Proposals aim to make civil justice system more accessible after lengthy review
|17 May 2022
Proceedings by a lay litigant over a note suggesting he was "building" his golf handicap dishonestly took up 83 High Court and Supreme Court days between applications, trial and appeals before being finalised, the judge noted.
Others, including the Free Legal Advice Centres, maintain that the civil justice system will only be truly accessible if there is an adequate system of legal aid for civil cases.
Today, following the largest review to date of the civil justice system, an action plan for a radical transformation of the cumbersome and costly system is being put before the Cabinet for approval.
The time and costs involved in some civil proceedings are mind-boggling. Until a final settlement in 2019, the pursuit by State-owned IBRC of Seán Quinn and his family over an alleged asset-stripping scheme following the collapse of the Quinn group took eight years involving multiple hearings and applications in the High Court and appeal courts. The saga incurred legal and other costs conservatively estimated by some legal sources at €25 million but believed by others to be much more.
Legal costs and costs of discovering documents, as in many cases, accounted for a substantial part of the bill in the Quinn case.
Just last year, the High Court's Mr Justice Michael Twomey, after noting the legal costs of deciding a dispute between a building company and the National Assets Management Agency over ownership of €228,000 might amount to €460,000, said high legal costs have been a serious problem for years. That raises serious issues about how access to justice can be denied, including to citizens on average incomes, the judge said.
Frustration and concern about the slow pace, cost and accessibility of civil litigation here has prompted calls for reform over decades and various reviews have been carried out.
The most comprehensive review to date, by a review group chaired by Mr Justice Peter Kelly and comprising representatives of the legal professions, judiciary, Courts Service and Government departments, presented its 453-page report to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee in October 2020. Civil society groups were not represented on the review group but some made submissions to it.
The group was asked to make recommendations to improve access to justice, reduce litigation costs to the State, secure better outcomes for court...
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