Obtaining a date for the hearing of appeals in the Supreme Court has reached a crisis point. A case certified as ready for appeal today, will not get a hearing date until mid 2017 at the earliest, a delay of over four years. In the words of Chief Justice Denham, the current situation in the Supreme Court is "unsuitable, untenable and cannot be defended". These are strong words which do not bode well for the highest court in the land. Nor does this bode well for the rule of law and Ireland's standing both democratically and economically on the international stage.
As the final court of appeal, it is evident, that the Supreme Court no longer has the capacity to process the volume of civil cases appealed to it from the High Court in a timely manner. There are currently in excess of 543 cases certified as ready to be heard on appeal. The most recent appeals that have been given dates were cases which were certified as ready for hearing in 2008.
In recent years, the Supreme Court has operated a priority listing of cases on appeal: these are cases which due to the urgency of the issues involved have been allotted a priority date for hearing ahead of other general appeals. Of the 543 cases ready for hearing, 71 this year have been given priority listing meaning that they will be given a hearing date over the next nine to 12 months. However, the situation is now so grave that the Chief Justice earlier this year declared that the Supreme Court could not give priority to any other cases due to lack of capacity arising from the unprecedented number of appeals in the Supreme Court list.
Such delays in resolving legal disputes has a very damaging effect on individuals, commercial entities, and the ever increasing public and regulatory bodies in this jurisdiction. The maxim of "justice delayed is justice denied" has never rung more true.
Legal certainty is crucial to the smooth running of a democratic State and is essential for the economy. The courts perform an important role in supervising the activities of regulatory bodies established by the Oireachtas: these bodies have responsibility for regulating many areas of social and economic importance such as planning, health, information, energy and communication sectors to name but a few. It is vital that when the decisions of such regulatory bodies are disputed and litigated in court that these disputes are resolved by the courts in an efficient and timely manner. Any delays in the processing of challenges of the decision making processes of these bodies can hinder and impede their regulatory functions and has an economic and administrative impact on them. The speedy resolution of disputes is a necessary prerequisite for a successful economy and has a bearing on whether Ireland is viewed, by investors as a good place to do business. In addition, Ireland is a party to a number of international agreements such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the Hague Convention: delays in processing these cases place Ireland in breach of its international obligations
This lack of capacity to process appeals in the Supreme Court in a prompt manner has arisen as a result of an increase in the volume and complexity of litigation coming before the High Court in recent decades. In 2011, there were 26,378 claims initiated in the High Court. There are currently 36 High Courts to deal with the large volume of cases which in turn means that cases from each of the High Courts can be appealed to the Supreme Court. Last year there was a 21.2% increase in the number of appeals filed to the Supreme Court. The present structure of the courts was not designed to deal with the volume and complexity of litigation coming before it. The Supreme Court comprising of eight judges (which can...