Chief Justice: Courts have developed 'five years in five months'

Cases put before the court under domestic violence legislation increased by 10% in 2019 and it is indicated the rate will be maintained in 2020
Chief Justice: Courts have developed 'five years in five months'
Chief Justice Frank Clarke, who said the court's modernisation process has been catapulted forward by the pandemic. Pic: Collins Courts

The Courts Service expects a further growth in domestic violence cases and the granting of interim barring orders this year after its latest annual report showed a surge in such cases in 2019. 

The annual report showed a 10% increase in domestic violence cases last year and a 30% rise in interim barring orders. The indication is that the same rate of such cases is being maintained in 2020, despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions.

In total, the Courts Service dealt with 670,000 matters in 2019, with 445,000 criminal and 233,000 civil cases. This included 226,000 road traffic offences, 33,000 drugs matters, 3,600 sexual offences, 37,500 larceny/robbery/ fraud matters, and 46,000 public order /assaults.

According to the annual report: "Applications to the district court under the domestic violence legislation increased by 10% to 20,501 from 18,572 in 2018. There was an 11% increase in applications for safety orders (8,061 as compared to 7,280 in 2018) and a 10% increase in applications for protection orders (7,049 as compared to 6,390 in 2018). 

"Applications for interim barring orders increased by 29% (1,643 as compared to 1,270 in 2018), while applications for barring orders decreased by 1% (3,323 as compared to 3,343 in 2018)."

The report also showed 154 sentences were given in rape cases, of which 36% (55) were between five and 10 years and 63% (97) were over 10 years. No sentence was under two years.

The impact of Covid-19 has catapulted the courts into modern technology 

The launch of the annual report also heard that Covid-19 has impacted on the courts in other ways, including 800 court sessions being held remotely since the middle of April and a four-fold increase in the use of video conferencing with prisons, resulting in a fall of at least 5,000 prisoner trips to and from court buildings. This figure is likely to increase further with government agreeing to legislative change which could mean issues other than remand being dealt with by video technology.

Chief Justice Frank Clarke said the courts' modernisation programme had to be catapulted forward in response to the pandemic, developing 'five years in five months'.

“I know that there are some additional legislative measures approved by the cabinet which will help us – amongst many things - expand the use of video conferencing and begin the use of filing electronically," he said at the launch of the report.

He said more plans for increased modernisation, including a report of the Civil Justice Review Committee due in September, would help the courts to better deal with the matters that come before it, and he welcomed additional funding that has been secured for a family court structure on Dublin's Hammond Lane as well as efforts to increase digitalisation.

Some 120,000 jury summons were issued last year but speaking on RTE's News At One programme, Courts Service CEO, Angela Denning, said with the pandemic courtrooms which can safely house juries have been identified, with further guidelines to issue for those who will be called.

She admitted that all courthouses that previously dealt with jury trials can continue to do so and added that in Dublin there may be a need to rent property.

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