– Minister for Justice secures government approval for 24 additional judges to be appointed in 2023
– Report recommends a second phase of 20 judges in two phases by 2024
– Significant investment will support establishment of Planning and Environmental Court and dedicated Family Courts
– Reforms and efficiencies at centre of investment plan
The Minister for Justice Simon Harris TD has today announced that he has secured Government approval to dramatically increase the number of judges to facilitate greater access to justice, support the Government’s priorities to establish a Planning and Environmental Court and dedicated Family Courts, and to clear Covid backlogs.
Minister Harris’s intention is to appoint an initial tranche of 24 new judges in 2023, with a further 20 new judges following the implementation of reforms and efficiencies.
This decision comes following Government approval earlier this week to publish the report of the Judicial Planning Working Group, which can be found here.
The Group was established in 2021 by Minister Helen McEntee to bring a strategic focus to planning the number and type of judges required to ensure the efficient administration of justice in Ireland over the next five years.
Announcing the decision at the Chief Justice’s Access to Justice Conference in Dublin Castle today, Minister Harris said:
I am committed to improving access to justice for all of our citizens and I want to ensure that our Courts are properly resourced to deliver on Government priorities such as a Planning and Environmental Court and new Family Courts.
Having an efficient courts system that provides timely access to justice is of central importance to society. The courts exist to protect our rights and uphold the rule of law, and at some point we are all likely to have reason to interact with the courts system. When we do, it is important that we experience an efficient, fair and timely service that is equally accessible to all.
It is a priority for me, as Minister for Justice, to ensure that the courts are resourced to administer justice efficiently and effectively – this is central to providing access to justice.
I am very pleased to announce Government approval of my proposal to appoint 24 additional judges to the courts in Ireland by the end of 2023. This decision has been recommended by the Judicial Planning Working Group, and informed by an independent review of judicial resource needs by the OECD.
We intend to increase the number of judges in two phases, beginning with 24 additional judges this year and a further 20 judges subject to an assessment of the impact of the initial appointments.
This will ultimately increase the overall number of judges from 173 to 217.
This substantial increase in judicial resources will be complemented by the ongoing implementation of the far-reaching Courts Service Modernisation Plan, for which additional funding has been provided in 2023, as well as strategic reforms to court operations including the frequency, location and management of courts.
Following this, as recommended by the Judicial Planning Working Group, we will further review the efficiencies achieved, and consider on a medium to longer term basis what additional resources might be required.
We must also drive the modernisation and Digital First agenda across the entire Justice Sector.
To help inform the deliberations of the Working Group, the OECD was commissioned to prepare an independent review of Ireland’s judicial resource needs. The OECD’s report can be found here.
The Working Group’s recommendations and evidence to support the appointment of additional judges take account of the OECD’s findings; the impact of COVID-19 on exacerbating backlogs in the courts system; growing caseloads combined with increased case complexity; population growth; new legislation requiring court resources to discharge including the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015; and policy initiatives under the Programme for Government including a dedicated Planning and Environmental Law Court and a Family Law Bill.
Both the Working Group and OECD have highlighted the need for a substantial programme of change initiatives without which the demand for additional judges would be even higher.
Key proposals to be considered include:
- District and Circuit Courts sitting 5 days a week;
- impact assessment for policy or legislative proposals impacting court operations;
- strategic HR for the judiciary;
- restructuring the District Court;
- reviewing the Circuit Court geographical areas;
- additional powers for Court Presidents to manage their court jurisdictions, and;
- extensive recommendations relating to data collection and management.
The Group recommended that the additional judicial resources should be phased in, with subsequent phases dependent on the availability of measurable data and progress in achieving greater efficiency and more productivity within the courts system as a whole.
The Report also highlights the importance of developing a structured system for planning and deploying judicial resources which recognises organisational interdependencies and a whole of system approach.
Minister Harris added:
I want to thank all the members of the Working Group, especially the chair, former Secretary General of the Department of Education, Ms Brigid McManus, for their dedication and exceptional work.
The courts will mark the centenary of the Courts of Justice Act in 2024 and it is appropriate that this will be marked by the most significant reform of the last century.
An independent, impartial, and efficient judiciary and courts system is critical to our democracy and I am confident this injection of new judges and the important reforms recommended will, when implemented, help to improve the operation of one of the State’s most important institutions.
My Department is committed to driving the modernisation and Digital First agenda across the entire Justice Sector. We will work with the Courts Service and the Judiciary to deliver a number of important commitments in the Programme for Government which will help ensure that we have a strong, modern courts service facing into its second century.