The Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter, TD, welcomed Cabinet approval for the publication of theThirty-third Amendment of the Constitution (Court of Appeal) Bill 2013.
The Bill provides for the establishment of a Court of Appeal, if the proposal is approved by the people in a Referendum to be held in early October.
On the publication of the Bill, the Minister said “This is another important staging post on the way to a Referendum in the Autumn and hopefully a reform of our courts architecture that is long overdue. I am looking forward to debating the Bill in the Houses and to the wider discussion with the public between now and October. We are on the cusp of taking a major step towards modernising the architecture of our superior courts system in Ireland to facilitate cases being heard expeditiously in the most appropriate forum.”
The need for a Court of Appeal arises mainly from the increase in cases being determined by the High Court in recent years and the consequent on-going significant backlog of cases awaiting hearing on appeal before the Supreme Court. The average delay for new non-priority appeal cases is now of the order of 4 years. Earlier this year, the Chief Justice announced her decision not to accept any new priority cases, given that there were already over 70 cases on the priority list.
The Supreme Court in Ireland, unlike in other common law jurisdictions is the Court of Final Appeal in all cases. In other countries, the Supreme Court mainly deals with cases involving substantial points of law or issues of major pubic importance. In Ireland, however, the Supreme Court is taken up with issues ranging from routine interlocutory orders to major constitutional issues and everything in-between.
The new Court of Appeal will deal with most cases that are currently dealt with by the Supreme Court, thus reducing its workload and allowing it to focus on the development of the law. The model for the new Court of Appeal is largely drawn from the Report of the Working Group on a Court of Appeal which was chaired by now Chief Justice Denham and which was published in 2009.
Minister Shatter continued “Those who are parties to court proceedings are entitled to have proceedings determined within a reasonable period of time. This proposed reform will ensure that, and in doing so both protect the rights of citizens and address difficulties currently affecting the commercial sector. There is a cost to society in not having an efficient court system. Leaving aside the obvious costs faced by the parties directly concerned, there is a cost to our reputation as a developed modern democracy if people can’t have their cases litigated without undue delay. We also know that this is an issue for foreign multinational companies when they are deciding where to invest. Countries that have properly functioning, efficient and effective legal systems are at a clear advantage over those that do not.”
The intention is that after the establishment of the Court of Appeal, most appeals will be concluded at that court. The Supreme Court will hear appeals from the Court of Appeal where the issue involved concerns a matter of general public importance or where it is in the interests of justice that the appeal be heard by the Supreme Court. This should result in the number of cases heard by the Supreme Court falling substantially. However, where there are exceptional circumstances that warrant it, the Supreme Court will be able to hear appeals directly from the High Court, where the general public interest or interests of justice test is also met.
Minister Shatter added, “As a referendum is required to make constitutional provision for the establishment of a Court of Appeal, this is ultimately a decision for the People and they are sovereign. Having said that, I am hopeful that we will be able to demonstrate the clear merits of the proposal and show that it is in all our interests to have a courts system that can cope with the demands placed upon it and administer justice efficiently and without undue delay. I believe that the proposal will enable our courts to achieve this important objective.”
The Minister went on to express his appreciation to all those who have contributed in bringing the issue to this point. In particular, he paid tribute to Chief Justice Denham and the members of the Working Group on a Court of Appeal which reported in 2009. He also thanked those who had participated in and contributed to the consultation process including the judiciary and the professional bodies.