Top justice says courts need more new judges

A High Court judge has appealed for the appointment of more judges, saying numbers here are “rock bottom” versus the rest of Europe and much of the rest of the world and are endangering the proper administration of justice.

Mr Justice Richard Humphreys said the low numbers — seven times fewer than the EU average — meant delays that threatened the right to a hearing within a reasonable time.

“A hearing within a reasonable time is only possible if there are enough judges, relative to the amount of litigation being undertaken, to allow capacity in the system to deal with all cases and appeals promptly,” he said.

“Ireland has the lowest number of judges per head of population in Europe and among the lowest in the world. One has to respectfully ask is Ireland living up to the requirement of having enough judges to allow all hearings to take place within a reasonable time? Unfortunately I have to suggest not.”

Mr Justice Humphreys was speaking in a personal capacity at the opening of the Parnell Summer School in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow.

“There are, at present, 163 judges to cover a population of 4.8m people, or only 34 judges per million people,” he said. “That puts Ireland firmly in the bottom layer of the international league table and rock bottom of the European league table.

“The average number of professional judges in European countries is 700% of the Irish figure per capita.

“Ireland’s exceptionally weak position in terms of number of judges per capita seems to have passed under the radar of public consciousness. In my view the single biggest thing the Oireachtas could do to improve the quality of justice in Ireland is to legislate to provide for additional judicial posts.”

Ireland’s low judicial headcount has been noted repeatedly in the reports of the Council of Europe’s European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice.

The Courts Service has also acknowleged a problem with waiting times, particularly in the higher courts.

In the last few years, several extra High Court judges have been appointed and a dedicated Court of Appeal and second Special Criminal Court were established to help speed up the process.

Outgoing Chief Justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham, last month said court activity was up in some areas, with a 15% rise in personal injury cases in one year and a 125% rise in debt resolution cases over two years. However, waiting times were lower in the Supreme Court, Special Criminal Court, and Central Criminal Court.

Mr Justice Humphreys said the impact of the judge shortage was wide.

“The real losers from the lack of an adequate number of judges are parties to litigation, and in that regard the State is the biggest loser of all from inadequate numbers of judges,” he said.

He said his remarks were not a criticism but a “consciousness-raising exercise”.

“I hope the other branches of government will take these remarks in the constructive spirit I intend and that there can be a beneficial dialogue between the judiciary more broadly and the legislature and executive so as to ensure the common goal of creating the infrastructure necessary to promote justice can be achieved,” said the top judge.


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