A report published by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ), part of the Council of Europe, has found that European states spent an average of €79 a year per inhabitant on their legal systems in 2020 – up €7 since 2018.
CEPEJ found that a large majority of the 47 countries covered in the report increased the allocations to their justice systems in 2020, with an average rise of 8%.
Ireland did not provide data on the total budget for its judicial system in 2020, but the report shows that its spending on courts and prosecution services lagged behind the European median figures.
Spending per inhabitant for courts was €31.10 – below the European median of €43.53. Ireland’s €8.90 per inhabitant figure for prosecution services was also behind the median of €13.86.
There was an average of 22.2 judges per 100 000 people among the countries covered – up slightly from 2018, with significant differences between states.
Ireland had just 3.27 judges per 100,000 people – the lowest figure in the report, and well below the median of 17.6. The figure was also marginally lower than the 2018 figure of 3.29.
Ireland’s figure for the number of public prosecutors – 2.6 per 100,000 people – was also the lowest of the European countries covered in the report. The median figure was 11.1.
The percentage of female judges in Ireland in 2020 (39%) was also well below the average of 56%, but the 40% figure for court presidents in Ireland was slightly above the European average.
The report shows that Irish judges are relatively well-paid compared with their European counterparts.
They earned €129,704 a year at the start of their career in 2020. Only three countries paid judges more at the beginning of their career.
At the end of their career, Irish judges earned €208,854 a year.
The CEPEJ report says that, while there have been more female than male judges and prosecutors for several years, an under-representation of women in the highest roles remains.
“European lawyers are still predominantly male, but shifts in favour of women are also visible in this area,” the report points out.
The number of lawyers in the countries covered continues to increase – 172 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with 164 in 2018. The Irish figure was much higher, however, at 282.
More tech spending
The 2020 report found that justice systems were allocating a greater percentage of their budget to technology compared with previous years.
The CEPEJ report finds that Ireland scored 4.32 out of ten for use of technology in courts and case management in 2020 – below the European median of 6.5.
The report notes, however, that investment in technology increased sharply in Ireland in 2020, and was relatively high, accounting for almost 9% of court budgets.
Pandemic boosted efficiency
On COVID-19, it found that first-instance courts were most affected by the pandemic, with higher courts more efficient, though still below 2018 levels.
Courts seemed to be fastest in resolving criminal-law cases, while they were less efficient in administrative matters, according to the report.
Overall, the decrease in cases caused by the pandemic led to greater efficiency in processing cases. The report finds that 97% of cases received were processed in 2020, compared with 85% in 2018.