Court services at ‘tipping point’ following cutbacks

Vital court services are at a tipping point after years of “very severe reductions in funding and staff” and need immediate investment to ensure the safety of existing services and fresh value for money plans.

Senior court officials revealed the situation at the latest Dáil public accounts committee meeting yesterday. Speaking at the high-profile hearing, courts service chief executive Brendan Ryan said despite the sector being to the fore of saving drives over the past six years, it is now time for new funding efforts to be made.

While he said the system understands the ongoing need for value for money, courts have been cut as far as possible. Since the recession began, Mr Ryan said court budgets have fallen from €99m in 2008 to €58m, a 41% cut, with a 16% reduction in staff numbers also taking place, “double the civil service average”.

During the same period, court sittings have risen 10%, indicating a greater strain on already reducing resources. While Mr Ryan stressed the system is still operating effectively due to the hard work of those involved, he said cutbacks have reached a “tipping point”.

Among areas needing re-investment are:

- Technology, which can help to save money in the long-term if the right technology is purchased now.

- Urgent court maintenance issues which have “continued to be deferred due to lack of funding and are now urgently required if the fabric of these buildings is not to be totally compromised”.

- Back office functions which have suffered funding stripping due to the need to prioritise court sittings and front-line services.

While accepting problems are linked to funding, Fine Gael TD John Deasy said the service is also causing its own issues. The backbencher said circuit court cases in Waterford and elsewhere have suffered six week delays since October because planning errors have left them without judges.

Due to the establishment of the new Court of Appeals last month, seven judges moved to the new court, with their former High Court roles taken up by circuit court judges. However, Mr Deasy noted the circuit court positions left empty due to the promotions have not all been filled.

Meanwhile, Mr Ryan has confirmed the historic poor boxes which pre-date the State will be replaced by a new “reparation” system.

However, under the Community Sanctions Bill, which will become law next year, the Department of Justice will oversee a centralised pool of funds.

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