New President of the Law Society of Ireland calls for an end to all court closures: “Attack on justice continues outside Dublin

Kevin O’Higgins, the new President of the Law Society of Ireland, called for an end to all court closures across the country at his inauguration today.

“It is an honour to lead the solicitors’ profession particularly during a time when so many of us continue to face challenges following the recession. At the Law Society’s Annual General Meeting last night, I heard first hand the struggles our members and their clients are facing. We are reeling following several years of cutbacks to our Courts Service, which have left the justice system in many parts of the country damaged,” said Mr. O’Higgins. “Since 2008 seventy-seven court venues have closed across the country.”

“We recently welcomed the announcement by the Courts Service that they were cancelling the proposed closure of court venues in Swords, Dun Laoghaire, Balbriggan and Tallaght. Sense prevailed with that announcement, however, the attack on justice continues outside Dublin.”

“We know that the Courts Service is undertaking a county-wide review in County Tipperary and that court venues may be threatened with closure. Tipperary has already suffered cutbacks to court services and the consequent limitations on access to justice. Last year they became the only county in Ireland without a probate officer when that office was closed. With threats of further closures, the risk to access to justice for ordinary citizens in Tipperary is real.”

“Fewer court venues mean for every case they must attend, local Guards will be taken off the streets for as much as an entire day. Probation services officers would be taken away from their duties and HSE employees away from their work.”

“This isn’t cost reduction. It is cost transfer.”

“The budget of the Courts Service has been slashed by over 40%. However, these changes will mean other state budgets like the Gardai, local authorities, the HSE, and other state agencies will take the brunt of new expenditure.”

“When looking at the Government budget overall, justice will end up costing us all much more. That is not even taking into account the cost to the average citizen doing their civic duty as a witness or exercising their rights to access justice.”

“In Skibbereen – where the West Cork Bar Association has brought judicial review proceedings against the Courts Service to prevent the closure of the District Court – the cost of keeping the court open is estimated as low as €8,000 annually. If it is closed, what additional costs will the State incur when a member of An Garda Siochána or the HSE has to travel a considerable distance and spend an entire day away from their regular duties?”

“Our courts provide a service to citizens at times when they are vulnerable. Closing so many of our local courts amounts to a threat to these citizens in particular, who may require the urgent assistance of a District Court, such as in a domestic violence situation. We need to ensure people in these situations get the help and protection they need.”

“We urge the Courts Service to end all future court and court service closures in all parts of the country, not just in Dublin. The Law Society has already sought a meeting with the Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald on this important issue.”

President Kevin O’Higgins

Kevin O’Higgins began his term as President of the Law Society of Ireland for the year 2014/15, with effect from Friday, 7 November 2014. Mr O’Higgins is principal in the law firm Kevin O’Higgins, founded in 1990. He will serve a one-year term as president of the 14,000-strong solicitors’ profession until November 2015.

Kevin grew up in Dalkey and Sandycove in South County Dublin and comes from a well-known legal and political family. He is one of seven children of the late Chief Justice and Fine Gael politician and Government minister Tom O’Higgins and his mother Terry. He has five brothers and two sisters, one of whom is also a solicitor. Married to Gaye, they have three children, Sophie (26), Kevin (25), a trainee solicitor with Eugene F Collins, and Hugo (15).

Kevin was educated at CBC Monkstown and then boarded at Clongowes Wood College in Co Kildare. He was apprenticed with his uncle (also a Fine Gael TD at the time), Michael O’Higgins (of Hussey and O’Higgins, Solicitors – now Hussey Fraser). Following qualification in 1981, he worked with the firm J Delaney Gannon in Mohill, Leitrim, Arthur Cox and Felim Meade (T F O Connell Rooney & Co). He became a partner in the firm O’Higgins Dowling and, ultimately, set up his Blackrock-based practice in 1990 after a ten-year spell in Dun Laoghaire, alongside his great friend and school mate Gerard Lambe. He practises alongside three other sole practitioners: Ken Byrne, Niall Cawley and Pat Igoe, in an arrangement which he describes as “practice co-habitation”.

Kevin became a member of the Council of the Law Society of Ireland in 1998. He is a past-president of the Dublin Solicitors’ Bar Association. He has been a member of many of the Society’s most senior committees, including: the Future of the Law Society Task Force, Legal Services Regulation Bill Task Force, Coordination Committee, Finance Committee, Education Committee, and Guidance and Ethics Committee (as chairman), among others.