The Courts Bill 2013 was published by the Government on 19 March last. The primary objectives of the Bill are to modify the “in camera” rule and to increase the monetary jurisdictions of the Circuit and District Courts. These objectives are described in more detail below.
- Modify the “in camera” rule.
At present, this rule excludes the public, including the media, from family law and child care court proceedings. Part 2 of the Bill seeks to amend this by granting bona fide media representatives access to such proceedings. The attending media will, however, be subject to strict reporting rules, including a prohibition on the publication of material likely to lead to the identification of the parties or any child to whom the proceedings relate. A breach of this prohibition is punishable by a €50,000 fine and/or up to three years’ imprisonment.
- Amend the monetary jurisdiction of both the Circuit and District Courts in civil proceedings.
The current monetary limits for the Circuit and District Courts are €38,094 and €6,384, respectively. Under Part 3 of the Bill these limits would increase to €75,000 and €15,000, respectively. The limit of the Circuit Court for personal injury cases would, however, be restricted to €60,000.
Announcing the publication of the Bill, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, T.D., stated that amending the monetary jurisdiction of the Circuit and District Courts should reduce litigation costs across the board and ultimately lead to a less burdensome caseload for the higher courts. The pressure on the Supreme Court would also be greatly reduced, he noted, if the proposed referendum creating a Court of Appeal was passed in the Autumn.
While welcoming the proposed changes to the “in camera” rule, the Law Society has raised concerns regarding the ability of the Circuit and District Courts to deal with the inevitable increase in their respective workloads if the Bill were passed. More resources, including the appointment of additional judges and staff, will be needed in order to avoid simply transferring the problems currently experienced by the higher courts onto the lower courts.