Republic of Ireland news

Backlog of Supreme Court cases in Republic cleared through virtual court hearings

The annual report of the Supreme Court shows that the waiting for appeals to be heard dropped to a historic low of 14 weeks 
Cate McCurry, PA

Virtual court hearings and online filing of appeals has helped clear the backlog of cases in the Republic's Supreme Court and slashed waiting times from a five-year high, a report has found.

The annual report of the Supreme Court shows that the waiting for appeals to be heard dropped to a historic low of 14 weeks.

Changes in the court system brought about by the pandemic and new rules introduced last year has made the system more efficient, the report added.

The report was launched on Wednesday by Chief Justice Frank Clarke.

During what was described as an unprecedented and challenging year, the report shows that 117 remote sessions of the court took place in the past year, with the first hearing taking place 40 days after the first Covid-19 restrictions were brought in.

The report shows that the number of applications for leave to appeal brought to the Supreme Court reduced by around 38% last year, compared with the figure in 2019.

However, it’s expected that the number of applications for leave to appeal will increase with the expansion of the use of remote hearings in the High Court.

The Chief Justice said that the reduction in the waiting list meant that some could have their hearings scheduled as early as June.

Within weeks of the onset of the pandemic, the Court was conducting all its business through remote hearings.

The numbers of reserved judgments stood at six today, compared with up to 20 in other years.

Justice Clarke said that the Supreme Court was operating with waiting times shorter than in living memory, and that it was approaching a point of being the shortest possible waiting time.

Justice Clarke added: “In a truly unprecedented year, the Supreme Court moved quickly to conducting its work remotely, ensuring continuity in the Court’s core function – the determination of cases that come before it.

“Following the announcement of Covid restrictions in March 2020, the Supreme Court in conjunction with the Courts Service, began to explore the possibility of remote hearings.

“Within weeks the Court was conducting all its business through remote hearings. All apart from one appeal occurred by remote hearing.”

Supreme Court registrar John Mallon also said that the Covid-19 restrictions did not delay court hearings in any significant way.

Justice Clarke went on to say that while remote hearings provide an “acceptable hearing” of almost all appeals, they are not as effective as the traditional model of physical hearings.

“The ability to interact fully with counsel is reduced, thus leading to most questions being deferred until the end of counsel’s submissions or a suitable gap in proceedings,” Justice Clarke added.

“It has also been found necessary to arrange for a break in the course of the hearing because it was found difficult to sustain the argument on a remote platform for the lengths of time that were readily allocated during physical hearings.

“It has also led to more matters being dealt with on paper. It is again the considered view of the members of the Court that suggestions that dealing with matters of any complexity on paper might save time and costs is misconceived.”

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