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Annual Report

Divorce applications rose by 29% last year, the highest increase since legislation was introduced

The Courts Service has put the increase in divorce cases down to both Covid-19 and a change in law which reduced waiting times.

APPLICATIONS FOR DIVORCE increased by 29% last year, new figures show, with over 5,250 applications made in 2020. 

The Courts Service annual report published today shows that the effect of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions can also be seen in the number of domestic violence applications which rose by 12% last year. 

Overall, there has been a 65% increase in domestic violence applications over five years. 

“There is evidence that there were increased pressures or pressure points on family life throughout the pandemic requirements to stay at home, stay local, with the adjacent home schooling, home working, and home isolation that unemployment caused,” today’s report notes. 

The Courts Service has put the increase in divorce cases – the largest rise since legislation was introduced in 1997 – down to both Covid-19 and a change in law which reduced waiting times from four years to two years. 

The vast majority of divorce applications were made in the Circuit Court with women accounting for 75% of Circuit Court divorce applications in 2020 and 84% in the High Court. 

Meanwhile, the number of serious crime cases in Irish courts rose by 15% last year while the number of new personal injury cases was down 19%.

The Circuit Criminal Court heard 20 murder trials, and 265 rape or attempted rape trials last year. 

There was a 10% rise in applications for safety orders, an 8% increase in applications for protection orders and a 17% increase in applications for interim barring orders. 

Unsurprisingly, there was a 70% decrease in licensing applications for venues in 2020. 

In total, €8 million less was paid out last year in personal injury cases at the High Court, with a €5 million reduction at the Circuit Court. 

There was an almost 23% decrease in the number of Garda compensation claims. 

Meanwhile, Ireland’s High Court saw a 48% decrease in incoming matters and an 80% decrease in matters resolved. Today’s report said this decline is linked to a temporary ban on evictions and rent increases in 2020. 

The Circuit Court saw a 76% decrease in incoming property possession cases. 

Speaking today, Chief Justice Frank Clarke said 2020 was “an unprecedented year” for Ireland’s courts. 

The courts “had to adapt quickly and radically” as a result of the pandemic, he said. 

“Decisions had to be made in days and weeks which would normally take months or even years of careful planning. The virus did not wait for the report of a committee or a working group. Neither could our response,” said Clarke. 

He acknowledged that build-ups had arisen in certain areas, particularly those not suited to remote hearing, and said this would need to be tackled. 

“We must also recognise that there are potentially significant numbers of cases out there which have not been commenced because of the pandemic but which may well come into court offices throughout the country in the relatively near future,” said Clarke. 

“Planning is well under way to try and address these problems but they will provide significant challenges.”

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