The number of murder and rape cases before the courts rose by almost 50% in 2020.
Courts Service figures also reveal that gangland and terrorism cases nearly doubled last year. The trends are documented in the Courts Service Annual Report for 2020, launched today by chief justice Franke Clarke.
He said 2020 was a “truly unprecedented year” with radical changes in the operation of courts caused by pandemic restrictions.
The report showed there were 13,000 video-links between prisons and courts in 2020, compared to 3,800 links the previous year.
It said this helped keep Covid-19 infections among prisoners, staff and court users out of court venues. It said there were no recorded Covid-19 transmissions in the courts last year.
Mr Justice Clarke, who is due to retire this October, said while many areas of the courts avoided a build-up of cases, other areas had not.
He warned there were “potentially significant numbers of cases out there” yet to hit the courts because of the pandemic.
In total, the courts received 580,000 new cases in 2020, down from 677,000 in 2019. Last year, these broke down into almost 163,000 civil cases (233,000 in 2019) and 416,000 criminal matters (445,000).
There was an overall increase of 15% in serious crime cases before the higher courts: the Circuit Criminal Court, the Central Criminal Court and the Special Criminal Court.
Less serious crimes in the district court fell by 6%, but drug offences in the lower court actually rose by 16%. It said this continued a trend over the years, with a 66% jump in district court drug matters in the last four years.
The Central Criminal Court, which deals with cases of murder, rape and serious sexual offences, witnessed a rise of 47% in case numbers from 1,982 in 2019 to 2,911 in 2020.
The court held trials in relation to 20 murder/attempted murder cases and 265 rape/attempted rape charges. Of the 265 rape trials completed, there were 118 convictions.
There was a 94% jump in cases (from 70 to 136) in the non-jury Special Criminal Court, which deals with organised crime and terrorism cases. Of 122 cases completed in the court in 2020, 31 resulted in imprisonment, but prosecutions were withdrawn (nolle prosequi) in 84 cases.
On the civil side, new personal injury cases filed were down 19% from 22,000 in 2019 to 17,810 in 2020. There was an €8m drop in the total amount of awards at High Court level and a €5m reduction (-22%) in the circuit civil court.
Likewise, there was an 23% decrease in garda compensation claims.
The Courts Service said there was a “remarkable drop” in new personal finance cases, which it said could be due to government or institutional policy and guidance of not pursuing certain actions or a general downturn in legal activity.
It said that it could also be linked with the marked increase in savings and non-spending. However, it said a rise in such actions was expected after restrictions are lifted.
The report documented a 73% fall in new property possession cases. Court orders to execute possession orders dropped from the 220 granted in 2019 to 70 last year which was a reduction of two thirds.