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Law Society praise for highest-ever budgetary allocation to justice sector
2019/20 Law Society President Michele O'Boyle Pic: Cian Redmond

14 Oct 2020 / law society Print

Law Society praise for highest-ever budgetary allocation to justice sector

The Law Society has welcomed a record level of funding announced today for the justice sector, which it says will preserve access to justice during the pandemic and enable the courts system to take advantage of modern technology.

Commenting on the measures announced by Ministers Donohoe and McGrath, Law Society President Michele O’Boyle said: “The allocation of €3 billion to the justice sector is very welcome and, critically, it will go a long way towards preserving access to justice in these difficult times.”

“The Law Society has long advocated for significant investment in digital and ICT capabilities, particularly in the courts system. The complexities of operating during the pandemic accelerated the urgency of this issue,” said President O’Boyle. 

“I particularly welcome the announcement of a total gross allocation of €158.8 million for the courts system, with €8 million specifically directed towards a much needed and long-awaited Courts Modernisation Programme.”

Priority issues

President O’Boyle continued: “Other Law Society priority issues, such as Criminal Legal Aid and the Legal Aid Board, have also been recognised in today’s Budget.

“An additional €3.7 million and €2 million, respectively, for these vital programmes will have an important, positive impact on preserving access to justice.”

Minister for Justice and Equality, Helen McEntee has welcomed the highest ever budgetary allocation for the justice sector.  

The record €3 billion allocation for 2021 will fund:

  • The recruitment of extra Gardaí and Garda staff,
  • The reform and upgrade of digital infrastructure across the justice sector,
  • The Courts Service modernisation programme, as well as wider changes across the sector.

In addition to the 2021 Budget allocation, Minister McEntee is also in discussions with the Minister for Public Expenditure on securing additional funding to allow An Garda Síochána to immediately increase their fleet of vehicles, fund overtime, and buy extra PPE and other equipment to help with COVID-19 and wider policing.

A total of 70 new cars will help An Garda Síochána to replace some cars hired for COVID use with permanent additions to the Garda fleet. These will be funded by a supplementary estimate for 2020.

Tackling violence

The minister also said she was pleased to announce extra funding to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

This includes an allocation for the implementation of the recommendations of the O’Malley Report on Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences

The €3 billion allocation for 2021 includes:

  • Up to 620 new Garda recruits and 500 Garda staff, who will help free up more Gardaí for frontline duties,
  • €42 million to modernise the justice sector through increased digital and ICT investment, including €8 million for the Courts Modernisation Programme and €5 million for the Department of Justice ICT strategy,
  • €27 million for COVID-related measures,
  • An extra €10 million in capital expenditure and €4.4 million in current expenditure for Forensic Science Ireland,
  • €2.7 million in increased funding to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, as well as support for victims, 
  • An extra €2 million to fund additional staffing for the Data Protection Commission and help it achieve its goal of having well in excess of 200 staff by the end of 2021,
  • An overall increase of €147 million in current expenditure and €51 million capital funding in the Justice sector, bringing the total justice increase for Budget 2021 to almost €200 million.

James Browne, the Minister of State for Law Reform, welcomed the additional budget funding to support his priorities such as youth justice programmes and the establishment of the Office of the Gambling Regulator.

Scourge

Minister Browne said: “As a way of tackling and reducing the scourge of anti-social behaviour in our cities, towns and villages, I welcome the increase of €500,000 in Budget 2021 for youth justice interventions, bringing the total allocation for these measures to almost €18million.

“This is incredibly important work and I’m delighted to see it being supported, as research indicates that early intervention is crucial in helping young people to turn away from a life of crime.”

Minister McEntee said “We must continue to properly fund our frontline services in the justice sector as they serve the public throughout the pandemic. Our frontline workers must feel safe themselves while they work to keep us safe.”

COVID funding for 2021 will cover:

  • €13 million for PPE for An Garda Síochána,
  • €5.7 million for increased PPE, cleaning and healthcare costs for the Irish Prison Service,
  • €5.7 million for the Courts Service, including for additional premises in Dublin and regional locations to enable court sittings to take place in a socially distanced and safe environment,
  • €0.4 million extra funding for organisations and groups responding to increased service demands from people impacted by domestic abuse.
  • The additional €400,000 for 2021 will provide extra remote counselling services, and help keep helplines open, as well as welfare packs and other practical supports for those most vulnerable. 

Modernisation

Minister McEntee said: “Driving the modernisation and digital agenda across the justice sector to ensure that our services are efficient and easily accessible to all who need them is a key priority for me as Minister for Justice.

“New funding of €42 million builds on previous investment. This prioritisation of technology and modernisation will lead to a significant payback of improved public services right across the sector and I am particularly pleased to have secured additional ICT spending in key areas.

On patrol

“For Gardaí, time saved on dealing with paperwork in the station means more time on patrol and on the frontline. This will also help the Government implement the reforms outlined in ‘A Policing Service for the Future’, which followed on from the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.

“The new modernisation programme in the Courts Service is central to the reforms I want to drive across the justice system. We need to keep pace with the changes in society and this involves increasing the use of the tools and technology that will make it easier and quicker for people to resolve disputes and access justice.” 

The minister added that funding will allow reform of the immigration area, where too many operations are still paper-based, and this will help speed up services to the public.”

And €8 million will be allocated for the first year of the Court Modernisation Programme, which includes almost €4 million in respect of ICT investment, with €5 million for the justice ICT strategy.

Garda vote

The total gross allocation for the Garda vote in 2021 is a record €1.952 billion, with provision for the following:

  • The recruitment of up to 620 new Garda recruits and 500 Garda staff, to a strength of 14,700 by end-2021, with a further 300 recruits in training in Templemore,
  • An increase in supervisory ranks at sergeant and inspector level,
  • Maintaining the overtime budget of €95million for 2021,
  • Additional funding for Garda equipment, including personal security equipment,
  • €8 million for continued investment in the Garda fleet in addition to the highest ever investment of approximately €15 million in the Garda Transport Fleet in 2020,
  • €34 million for the Capital Building and Refurbishment Programme including, the project to relocate An Garda Síochána from Harcourt Square to a new purpose-built building at Military Road in Dublin’s Kilmainham.

Justice and Equality vote

The Justice and Equality vote increases by €56.1 million (13.4%) on the comparative 2020 allocation, bringing the total gross allocation to €474 million.

Legal Aid Board 

An increased provision of over €2 million in 2021 will bring total funding to €44.6 million, a 6% increase to enable the board to recruit additional staff and enhance delivery of its services.

Forensic Science Ireland

Forensic Science Ireland plays a key role in the criminal justice sector and additional funding of €4.4 million in current expenditure and €10 million in capital expenditure has been provided.

The capital budget is almost €51 million supporting the construction of FSI’s new state-of-the-art laboratory in Backweston, Co. Kildare.

Other areas in receipt of additional funding are as follows:

  • Criminal Assets Bureau (€0.9 million) – total allocation €9.96 million,
  • Inspector of Prisons resources (€0.75 million) – total allocation €1.95 million,
  • Probation Service (€1.05 million) – total allocation for Probation Service €50 million,
  • Criminal Legal Aid (€3.7 million) – total allocation €69 million,
  • Youth Justice Interventions (€0.5 million) – total allocation €14.5 million,
  • Funding for victims of crime (€0.3 million) – total allocation €2.2 million,
  • Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal (€7 million) – total allocation €11 million,
  • Coroner Service €10.2 million including for the Stardust Inquest – total allocation €13 million,
  • Parole Board (€0.75 million) – total allocation €1.33 million – to support the commencement of the Parole Act in the course of 2021, 
  • Asylum processing – an additional €1.750 million for the efficient functioning of the international protection system,
  • Gambling Regulator (€0.1 million) – total allocation for establishment support €0.2 million,
  • Judicial Council (€0.5 million) – total allocation €1.750 million,
  • Property Services Regulatory Authority (€0.7 million) – total allocation €3 million,
  • Funding for the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) (€196,000) – the Department’s allocation has been trebled to a total allocation of €294,000. 

Prisons vote

The Prisons Vote will have a current expenditure budget of €358.5 million in 2021 and a capital budget of €36 million, mainly to complete the redevelopment of Limerick Prison. This represents an increase of €15 million in the capital allocation for 2021. 

The Prison Vote has received €1.65 million in additional funding to strengthen corporate governance.

A further €5.7millionhas been made available for a range of other services including security costs, prisoner services and an increased maintenance budget of €2 million for the prison estate

Courts vote

The total gross allocation of €158.8 million for the Courts Vote includes an allocation of €8 million for the new Courts Modernisation Programme.

Minister McEntee said: “The Courts Service has already shown impressive innovation and adaptability during the pandemic.”

Policing Authority

The Policing Authority has a gross allocation of €3.8 million including an additional €350,000 in respect of updated recruitment processes to senior ranks of An Garda Síochána.

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