PRESS RELEASE EMBARGO: MIDNIGHT 29 JULY 2007
LAW REFORM COMMISSION ISSUES CONSULTATION PAPER ON THE CONSOLIDATION AND REFORM OF THE COURTS ACTS
Monday, 30 July 2007: The Law Reform Commission’s Consultation Paper on the Consolidation and Reform of the Courts Acts will be formally launched by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr Brian Lenihan TD, at the Commission’s offices at 6pm this evening.
Consolidating the text of 80 Courts Acts
The Consultation Paper has been produced by the Commission as part of a Joint Project with the Courts Service and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to consolidate into a single Courts Act the existing statutory provisions which describe the essential jurisdiction of the courts in Ireland, the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeal, the High Court, the Circuit Court and the District Court. The Commission has had the benefit of the expertise of a Working Group established for the project, which has included representatives of the Courts Service, the judiciary, the Department, the legal profession and the academic community.
There is a clear need for this consolidation of the legislation concerning the jurisdiction of the courts, which is a key aspect of access to the law for the citizen. Since 1922, almost 60 Courts Acts have been enacted by the Oireactas, but none has involved a complete consolidation. In addition, up to 20 pre-1922 Acts that were carried over by the State after independence and remain on the statute book contain relevant provisions on the jurisdiction of the courts. Most of these are 19th Century Acts, notably the Supreme Court of Judicature (Ireland) Act 1877, but some date back to earlier centuries, including the Courts Act 1476 which states that judges are to wear wigs and gowns during the Legal Term.
The Consultation Paper contains a draft Consolidated Courts Bill on CD Rom, which contains almost 400 sections bringing together in a single document the existing text of the Courts Acts, including many pre-1922 Acts and all the relevant post-1922 Courts Acts. The draft Bill, which includes a commentary on each provision (and runs to over 500 pages), is intended to be a working document to assist any interested persons to comment on the content of the final Consolidated Courts Bill.
Reform of the Courts Acts
In addition to the aim of providing a Consolidated Courts Bill, the Consultation Paper also identifies a number of specific areas which the Commission considers are worthy of further analysis with a view to possible reform. The Commission welcomes comments on any further areas in need of consideration within this consolidation and reform project.
Some specific areas of reform
Among the specific areas for potential reform discussed in the Consultation Paper are:
- the circumstances in which certain cases are not heard in public - the in camera rule. The Commission examines whether there is a need for more clarity on the scope of the in camera rule (which has been reformed recently in the family law area) and whether judges should be given greater discretion to decide that some cases currently heard in private could be heard in public. The Paper also examines whether it should remain mandatory for litigants to use their real names in all civil litigation, as occurred in the 1990s in the case between Mrs Bridget McCole and the Blood Transfusion Service;
- the appeals system in criminal matters, including whether the requirement to apply for leave to appeal from a trial judge – which is largely a formality and does not actually prevent a convicted person from appealing their conviction – should be removed;
- increasing the general monetary limits in the civil jurisdiction of the District Court and Circuit Court (the Commission agrees with recent proposals of the Legal Costs Implementation Group that the existing limits set in 1991 should be increased, but not in personal injuries cases).
- the Paper also notes that a Working Group (chaired by Mrs Justice Denham of the Supreme Court) has been established to consider whether there should be a permanent Court of Appeal which would hear the majority of appeals in both civil and criminal cases, and which would leave the Supreme Court to deal with the most significant appeals, such as in constitutional cases.
For further information from/interview with Director of Research Raymond Byrne, contact: Winifred McCourt, Weber Shandwick FCC, 01-6760168 or 087 2446004
BACKGROUND NOTES FOR EDITORS:
The Law Reform Commission was established by the Law Reform Commission Act 1975 as an independent statutory body whose main aim is to keep the law under review and to make practical proposals for its reform. To date, the Commission has published over 130 documents containing proposals for law reform. These are available on the Commission’s website: http://www.lawreform.ie
The Commission usually publishes in two stages: first, a Consultation Paper and then a Report. A Consultation Paper is intended to form the basis for discussion and accordingly the recommendations, conclusions and suggestions are provisional. A Report contains the final recommendations of the Commission. Those who wish to make submissions on this Consultation Paper are requested to send their submissions in writing by post to the Commission or by email to email@example.com by 31 November 2007.