Court of Appeal Bill 2014: Second Stage (Continued)
Seanad Éireann DebatePage of 51
[Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: ] A huge amount of work was done by Ms Regina Terry and Ms Mary Joy, the two officials in the Department of Justice and Equality who gave up many a weekend to make sure we are at this stage of the Bill.
A number of people mentioned the delays, which are a reflection of our current system, which is why we are putting in the new court. The creation of a new court of appeal will address the endemic problem of delay and align us with other common law countries that have a court of appeal embedded in the legal system. Despite the difficult times and economic situation, we have been in a position to provide one-off costs of the order of €2 million for the start-up of the court, which will be used for accommodation and the development of an ICT package. It is a substantial investment behind the reform. The estimated ongoing cost of running a new court should amount to €2.5 million a year and a significant percentage of the funding relates to the deployment of the new judges. I have already, in my speech on Second Stage, outlined the number of judges. It will allow the new court to work in divisions of three. It means they can get on dealing with cases in an efficient and effective manner. It means we must provide more resources, but the cost benefit analysis shows that, from an economic point of view and from the point of view of businesses setting up in this country, having an effective and efficient court system that deals with issues in a timely way, as the Commercial Court does, provides a good message to businesses about our country and how we do business.
I have addressed a number of points made by Senators. Senator Jim Walsh talked about consolidation, which may merit attention. He also referred to legal costs. I am committed to reforming this area. The Legal Services Regulation Bill started in the Dáil last Thursday and will continue on our return in September. We will have an opportunity, when looking at the Bill, to examine legal costs and address the matter in more detail. It remains an ongoing issue. Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh also mentioned that point.
Senators Jim Walsh and Jillian van Turnhout referred to the judicial council Bill, which is very important. It is essential we have that possibility. The purpose of the Bill is to establish a judicial council of all judges to promote high standards of conduct among judges and support for judges. Central to the Bill is the provision of an effective remedy for complaints about judicial behaviour. Many judges want to see this in place and it is the right direction. The provisions under ongoing consideration include the establishment of a judicial conduct committee, with lay participation, to investigate complaints. The Bill also facilitates the formal establishment of the judicial council and the ongoing support and education of judges through a judicial studies institute. These are important changes coming down the track later this year which will address some of the concerns the public has about these issues. The vast majority of judges welcome this measure, if not all.
Senator Jim Walsh: Not all.
Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: The vast majority. It is an important direction to head in.
A number of Senators mentioned the new case management system, which is very important and will ensure a more efficient system. Senator Jillian van Turnhout referred to the importance of a Supreme Court that functions in a way that conforms to the best practice in other jurisdictions. For this to happen, the Supreme Court needs to be freed from the more routine cases that are clogging the system at present. Senator Lorraine Higgins made the same point and talked about the benefits that would come from the new system.
I think I have covered other points and the amount of resources put towards this. We are also reviewing the appointments system and work is ongoing on it. We have had a public consultation process and received 40 submissions, which are being examined. These address issues such as the role of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, its members and how the system of appointment of judges should be reformed. It is also on the agenda and I expect to publish the judicial council Bill in late September or October.
In concluding the debate on Second Stage, I thank the Senators who contributed to the debate. A significant impetus behind the establishment of the court of appeal is the necessity for legal certainty, which is crucial to the smooth running of a democratic society and essential for the economy. Structures have been set up in preparation for the establishment of the court, which will facilitate it in meeting the demands of this rapidly changing legal and economic environment. By putting forward the Bill, we have taken the opportunity to provide the Supreme Court with the tools it needs to function to optimal effect and to ensure that its status as the highest court in our land is enhanced and that it can concentrate its efforts on developing the law in a considered and more rational way. I thank the Senators who have contributed.
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
Senator Martin Conway: Now.
An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Court of Appeal Bill 2014: Committee and Remaining Stages
Senator Jim Walsh: This concerns the pensions of the Judiciary. Can the Minister clarify the amendment to provisions in section 6(1) set out in section 15? Are we talking about a change? A judge receives a pension after 15 years and I am not clear in my mind whether judges receive one-thirtieth or one-fortieth per year of service and whether this has been changed for some judges to three eightieths, which gives an enhanced pension. Can we clarify this point?
Section 15(2) provides that a judge of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal can be removed from office on account of incapacity. He or she shall be deemed for pension purposes to have vacated his or her office owing to permanent infirmity. What pension entitlements arise from this in terms of the ongoing pension and the gratuity? Is there a provision for judges to add service? In the case of someone who is 65 and who becomes incapacitated, when the retirement age is 70, is there a provision for the person to buy, or be given, additional service, which happens at the higher echelons of the public service? How is incapacity defined? Does drug addiction qualify as incapacity for the purpose of these benefits?
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