Thursday, 11 July 2013
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."
I am pleased to present the Thirty-third Amendment of the Constitution (Court of Appeal) Bill 2013 to the House. This Bill brings us a further step along the road towards the establishment of a court of appeal which has long been called for and was explicitly provided for in the programme for Government.
The case for the establishment of a court of appeal has been well rehearsed. The previous Government established a working group on a court of appeal in 2006. The group, which published its report in August 2009, was chaired by the current Chief Justice and comprised members of the Judiciary, representatives of the Bar Council and the Law Society, and senior officials from the Attorney General's office, the Departments of the Taoiseach and Justice.
The report includes a comprehensive analysis of the then current situation in the Supreme Court, a review of the position in other common law countries. It sets out a path, including proposed constitutional change that has garnered the support of most parties interested in the reform of our courts system. When the report was written, the waiting time for cases was two and a half years. In the intervening years, that delay has lengthened to over four years meaning that someone lodging an appeal with the Supreme Court today could not expect to have their case decided before 2017. Delay is truly the enemy of justice or as the old maxim goes, justice delayed is justice denied. A former Chief Justice of the United States of America, William E. Burger, put it well when he spoke of inefficiency and delay draining "even a just judgment of its value".
Our citizens have a right, recognised in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to a fair and speedy trial. Ireland has already had to pay compensation to individuals who have successfully taken cases to the European Court of Human Rights on delay. It is not just our reputation from the point of view of human rights and rule of law that is in the dock. Today's international business world works best where the law is clear, where the Judiciary is independent and where those who find themselves either asserting their rights or defending their actions before the courts can expect to know the final outcome without undue delay. International investors, all things being equal, will favour a country with an efficient and effective legal system over one without such a system.
It is worth going back to see how Ireland has reached the current pass with delay in the Supreme Court. When the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act was passed in 1961, it provided for four ordinary members of the Supreme Court and five ordinary members of the High Court, a more or less equal allocation of resources. There are now 36 High Court judges, a six-fold increase, whereas the number of Supreme Court judges has only doubled from four to eight ordinary judges.
Over the years the volume of litigation has increased dramatically meaning that there are more cases to hear. However, as important to the growth in the backlog of cases, if not more important, is the fact that litigation has become infinitely more complex. In the commercial field, to take one example, the scope and complexity of transactions and the speed with which they can be effected could only have been imagined until recently.
A mile down river from the Four Courts is the International Financial Services Centre, IFSC, home now to banks and financial institutions from around the globe and to major international accountancy and legal firms whose clients include the world's largest corporations. The success of the IFSC, or the great work that IDA Ireland does in attracting foreign direct investment into Ireland, is done no favours by an overloaded courts system that is incapable of dealing with the administration of justice in a reasonable timescale.
However, structural reform, important though it is, is never the sole answer to problems such as the Supreme Court backlog. I am not so naive as to think that the creation of a court of appeal is, of itself, the answer. Changing structures, appointing new bodies, and so on, can create the illusion of progress and reform while leaving in place the practices and procedures that gave rise, at least in part, to the problems in the first place.
I want to place on the record my own and the Government's appreciation of the leadership provided by Chief Justice Denham and her management of the Supreme Court list. The creation of a new court provides an opportunity for the courts and the Courts Service to explore new ways of doing business, rather than replicate what already exists, to take a fresh look at how work is done and the scope for the deployment of new technologies.
The court of appeal could be an incubator of new approaches and could in time become the template for the operation of the other courts. There is an opportunity seldom afforded within an existing system to look around at other countries to see what can be done to ensure the new court develops its own distinct culture reflecting the importance of its work but also its approach to that work. My view is that such an approach should be one that is focused on efficiency and the use of all available technologies to deliver value for money and a better experience for users of the service. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not to be wasted. The court of appeal's judicial leadership will be entrusted with the pioneering task of establishing a new court. It will be in its hands to seize the opportunity that this presents and I assure it of every support in that task.
Usually Bills providing for an amendment to the Constitution are relatively straightforward. They propose an amendment of an article and the people vote on it. If it is accepted, the article is changed and that is the end of the matter. This Bill, like the one providing for the abolition of the Seanad, is considerably more complex. That complexity arises mainly from the fact that if the people vote in favour of the establishment of the court of appeal, there will be no court of appeal in existence when the President signs this Bill.
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