Serious delays in Ireland’s appeal courts system may be damaging to Irish society and the economy, the country’s top judge has warned.
The Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham, said without reform cases are taking up to four and a half years to solve and are impacting on Ireland’s international obligations. But she insisted any changes planned for the courts must not impinge on the independence of the judiciary.
“The independence of the judiciary is at the core of a democratic state,” she said.
The Chief Justice said if any person takes a case against the Government, a minister, State agency, or a powerful institution or a person, a judge will hear the case, determine the facts and apply the law without fear or favour.
“This independence of the judiciary is the right of the people in a democratic state,” she added.
The veteran judge was giving a keynote address at a seminar on the establishment of a Court of Appeal in The President’s Hall at the Law Society of Ireland.
She said that over the last few decades there has been a huge rise in litigations before the High Court and Supreme Court, which were not designed to cope with the volume and complexity of cases in the 21st century.
In 1968 there were seven High Courts and one Supreme Court, which have soared to 36 High Courts and up to two Supreme Courts, which heard every civil appeal as well as constitutional matters.
The Chief Justice, who backs the establishment of a specialised Court of Appeal, warned speedy resolution of disputes is important in a successful economy.
Mrs Justice Denham said an effective and strong rule of law propels prosperity, boosts foreign investment and lowers unemployment and is an important consideration for business people and investors when deciding to do business in a country.
But she described the level of business and appeals before the courts as overwhelming.
“A failure to address the problems posed by Ireland’s appeal court system may be damaging to Irish society and the economy,” she said.
“Without reforming the system there will be further delays. The current situation in the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal is unsustainable, it is untenable, it cannot be defended – an appeal certified as ready now is in danger of not being given a date until mid 2017, effectively a four-and-a-half-year waiting time.”