Courts Bill 2015

First Stage: 7 Dec 2015
Oireachtas Link: http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad2015120700002?opendocument#Prelude

Ivana's Contributions

Committee and Remaining Stages: 11/12/2015

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Friday, 11 December 2015

Courts Bill 2015: Committee and Remaining Stages

I was not one of the legal colleagues who spoke to Senator Sean D. Barrett about this amendment. I have always believed in principle, as have my colleagues who are legal academics, that it would be good to make provision for legal academics to become judges in this jurisdiction, as we have seen happen in other jurisdictions. In one jurisdiction with which I am very familiar, South Africa, there are legal academics serving at the highest level in the constitutional courts. It is something we might consider at a future date. My self-interest precludes me from saying anything further. Certainly, it is not a matter to be dealt with in this Bill as it is, clearly, a far bigger policy issue as colleagues, including Senator Sean D. Barrett, will appreciate. It would require a great deal of consideration before it could be introduced. However, I thank the Senator for proposing it. It is an interesting proposal which is certainly worthy of further consideration.

Cont’d

Senator Sean D. Barrett:   On this issue, the retirement age in Ireland must rise. As life expectancy increases, the pension burden to which the Minister of State referred will increase and that is why the troika recommended raising the retirement age. It is an acknowledgement of the way the world is going in that 70 is the new 50. People live longer, they live healthier lives and particularly in the case of lawyers, in the constituency Senator Bacik and I represent, the saying would be that lawyers mature well-----

Senator Darragh O'Brien:   All the red wine.

Senator Ivana Bacik:   Very healthy.

Cont’d

Senator Ivana Bacik:   Having heard the Minister of State's response, I am delighted the principle is agreed. All Members are in agreement that it is anomalous at present that District Court judges retire at 65 when other judges continue until they are 70 and that in practice, it is a yearly review procedure. I am glad to hear this is being addressed in other legislation. As Senator Barrett noted, there are other more general proposals about retirement age. Yesterday, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality launched a unanimously-agreed report about ending mandatory retirement age altogether. It is an excellent report and I urge colleagues to read it, as it again makes some of the points that were made here on this issue. To conclude, it is true that at the Bar, in particular, and in the profession of solicitor, one sees people practising well beyond the standard age of retirement. One sees colleagues at the Bar who went into the barrister practice having retired from other professions, some of whom are practising into their 90s. It appears to be a career that is noted for longevity but I certainly am glad to hear the principle is agreed.

Senator Feargal Quinn:   The Minister of State is welcome. I have a feeling I am biased in regard to this particular amendment, as I had my 79th birthday last week and was rather pleased with it.

Senator Darragh O'Brien:   Well done.

Senator Ivana Bacik:   Happy birthday.

Second Stage: 07/12/2015

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Monday, 7 December 2015

Courts Bill 2015: Order for Second Stage

Bill entitled an Act to to increase the number of ordinary judges of the High Court; for that purpose to amend the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995; and to provide for related matters.

Senator Ivana Bacik:   I move: "That Second Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Courts Bill 2015: Second Stage

Senator Ivana Bacik:   I welcome the Minister and her officials back to the House. I thank her for introducing this Bill in the Seanad. It is good to see a justice Bill being introduced in this House. This is one of the shortest justice Bill with which we have had to deal. As the Minister said, it is simple and straightforward legislation to allow for an expansion in the number of judges to be appointed at High Court level from 35 to a maximum of 37. So far it has received cross-party and unanimous support and I imagine it will continue to receive such support. It is unarguable that the waiting times are too long, particularly in the Central Criminal Court, where, as the Minister said, people have to wait up to 18 months for trials to take place. There are difficulties where trials are ready to proceed and where at the last minute they have to be adjourned. That is most unfortunate and difficult to deal with, particularly for the victims of crime and their families. It is also very difficult for those accused of crimes, for those who are detained in custody and for anyone involved as witnesses and so on. Clearly, that needs to be tackled. We have seen, as the Minister said, a tackling of waiting times and delays at other levels, and real progress has been made there.

  I want to mention the Court of Appeal. As the Minister said, real progress has been made in tackling the lengthy time spent waiting for appeals from the High Court. While the appointment of the new judges to the Court of Appeal has had a significant impact in terms of removing very experienced judges from the High Court, it has made real inroads in tackling the delays in waiting for appeals from the High Court. That is most welcome. From talking to practitioners, I know how much more efficient that process has become. People know now that they will not be waiting years for appeals from the High Court. It has had the impact that the Minister mentioned. Again, I know from speaking to colleagues in the legal profession that there is real concern about the loss of judicial experience from the High Court. Clearly, there is a very strong cohort of new judges on the High Court, which has been an inevitable consequence of the Court of Appeal. It has also been an issue in terms of judges for the Central Criminal Court. As the Minister pointed out, there has been a particular assignment of judges to the Central Criminal Court and the raising of the number by two more in this instance will enable that to be confirmed, and that is very welcome.

  We have seen other examples of good practice in terms of increasing efficiency. The commercial court was mentioned and there have been great improvements in case management there. That is a lesson for us in terms of how things can be improved. The Minister mentioned the amendment she put down to the Legal Services Regulation Bill, the welcome amendment on medical negligence pre-action protocols which should lead to more efficient and effective case management.

  We, as Labour Party Senators, put down a Private Members' motion on the issue of the State Claims Agency in this House dealing with how it operates and how, where the State is a defendant in negligent actions, there can be issues in terms of an overly adversarial and confrontational approach which can exacerbate distress for litigants or their families. We called for an examination of how the State Claims Agency runs those cases. In response to that we were told that a review of the work of the agency is under way. I very much welcome that and I hope the review will lead to greater efficiencies in the processing of claims and that we will not see unnecessary delays where claims are ultimately being settled. Clearly, there should be more of a focus on seeking to facilitate settlement.

  The Minister also mentioned projected increases in litigation, for example, around the new companies legislation.  There has been a huge increase in the volume of judicial review legislation in recent years and the number of lay litigants, as the Minister said. This will lead to great pressure on the High Court. Therefore, there cannot be a difficulty with the appointment of two additional judges. There have been many reasons in all of these areas for the increase in the volume of cases before the courts, to which we need a speedy response, which the Bill represents.

  I support Senator Jillian van Turnhout's comments about family courts. I very much welcome the developments the Minister mentioned in bringing forward changes to family court sittings. Clearly, that is an area in which there could be greater efficiencies and better case management.

  I welcome this straightforward Bill, to which there cannot be any opposition.

Cont’d

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson):   When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Senator Ivana Bacik:   Next Friday.

  Committee Stage ordered for Friday, 11 December 2015.