“It is herefore urgent to commence the process,” the report says, urging Ireland to buil on the digital tools and lessons learned during the pandemic to mainstream technology into procedural steps and trials.
It contemplates using temporary, part-time and retired judges to provide flexibility to address temporary resource needs.
“The Irish justice system is currently experiencing a shortage of judges, has limited case management capacity, and court operations are not as efficient as they could be,” the report states.
Technological infrastructure needs to be upgraded to manage and collect data from court cases, it adds.
Access to solid data that holistically reflects the work of the judges and the courts is essential to predicting court resources needed for the future, and in ensuring proper court and case management.
There should be advanced succession planning and early ‘onboarding’ to smooth staff transition between new and retiring judges, and to avoid gaps in case management.
The report also points out that judicial qualification criteria remain generic and are currently not differentiated by court position.
Judges will need a lot more training – in ‘soft skills’ and IT use, as well as on alternatives to custody in criminal cases. Future needs include new requirements on EU law training.
Beefed-up HR processes
The OECD desires to see beefed-up human-resource processes in selecting and hiring judges, and in performance management thereafter.
Digital tools and data collection should be used to create a more efficient justice system that safeguards access to justice, it says, underpinned by a clearer understanding of the human resources needed and the factors that drive efficient court performance.
Effective justice institutions are critical for protecting democratic values and strengthening the social contract between citizens and State, the report states, adding that Ireland has already launched an ambitious strategy to build a more inclusive, efficient and sustainable justice sector.
The study uses comparable data from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
There is scope to increase judicial positions at every court level in Ireland to enable smooth court operations, the OECD states.
The study suggests the notional need for an average minimum increase of 26.2% in full-time judgeships, while further efficiency gains could result from the improved, more streamlined court operations.
Additional temporary judicial positions are required to manage case backlogs generated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Judicial back-up teams are needed to cover for sick leave, holidays and targeted backlog reduction efforts, the OECD states.
Flexible judicial-hiring options
The study recommends more flexible judicial-hiring options, with safeguards for judicial independence in place.
Teams of legal staff should be created to:
- Assist with compiling all backlogged cases,
- Review them to screen out settled cases,
- Compiling issues lists, and
- Develop solid case-management plans with the parties to resolve cases.
At the same time, more support staff are needed for judges and operations at several court levels.
The OECD wants a long-term strategy for the judiciary at each court level, framed by a broader joint strategic outlook for the Irish justice system as a whole.
Human-resources management should be strengthened through evidence-based planning, additional training, specialisation, and strategies to attract and retain a highly-qualified and diverse pool of applicants to the judicial profession.
Carrying out a review of staff support and training needs could support these efforts.
Judicial Planning Working Group
Another report, from the Judicial Planning Working Group (JPWG) – which is also an in-depth assessment of judicial need – has suggested that the State may need up to 108 additional judges over the next five years.
The OECD points to limitations in the collection and use of justice data in Ireland, with no collation for the purpose of case and court management, limiting official capacity to manage resource allocation effectively and assess case trends and their impact on judicial operations.
The report points to inefficiencies in case management and identifies scope for procedural simplification, suggesting that automation could address this issue.
Case-and court-specific timelines could be developed in the short-term through collaboration between the judiciary and the Courts Service, enabling the development of broader court performance measures, the OECD recommends.