A new report being compiled by the Department of Justice could hold the key to sorting out Donegal’s lengthening court lists.
During a recent sitting of Letterkenny District Court four contested matters had to be scheduled for December 2023 because no earlier hearing dates were available.
Reasons cited for the mounting paperwork were the pandemic and the Creeslough tragedy which saw judicial matters in the county suspended for several days.
But another factor, one that has been alluded to on more than occasion, is the shortage nationally of judges.
A recent study by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice found that Ireland has just 3.27 judges per 100,000 people – the lowest of the 47 countries surveyed.
The Donegal News asked the Department of Justice whether it felt it was fair that defendants were having to wait a full year to have their matters heard.
A spokesperson said the scheduling of court cases and the allocation of court business were matters for the presidents of the courts and the presiding judges.
But they also revealed that a report looking at resources and whether more judges are needed is in the final stages of being drawn up.
“It is a priority for the department to ensure that the courts are resourced to administer justice efficiently and effectively for citizens in their access to justice,” said the spokesperson.
“To bring a more strategic focus to this and in line with commitments contained in the Programme for Government and our own justice plans, the department established a Judicial Planning Working Group in April 2021 to consider the number of and type of judges required to ensure the efficient administration of justice over the next five years.
“Future judicial resourcing needs will be informed by the report and recommendations of this group.
“To help support the work of this group, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) were commissioned to prepare an independent review of judicial resources, including benchmarks against international comparators.
“This is the first time such a review has been undertaken. A draft final report is currently under review by the minister’s officials.
“The Judicial Planning Working Group expects to submit its final report to the minister shortly, having considered the OECD research.”