The cost of the new jobs on the bench will be €15-€18 million in phase one.
“We are doing this in recognition that the workload of our courts is significantly increasing,” he said.
Ireland had a low number of judges per head of population by international comparators, Minister Harris stated.
A new planning and environmental division, as well as the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act would add to this workload, he said.
However, the new jobs on the bench were contingent on efficiencies and reforms, the minister stressed.
Phase two of the planned jobs would not go ahead without implementation of a reform action plan, he said.
There would be an “action plan around performance” this year, with a particular focus on data, the minister said.
We needed much better data on our courts and how they worked, he said, and speeder access in matters of domestic violence.
“This is more collaborative than adversarial,” the minister said, adding that significant investment should bring better access to justice.
In his speech to the conference, the minister said that it was vital that fair and equal access to justice was a reality for everyone – not just those with the privilege of means or education.
The Civil Legal Aid Review group has extended the deadline for inputs to its public consultation.
“I encourage any organisation represented here today that has not yet made a submission to do so as soon as possible,” he said.
He added that he hoped for increased understanding and use of mediation and other alternative dispute-resolution methods, especially in family situations and business disputes, where people needed to maintain an ongoing relationship with the other party.
The Family Justice Strategy sets out a clear vision for a co-ordinated, consistent and user-focused family justice system, he said.
It contains a number of actions which stress the importance of children in the family justice system, and that the best interests of each child must be heard and considered – articulated by children themselves.
“Children must be supported through their own journey, rather than simply being some passive observer of a dispute which impacts them,” the minister said.
Alternatives to litigation
The Family Courts Bill 2022 encourage alternatives to litigation as part of its guiding principles.
But, recognising that some disputes will need recourse to court, the bill will create a new dedicated family court, within the existing courts structure, where Family Court judges with specialist training will be assigned on a full-time basis.
The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill will also introduce a requirement for a candidate for judicial office or promotion to demonstrate ongoing professional training.
The Judicial Planning Working Group report also highlighted the importance of developing a more structured system for planning and deploying judicial resources, the minister said.
Both the Working Group and the OECD have highlighted the need for extensive data collection and management, and pointed out that a substantial programme of change and improvement initiatives is needed, alongside the recruitment of additional judicial resources.
An action plan would be published later this year, Minister Harris said.
The Civil Justice Efficiencies and Reform Plan for implementing the 90 recommendations made in the Kelly report maps significant reform to civil law
These reforms include tackling the high cost of litigation and extending time-frames involved in legal cases.
They also include simplifying the language used in the Rules of Court, and harnessing digital technology.
“The reforms will not only help those who need legal services; they will also help legal professionals, the Courts Service and the judiciary do their best work and be future facing in how they approach their duties,” the minister said.
The Courts Service has invested over €2.2 million to increase the number of technology-enabled courtrooms from 55 in 2020 to 118 at the end of 2022.
These support remote and hybrid hearings, allowing parties, witnesses, prisoners or police to dial in to a physical courtroom and support digital evidence display, the minister added.
A further investment of €3.1m will provide 54 more technology-enabled courtrooms.