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The Irish Courts: A Year in Review

AUTHOR(S): Sharon Daly, Tom Hayes
PRACTICE AREA GROUP: Commercial Litigation and Dispute Resolution
DATE: 09.08.2018

In July of each year, the Courts Service of Ireland looks back at the statistics from the previous calendar year. At a time when pressures and demands on the Irish judicial system are widely publicised, the Court Service Annual Report for 2017 (the “Report”) provides an interesting insight into the key trends and challenges faced by the Irish Courts over the last year.

There has been an increase in the volume of civil and commercial cases in the High Court and subsequent appeals to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. Coupled with resourcing issues across the judiciary, this is creating a backlog of cases and increasing waiting times.

Overview of 2017 Statistics

In 2017, the courts received 655,000 new matters – of which 425,000 were criminal offences, and over 228,000 were civil matters.  Of the civil matters, approximately 56% were designated as litigious cases[1] and the makeup of these cases is insightful and reflective of an evolving economy:

  • There was a slight increase (2%) in the number of personal injury cases (including medical negligence) brought before the courts in 2017. In total, almost €206 million was awarded by the courts which represented a substantial overall increase of 22% on the amount awarded in 2016.  Of this amount, almost half related to medical negligence.
    The amounts awarded by the Irish Courts in personal injuries cases are considered to be among the highest in the world and are currently subject to a review by the Personal Injuries Commission (“PIC”). It is anticipated that a report by the PIC, due for publication shortly, will recommend the creation of new guidelines for judges in an effort to reduce these awards, which should have a knock-on effect on insurance premiums.
  • There was also a significant increase in defamation cases in 2017, with Circuit Court cases accounting for the majority of this increase. This increase is thought to be largely attributable to the rise in social media and ease at which potentially defamatory content can be published and shared.
  • Certain of the statistics evidence Ireland’s growing economy. For example, there were 3,941 cases for the recovery of possession of lands and premises in the High Court and Circuit Court – a slight increase on the 2016 figure.  However, the Circuit Court made 878 orders for possession, which was a 19% decrease on the 1,088 made in 2016.  There were further reductions in actions for the recovery of liquidated debt, with a 9% decrease on the 23,394 in 2016.
  • Similarly, there were significant reductions in the amount of cases involving creditor’s applications for personal insolvency in 2017 – from 160 to 115.  Equally, there was a 19% reduction in self-declared bankrupts during the same period. Cases involving the restriction of directors from acting as a director or secretary of a company decreased by almost 50% - from 29 to 14.  Surprisingly, there were no applications to disqualify directors in 2017, compared to 47 such applications in 2016.
  • In the area of employment and regulation of profession litigation, there were significant decreases in the level of activity.  There was a 56% decrease in the amount of employment cases before the courts since 2016. This is potentially due to an increase of cases being determined expeditiously by the Workplace Relations Commission. There was also an almost 50% decrease in the level of cases taken relating to sanctions imposed by bodies affecting the ability of registered professionals to practice.
  • The trend of increasing cases in the commercial list of the High Court is continuing. In 2017, there were 193 new cases which represents an increase of over 18% from 2016.  The Report shows an increase in the amount of cases which were resolved by the Commercial Court in 2017.  The growing number of cases is resulting in significant backlogs and resourcing issues.  These issues are not confined to the Commercial Court; in fact there was a 16% increase in appeals to the Supreme Court when compared to 2016.
  • Similarly, in the Court of Appeal, the number of new appeals lodged (611) exceeded the number of appeals disposed of (470) in 2017.  While the Court of Appeal resolved 8% of the Article 64 appeals[2] that were pending at the start of 2017 –– there were a further 706 such appeals pending at the end of 2017.

Going Forward

Despite the various pressures, the Report highlights the commitment of the Irish Courts to enhance the effective disposal of cases and to continually improve and utilise modern technology, including courtroom technology, on-line services and e-filing. We have pioneered the use of technology in the courtroom in a number of high profile cases and have first-hand experience of how this technology can reduce costs and improve efficiency. We are also involved the first case before the Irish Courts to make use of an innovative market-leading electronic trial platform – something we consider will soon become a common feature in the trials of commercial disputes.

This openness by the Courts Service of Ireland towards the use of technology, plus the increase in judicial appointments in recent months, all serves to make Ireland a jurisdiction of choice for the speedy and efficient resolution of commercial disputes.
 

[1]. The term “litigious cases” excludes cases that are not inter-partes (including probate, wards of court and personal insolvency cases concerning applications by debtors in person); certain foreign proceedings; and proceedings by creditors following judgment to procure payment of debts due.

[2]. These are appeals transferred from the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeal was established in October 2014.

This article was co-authored by Aoife McCluskey, Associate, Commercial Litigation and Dispute Resolution. 

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