The Law Reform Commission has issued its Report on the Consolidation and Reform of the Courts Acts. The commission is an independent body established under the Law Reform Commission Act 1975 to make recommendations for law reform. The commission's current Third Programme of Law Reform 2008-2014, of which reform of the courts acts is one topic, was approved by the government in December 2007. The commission's research and submission process culminated in the presentation of a formal report, whose recommendations are frequently reflected in legislation. This report follows a consultation paper addressing the topic in 2007.
The term 'courts acts' is used to refer to the various pieces of legislation which deal with the administration of justice and organisation of the courts system in Ireland. There are 240 courts acts currently in existence, which means that the legislation in this area is disparate and extensive. Of the courts acts still on the statute books, some 146 pre-date the foundation of the state in 1922.
The Law Reform Commission has recommended that the existing courts acts be consolidated into a single Courts (Consolidation and Reform) Act. The commission envisages that this act of consolidation would be accompanied by an exercise of significant repeal. Around 1,500 sections of relevant legislation would be reduced to 359 sections to reduce duplication and streamline the applicable legislation into one legislative source. To this end, the report suggests that the proposed act be structured thematically, dealing with the following broad topics:
- special rules and procedures;
- appeals; and
- court offices/officers.
The overall objective is to enhance the effectiveness of the administration of justice and to assist in the modernisation of the justice system in Ireland.
The report proposes that more straightforward language be used to assist in simplifying and standardising court procedures and forms. To this end, it envisages that in drafting court rules, regard should be had to using plain language, avoiding differences in procedures and terms used in different courts for similar matters and making court forms easily accessible. One of the most significant proposals includes requiring parties in civil proceedings to comply with 'case conduct principles' and a corresponding obligation on the courts to facilitate case management. This would generally bring civil proceedings further into line with the practice of the Commercial Court.
In addition, the report suggests that rules of court should encourage the use of alternative dispute resolution methods and, equally, should discourage and penalise delay by a party in the conduct of litigation. It also suggests that the proposed act include comprehensive provisions dealing with the service of court documents, which it recommends should be drafted in a permissive manner, allowing for flexibility in specific contexts. The report also suggests the continuation of the most significant criminal offences and civil wrongs against the administration of justice (eg, contempt of court and perjury). In the report, the commission discusses the increased use of information technology in the court system. The commission also proposes that the general monetary jurisdiction of the Circuit Court in civil proceedings be increased to €100,000.
However, the commission has also recommended that certain matters not be addressed in the consolidated act. For example, it has suggested that provisions regarding the appointment to judicial office, as well as salaries, remuneration and pensions of the judiciary, should not be included.
The proposed consolidated act should help to modernise and improve the efficiency of the administration of justice in Ireland. It should also help to eliminate unnecessary provisions and set out in a single legislative instrument all of the statutory provisions previously maintained across the 240 courts acts. The report appends a draft of the proposed consolidated act, which should assist in some, if not all, of the recommendations from the report finding their way into enacted legislation.
For further information please contact Gearoid Carey at Matheson Ormsby Prentice by telephone (+353 1 232 2000), fax (+353 1 232 3333) or email ([email protected]).