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Ireland's judges are struggling to 'maintain services to which people have a right'

Ireland has the lowest number of judges per capita in Europe.

The Honourable Chief Justice Susan Denham.
The Honourable Chief Justice Susan Denham.
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

IRELAND NEEDS MORE judges, according to Chief Justice Susan Denham.

Denham has noted how Ireland has the lowest number of judges per head of population in the 47 Council of Europe Member States.

“This all paints a picture of a Judiciary and Courts system that has been under developed,” Denham said.

She stated that while the seven new courthouses planned across the country will “greatly add to the services offered by the Courts”, more needs to be done.

Denham said she remained “mindful of the need for extra resources and staffing in an area of government stripped of any excess and still fighting to maintain services to which people have a right, and expect”.

In 2012, the Government announced a €120 million Public Private Partnership initiative that will see courthouses built in Drogheda, Letterkenny, Wexford town, Mullingar, Cork, Limerick and Waterford.

Speaking on the economic downturn, Denham said it should be acknowledged that “judges have played a significant role in giving dedicated and diligent service to the State at a difficult time in our Nation’s history”.

The Chief Justice made the comments in a statement released today to mark the beginning of the legal year.

Independent judges

Denham praised the independence of Irish judges, noting that the perception of their independence is ranked only second to Finland in the 28 EU States and third behind New Zealand and Finland in an international study on judiciaries in 148 developed countries.

She also welcomed the Government’s indication that a Bill to establish a Judicial Council has priority, adding that bodies such as the United Nations have recognised the need for such a council – something that has been considered for the last 16 years.

However, she acknowledged that changes in how judges are appointed need to be made, citing how judges had formed the Judicial Appointments Review Committee earlier this year to draft recommendations in response a review carried out by the Department of Justice and Equality.

In the space of a few weeks, the Presidents of each Court and Judges representing their colleagues, developed a strong submission with recommendations, inter alia, that party political allegiance should play no part in the appointment of a Judge, and that the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board should be adequately resourced.

‘Historic’ Court of Appeal

Denham welcomed the fact that a Court of Appeal was going to be created following the 2013 Constitutional Amendment Referendum in 2013, which allowed for a new court to be set up between the High Court and Supreme Court.

She described the move as “historic”, noting: “It is the most important development in the structure of the Courts since the foundation of the State.

This very important development in Ireland’s legal system will enable cases appealed from the High Court to be heard in a timely fashion.

The Court of Appeal is set to begin hearing cases later this autumn.

Related: Judges want to change how judges are appointed

Read: Irish courts can’t cope with any more cuts – Chief Justice

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Órla Ryan

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