Court service annual report: Chief Justice orders review of social media and impact on courts

Update: The Chief Justice Susan Denham has initiated a review of social media and its impact on the Courts.

Speaking as the launch of the courts service 2016 annual report the Chief Justice announced she is writing to the president of each court this week to provide them with a draft discussion document on making changes to guidelines and rules around the use of social media and the courts.

Ms Denham said the Courts do not operate in isolation and it was essential that decisions of the courts are communicated widely.

"The advent of social media a decade ago caused a revolution in how we communicate. It remains a great tool for the mass dissemination of information”.

“However, concerns over social media are widespread and real. There are genuine concerns over the dissemination of false claims – which damage social debate, learning, and understanding.

Ms Denham said that to date it has been rare that courts in Ireland have had to use contempt of court laws to curb inaccurate and disruptive online communications about cases but suggested it would be naive of the courts not to plan for the future in this regard.

"There are several areas we need to address in protecting the right to a fair trial of an individual in this era of social media.

"The fundamental right to a fair trial does not change in the face of any new means of communication. Rules can and must reflect the new reality of same”.

“First, we need to consider draft guidelines regarding the ‘who, when and what’ of using social media in courtrooms.

"Secondly, we need to have a discussion with those who work in and around courts about how such guidelines on what is appropriate on social media might work.

"And thirdly, we need to look at legal reform to take cognisance of the new reality of instant communication.

Ms Denham said that in this regard she will this week send to the Presidents of each Court a draft discussion paper on guidelines on the use of social media in the courts.

"I will ask the Courts Service to engage with the media and legal professions on this issue”.

Referring to the wider report the Chief Justice noted that the report highlights the constant level of many areas, and changes in others.

"There was a 15% increase in personal injury cases last year, despite a parallel non court process for considering such matters.

"Strikingly there was a decrease of 32% in new possession cases year on year and 111% over two years. Hopefully this is a sign that the effects of our great recession are fading, and that the alternative mechanisms for dealing with personal debt are successful for many."

Commenting on the numbers of cases coming before the courts the Chief Justice said at the presentation that it remained incredible to think that each year the Courts receive almost 750,000 matters to deal with.

"Three quarters of a million civil and criminal matters are filed before the courts each year. That number alone might make us pause and consider – just how deeply the courts are aware of, and deal with, every aspect of society, the economy, and governance”.

Turning to the Fines Act the Chief Justice pointed to the Courts Service implementing new legislation to make it easier to pay fines:

“Often, we are asked to change approaches, and administration, as a result of changes to the law made by the Oireachtas.

"One such recent change has been in the area of fines. The final phase of the implementation of the Fines Act commenced last week, when enforcement notices were issued to over 2000 people who have failed to pay fines imposed by our courts.

"These notices require people to appear in court so that the appropriate sanction can be considered and imposed by the court in default of payment.

"The court has no wish to impose such sanctions and in this context it is still possible to pay in full the fines imposed right up to the court appearance date. These notices are listed for courts throughout the country during the course of September," she concluded.

Earlier: Nearly 8,000 drink driving orders were issued last year by the court service last year - an 8% increase on 2015.

The figures have been released in the Annual Courts Service Report which has been released today.

The report also reveals almost 22,000 personal injury claims were made, representing a 15% increase on 2015.

Helen Priestly, Head of Information with the Courts Service, revealed a worrying increase in drink driving cases.

"From the courts point of view we are seeing a steady increase in the last number of years in the number of suits being brought to court.

Statistical Highlights of the 2016 Annual report of the Courts Service ...

Civil

- 21,898 personal injury suits filed – a 15% increase on 2015

- 157 cases in High Court Commercial List – a 6% increase on 2015

- 1,135 orders for possession – 47 in High Court, a 58% decrease on 2015, and 1,088 in Circuit Court, a 42% decrease on 2015

- 526 people adjudicated bankrupt in High Court – 28 on foot of applications by creditors and 498 by debtors (self adjudications) – a 12% increase on 2015 and a 17% increase on 2014

- 2,114 applications received in Circuit Court under the debt resolution mechanisms introduced by the Personal Insolvency Act, 2012 – a 22% increase on 2015 and a 125% increase on 2014

- 1,353 applications for judicial separation – an 4% decrease on 2015 – the majority in both Circuit Court (73%) and High Court (83%) by wives

- 4,179 applications for divorce – a 3% decrease on 2015 – the majority in both Circuit Court (57%) and High Court (59%) by wives

- 61 applications to dissolve partnerships in Circuit Court – the majority (66%) by females

- 15,227 applications to District Court under the domestic violence legislation – an 6% increase on 2015

- 9,991 child care applications – a 2% decrease on 2015

- 1,139 applications to appoint care representatives in Circuit Court – a 113% increase on 2015

Criminal

- 60% of orders in District Court relate to road traffic offences – little change from 2015

- 7,800 orders in respect of drink driving offences – an 8% increase on 2015, and an 8% decrease on 2014

- 13,127 orders in respect of drugs offences in District Court – a 6% increase on 2015

- 28,368 orders in respect of public order offences in District Court – a 7% increase on 2015

- 47% of offences in Circuit Court relate to fraud/theft/robbery

- 93 trials in Central Criminal Court – a 27% increase on 2015 and a 48% increase on 2014

- murder convictions in respect of 17 offences in Central Criminal Court

- rape convictions in respect of 277 offences in Central Criminal Court

Court of Appeal

- 924 new appeals – 591 civil and 333 criminal – little change from 2015

- 917 appeals disposed of – 588 civil and 329 criminal - a 19% decrease on 2015

Supreme Court

- 152 applications for leave to appeal – a 58% increase on 2015

- 38% of applications for leave to appeal granted


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