year.

A group – including members of the judiciary, Courts Service, and officials from a number of Government departments – has been set up to oversee the process.

Court procedures

The plan focuses on some key areas identified in the Kelly report – including the reform of court practices and procedures, and changes in the system of discovery – that would reduce delays in the system.

Another area of focus is the consideration of primary legislation for the non-statutory system of judicial review. This is aimed at improving the timeliness, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of the process.

Legislation to bring in a comprehensive multi-party action procedure in Ireland is also planned.

Separate streams will focus on reducing costs in the civil-law system, and modernising court facilities to help e-litigation.

Repetitive legislation ‘problematic’

The plan shows that the Department of Justice is proposing to introduce the changes recommended by way of two or more pieces of reforming legislation.

The first will support the changes recommended in the civil procedures in the courts, and those related to judicial reviews, as well as some items linked to the Courts Service’s modernisation programme.

The second legislative proposal will deal with the changes required in the areas of discovery, the costs of litigation, and multi-party litigation.

The department Is also looking at a proposal from the Courts Service for an “annual legislative vehicle” to introduce agreed changes, though the plan warns that repetitive changes to legislation or court rules can be “problematic”.

Reducing delays

Minister McEntee described the plan as “the most significant reform to civil law in the history of the State”, adding that it had the goal of enabling “easier, cheaper and quicker” access to civil justice by improving procedures, reducing the costs of litigation, and reducing delays.

She said that some of the actions set out under the plan had already been completed – including changes to court rules to encourage compliance with time limits to reduce delays.

“Substantial progress has also been made on the increased use of video-conferencing across courtrooms, and we will seek to continue to accelerate the digitalisation of our courts to ensure that justice is accessible for everyone,” the minister added.

Some of the main aims of the plan are:

  • The replacement of multiple court documents with a single document to start legal proceedings,
  • Simplification of the language and terminology in rules of court,
  • The promotion of video-conferencing for the taking of expert and other evidence,
  • An online information hub to provide dedicated legal and practical information for those considering bringing proceedings without professional representation,
  • Standardisation of arrangements for naming and vetting of suitability of next friend or guardian ad litem to act on behalf of a child in litigation,
  • Updated Courts Service customer charters to provide more specific measurements for performance and service levels, and
  • Legislation to provide for the introduction of a more efficient and more cost-effective regime for discovery, and to automatically discontinue cases not progressed in 30 months.

Costs research

Minister McEntee said that the plan announced today (27 May) was part of a broader reform programme for civil justice that included a review of the civil legal-aid system, the establishment of a dedicated family-court structure, and a report on the number of judges needed in the courts over the next five years.

The plan does not, however, include any proposals on whether to introduce a scale of legal costs – an area on which the Kelly review group was not able to reach a consensus.

The Department of Justice says that it has commissioned economic research in this area that will feed into proposals that the minister intends to bring to Government next year.

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