The Courts Service Annual Report 2017 was presented to the Minister for Justice and Equality by the Chief Justice Mr. Justice Frank Clarke on 17th July.
The Report refers to the 650,000 matters that came before the courts last year – of which 427,000 were criminal offences. The net cost to the State of running the courts was €85 million inclusive of investment in infrastructure and capital projects. The courts collected over €10 million in fines and generated €45 million in court fees.
The Report highlights the constant level of many areas of work in the courts, and changes in others. The Chief Justice said that while numbers and statistics can never tell the full story, they can offer a broad stroke vista of levels of activity.
There was a 16% increase in new appeals in the Supreme Court and a doubling of new appeals resolved. Despite utilising all available resources, appeals lodged in the Court of Appeal exceeded the number disposed of. At High Court and Circuit Court level there were increases in defamation and personal injury cases, and slight deceases in divorce and judicial separation applications. And after several years of increases, the number of possession orders made in both jurisdictions decreased. At District Court level there was a slight increase in applications under the domestic violence legislation. The Chief Justice pointed out that these “increases and decreases might well reflect changes in the law, or in the environment in which we conduct commerce or organise society”.
He said that the matters coming before the courts were administered and heard by 160 judges supported by over 1,025 staff, 48 judicial assistants and 50 court criers. He pointed out that the Presidents of the jurisdictions continue to introduce initiatives to improve the efficient disposal of cases.
“We work to achieve a greater understanding of our courts through access programmes for students and community based groups. We are improving our presence on social media sites and video channels, and continue to share news via our quarterly e-zine. One initiative to bring access to the courts and understanding of the justice system to a wider audience saw decisions of the Supreme Court broadcast on TV for the first time in 2017”.
The Courts Service capital investment programme saw three courthouses completed in 2017 – in Drogheda, Letterkenny and Wexford – offering world class facilities and services to court users. The Chief Justice said that “in all of our investments we seek to accommodate the needs of all who use our courts. It is particularly pleasing that there are now victim support/vulnerable witness rooms in over 50 courthouses across the country”.