The Courts Service’s 2016 annual report1 gives remarkable insights into how the Irish courts work; the areas of economic and other activity that are creating more (or less) litigation and how the courts system is constantly responding to the ebb and flow of casetypes.
The opening of the Court of Appeal in 2014 was in considerable part a response to a backlog of appeals, and delays, in the Supreme Court. A significant number of pending appeals were remitted to the Court of Appeal when it opened. Legacy appeals kept by the Supreme Court in 2014 were disposed of by the end of 2016.
The Supreme Court received 152 new applications for leave to appeal (from the Court of Appeal or High Court) in 2016, 58% up on 2015. It disposed of 161 applications. At the end of 2016, the average time from the filing a complete application for leave to appeal to its determination by the court was three weeks. The average waiting time for a full appeal hearing was 38 weeks. In total, new civil matters in the Supreme Court increased by almost 95% in number in 2016.
Although the Court of Appeal operates weekly case management lists for both civil and criminal appeals to ensure cases are dealt with as efficiently as possible, maintaining pace with its civil caseload is a challenge. A fast track is applied for short civil appeals where judgment can be delivered on the day of the hearing; waiting time for such appeals is about nine months (depending on scheduling gaps). While the court is comfortably keeping pace with criminal appeals, waiting time for civil appeals needing a half day or longer hearing is 18 months, though urgent appeals are expedited. The court completed 780 appeals in 2016 (6% more than 2015), but it received 924 new appeals. It still had 769 legacy appeals pending at end 2016. Its capacity to clear the backlog of remitted cases is constrained by the increasing volume of new appeals especially on the civil side.
Waiting times in the High Court remained generally low in 2016, with waiting times of under six weeks in most lists. While the number of judges assigned remains a problem in certain lists, operational changes in some lists has reduced the number of applications and facilitated more matters being heard on first listing. Other improvements included practice directions providing for the electronic lodgment, format and length of written submissions.
All scheduled sittings of the Circuit Court and District Court were held as scheduled during 2016 at 120 locations across Ireland. No sittings were cancelled due to unavailability of support resources. Waiting times are constantly reviewed with the Presidents of both courts to ensure waits are minimised; additional sittings are prioritised in casetypes and areas where need is measured as most urgent. The business of the District Court in Dublin was re-organised in 2016 in cooperation with the judiciary and other stakeholders to address delays in hearing family law cases, increasing the number of courtrooms dedicated to District Court family law in central Dublin from five to eight.
Other highlights include:
- Certain statistics reflect the general economic recovery: for example, corporate winding-up orders fell by 20% in 2016 and examinerships fell slightly, though disqualifications of directors (usually decided late in the liquidation process) increased; orders for possession of premises decreased significantly in 2016 in both the High Court (by 58%) and the Circuit Court (by 42%); execution orders, judgment mortgages and registered judgments all decreased in 2016;
- Overall, the number of new civil cases in the High Court increased by 12% in 2016;
- New cases admitted to the High Court Commercial List increased by 6% in 2016;
- However, ongoing consequences of the economic crisis were reflected in a 12% increase in the number of people adjudicated bankrupt (95% were self adjudications by debtors) and a 22% increase in new Circuit Court applications under the debt resolution mechanisms in the Personal Insolvency Act 2012;
- New judicial review applications in the High Court increased by 38% in 2016, though asylum applications (e.g. review of a visa decision or to compel a decision on a visa application) made up 48% of the total number of judicial review applications – aside such cases, the number of other judicial review applications fell slightly;
- New personal injury cases filed increased by 15% in 2016; High Court personal injury awards ranged between €5,000 and €9,000,000;
- Application for judicial separation and divorce fell in total by 3-4% in 2016, though applications for dissolution of civil partnerships and cohabitation claims increased;
- New civil cases in both the Circuit and District Courts fell by 9% in 2016.