Embargo: MIDNIGHT MONDAY 15TH NOVEMBER 2010
Law Reform Commission publishes Report on Consolidation and Reform of the Courts Acts
REPORT PROPOSES THAT 240 COURTS ACTS SHOULD BE REPLACED BY A SINGLE COURTS ACT; THAT SIGNIFICANT REFORMS SHOULD BE INCLUDED TO ENHANCE EFFECTIVENESS AND EFFICIENCY OF THE COURTS; AND REPORT CONTAINS A DETAILED DRAFT COURTS BILL TO ACHIEVE THESE CHANGES
Tuesday 16th November 2010: The Law Reform Commission’s Report on Consolidation and Reform of the Courts Acts will be launched by the Chief Justice, Mr Justice John Murray, at the Commission’s offices at 6 pm this evening. This Report forms part of the Commission’s Third Programme of Law Reform 2008-2014 and is the culmination of a collaborative project between the Commission, the Courts Service and the Department of Justice and Law Reform.
Key recommendations: replace 240 Courts Acts with single Courts Act and include reforms to enhance effectiveness of the administration of justice in the courts
The Commission’s Report recommends that the existing Courts Acts should be consolidated into a single Courts (Consolidation and Reform) Act. The Courts Acts comprise 240 Acts in all, 146 of which precede the foundation of the State in 1922. Over 100 of these are from the 19th Century, and some even date back to the 13th Century, such as the Sheriffs Act 1215. The Commission recommends that 192 of the 240 Acts should be repealed entirely and replaced by the draft Courts (Consolidation and Reform) Bill which the Commission is publishing with the Report. The draft Bill also implements a number of significant reforms which the Commission recommends in the Report, and these are intended to enhance the effectiveness of the administration of justice in the courts. As well as replacing almost 200 Courts Acts with a single Act and making wide-ranging reforms, the draft Courts (Consolidation and Reform) Bill would reduce down to 359 sections over 1,500 sections from the existing Courts Acts. This would make the law in this vital area for Irish society accessible, modern and with a focus on enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of the court system.
Some detailed reforms in the Report and draft Bill
Among the many reform elements in the Commission’s Report and draft Bill are:
- The draft Courts (Consolidation and Reform) Bill requires anyone involved in civil proceedings to comply with “case conduct principles,” and there is a corresponding obligation on the courts to engage in “judicial case management.” These general provisions are intended to build on the success of the judicial case management procedures already in place in the High Court’s Commercial Court. The draft Bill states that: (a) issues between parties should, at as early a stage as possible, be identified, defined, narrowed (where possible) and prioritised or sequenced; (b) proceedings should be conducted in a manner that is just, expeditious and likely to minimise the costs of those proceedings; and (c) the parties should be encouraged to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures where appropriate, and be facilitated in doing so. The provisions in the draft Bill on ADR complement the Commission’s Report on Alternative Dispute Resolution: Mediation and Conciliation, which proposes a general legislative framework for mediation and conciliation, and which is also being published today (sections 75 to 77 of the draft Bill).
- The Bill includes enhanced arrangements concerning the Irish language knowledge of judges of the Circuit Court and District Court in Gaeltacht areas (sections 165 and 175)
- The Bill provides that courts could protect the identity of parties in civil proceedings in exceptional cases where the needs of justice require this. This could apply, for example, if cases such as the blood product contamination cases of the 1990s had to be litigated in the future (section 206).
- The Bill includes a single procedure to begin summary criminal cases in the District Court, of which there are between 450,000 to 500,000 every year (over 300,000 of these, more than 60%, involve road traffic offences) (sections 217 to 219).
- The Bill also includes detailed provisions on the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), which will assist existing initiatives on ICT within the Courts Service (sections 226 to 231).
- The Bill provides that the statutory Rules of Court must be drafted using plain language (which should help minimise the cost of court proceedings), must support the development of case management principles and encourage (as provided for in sections 75 to 77) where appropriate, the use of ADR (section 259).
- The Bill proposes to remove the requirement that approved court forms must always be included in the statutory rules of court, and allowing for them to be published separately, for example, on the Courts Service website, www.courts.ie. The current District Court Rules 1997 contain almost 1,000 forms (section 263).
- The Bill proposes that sittings of the High Court to deal with appeals from the Circuit Court in civil cases would be based on the volume of actual appeals at any given time, and this flexibility would replace the current system that requires High Court judges to be sent to deal with these appeals even where the number involved would not justify this inefficient use of judicial resources (section 316).