Serious criminal, repossession and divorce cases on rise, Courts Service finds
Posted on 28th July 2022 at 22:31
New personal injury cases fall in ‘extremely busy’ year, Courts Service report finds
The courts had an “extremely busy” year in 2021, dealing with more than half a million cases and seeing a continuing rise in serious criminal cases, new repossession and new divorce cases, according to the Courts Service annual report published today.
Possession cases in the Circuit Courts rose by 75 per cent to 477, and divorce applications were up 11 per cent to 5,856. New personal injury actions dropped by 15 per cent to 15,071, however, according to the report.
The report says it is too early to assess the impact of new guidelines slashing awards for minor personal injuries as the number of cases finalised under the guidelines is relatively low.
Of the 27 cases that started after the guidelines came into effect in April 2021 and proceeded to final order, 16 were settled on undisclosed terms. The average award for the remaining 11 came in at just under €136,000, with awards ranging from €30,000 to over €450,000.
On the criminal side, 391,233 new criminal matters came to court. The number of serious criminal cases coming to the Circuit Court have risen by one-third over the past six years, with 18,676 new cases coming in last year.
There were 140,365 new civil cases filed last year while 106,372 of the existing cases were resolved.
The courts saw 530,000 new cases across criminal and civil law, and the report says the Courts Service modernisation programme, including increased use of modern technology and remote hearings, helped tackle delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The number of criminal cases that were finalised increased by one-third to 298,917, and the number of finalised family law cases rose by 35 per cent.
The report reveals waiting times for cases to be heard and finalised in a range of courts remain significant, including a 24-month wait for a trial date for murder and rape cases in the Central Criminal Court.
Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell said “adaptation and innovation” might best describe the courts’ efforts in 2021 in dealing with the effects of the pandemic, and the impact it had on people’s right of access to justice, and on the administration of justice more generally.
Many matters were dealt with in new and flexible ways, including the extension of remote hearings; use of non-Courts Service venues, such as Croke Park for trial hearings; and the large-scale take-up and efficient use of appearances by video-link between courts and prisons, he outlined.
Courts Service chief executive Angela Denning said the courts have been flexible in using the service’s modernisation programme to facilitate court business.
The number of video-links between prisons and courts were 20,634 last year, up by 59 per cent since 2020.
Expanding the video technology to 104 courtrooms facilitated 38,176 video calls and helped keep Covid infections among prisoners, staff and court users out of court venues, resulting in zero transmission of the virus recorded in courtrooms, she said.
The Courts Service plans to expand video technology to 160 courtrooms by 2026.
The Central Criminal Court, the report outlines, held 25 murder trials and 423 trials on rape/attempted rape charges in 2021, a 57 per cent increase on the 2020 figure when court work was dramatically impacted by Covid-19.
Of 251 rape and attempted rape sentences handed down, 110 sentences were for periods exceeding 10 years, 98 were between five and 10 years, 41 were between two and five years, and two were under two years.
There was a 20 per cent drop in barring order applications to 2,987, but domestic violence saw little change in other areas and applications. There were 10,016 new applications for guardianship, access and custody cases involving children, up 15 per cent.
Drug cases at District Court level fell by 9 per cent to 35,220, but there has been an overall increase of 51 per cent in drug cases over the past six years.
Commercial cases saw a rise of 52 per cent with 282 new cases last year.
The pandemic is believed to have played a role in a further 18 per cent drop in licensing applications which had plummeted by 70 per cent in 2020.
The report notes a 29 per cent increase year on year in new possession cases with 71 new cases lodged in the High Court compared to 55 in 2020 and a 75 per cent rise in new Circuit Court possession cases to 477.
Following a moratorium on repossessions by financial institutions during the Covid-19 pandemic, possession orders granted by the Circuit Court in 2021 were 82, a fall of 34 per cent on 2020.
New bankruptcy applications rose by 42 per cent to 169, but new defamation cases reduced from 317 in 2020 to 230 last year, down 27 per cent.
The Circuit Court achieved a 35 per cent increase in finalised family law cases, and the District Court recorded a 31 per cent increase in indictable offences dealt with summarily.
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