Report of the Working Group on a Court of Appeal

Courts Service logoI’ve written about this report twice already. The first occasion was when a committee chaired by Ms Justice Susan Denham of the Supreme Court was established to consider the necessity for a new Irish Court of Appeal (this was in part a response to an article on the point which Judge Denham had written the previous year in the [2006] 1 Judicial Institute Studies Journal 1 (pdf)). The second occasion when the Government received the committee’s report. In the most recent installment of this slow-moving story, the report was published last week – only three months after it was submitted to government – and to generally favourable reviews in the media (see Belfast Telegraph | Irish Independent here and here | Irish Times | RTÉ). From the Executive Summary:

  • More capacity is needed at the appellate level. …
  • The cost of additional judges, courts and staff at appellate level, will be essentially the same whether they are in the Supreme Court or a Court of Appeal.
  • The establishment of a Court of Appeal is a necessary infrastructural reform which would have a transformative effect on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Irish court system.
  • The new Court of Appeal should be established in law and provided for in the Constitution. …

The Working Group has recommended the establishment of a Court of Appeal in order to remedy the systemic backlog that will otherwise continue to build in the Irish court system. Remedying this problem will be of benefit to the economy as well as to individual litigants and to the community at large. It will also have the effect of clarifying the role of the Supreme Court.

The primary role of the Supreme Court is not to engage in error correction. It is primarily to engage in explaining the Constitution to the People. … It is for this reason, as well as the gains in efficiency described in the Report, that the Working Group is in favour of the establishment of a Court of Appeal. In conclusion, the establishment of a Court of Appeal as discussed above would benefit litigants, the community and the economy of Ireland by:

  • Eliminating undue delay in processing appeals.
  • Creating an appeals structure which would be cost effective.
  • Enhancing the administration of justice in the Superior Courts.
  • Improving certainty in the law through the prompt publication of reasoned decisions from the Supreme Court.

This is a very good thing in principle, as the volume and complexity of appeals to the Supreme Court are growing to such an extent that the Court is not able to keep up. A more broadly-based intermediate appellate level would remove many cases from the Supreme Court which should not reach it in the first place, and would allow the Court the time and resources it need needs to be able to concentrate properly on the most important of cases. More than that, the comprehensive reform of the Constitution to bring this about is a very welcome proposal – its absence would undermine the whole project. However, the Minister for Justice has not fallen over himself to welcome the report; in a press release, he said:

It is essential that people can access justice as speedily as possible. The delays at Supreme Court level are of concern. However, I am anxious to ensure, given the current Economic position, that additional costs to the State are minimised and I have therefore asked my officials to conduct an examination, in consultation with other relevant Departments, to devise a cost effective solution. It is also necessary to make certain that multiple avenues of appeal which would have a negative impact on costs and delays are not allowed to develop.

So, that’s it, then; no comprehensive solution, just a penny-pinching one, and don’t hold your breath waiting for it. It’s an understandable response, given current economic conditions; but it’s a pity, nonetheless.