THE Courts Service had its busiest year ever in 2009 as its workload swelled due to the impact of the economic crash.
A huge surge in bankruptcies, liquidations and house repossessions fuelled the rise in workload, which was dealt with despite a cut in budgets and fewer staff.
There has been a 40% increase in court business in the past five years, but last year saw a rise in the overall number of cases, particularly in areas linked to the recession. Bankruptcies doubled to 17, there was a 6% rise in court ordered company wind-ups and 293 orders for possession made in the High Court — up 23% on the figure for 2008.
Overall, there was a 20% rise in cases before the High Court, including a large amount of asylum-related cases, while the Supreme Court disposed of 341 appeals last year, making it one of the busiest Supreme Courts in the world.
There was also huge increases in other areas linked to business and debt: a 57% rise in execution orders issued in the High Court, a 56% rise in execution orders lodged in the Circuit Court, and a 72% rise in judgment mortgage affidavits and certificates dealt with in court.
Claims for the recovery of liquidated amounts, including debt, in the High Court rose by 48%. There were 1,884 undefended judgments for liquidated amounts in the High Court last year, up 59%, with sizeable increases in both the Circuit and District Courts.
Evidence of the impact of the recession was also apparent elsewhere in the report.
There was a 26% decrease in the number of pub licences granted in the Circuit Court last year — 192 in total.
Just 34 new restaurant licences were granted, a fall of 51%, while just 21 hotel licences were granted, a fall of 43% compared to the figure for the previous year.
The same court also dealt with 1,586 theft and robbery offences last year, up 28% on 2008, while there was a 20% rise in the number of cases dealing with vehicle theft.
There was also a fall in the number of separation and divorce cases coming before the courts.
Chief Justice John L Murray said: “The present economic climate means that the Courts Service has had to confront new and different challenges of not only maintaining established services but of enhancing or expanding them to meet the persisting increase in the workload of the courts.”
He said this challenge was made all the greater by cuts in available funding.
The CEO of the Courts Service, Brendan Ryan, said productivity and value for money increased in the courts system last year while waiting times decreased or stayed unchanged, despite the case load in the courts growing by 40% between 2006 and 2009, from 590,364 to 830,000.
The figures show a 23% rise in drugs offence cases in the Circuit Criminal Court and a 12% rise in drugs cases before the District Court.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved