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cases cancelled Lack of judges means Murder and rape trials are to be delayed

High Court President Ms Justice Mary Irvine cancels trial as rift with Government over resources deepens

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Ms Justice Mary Irvine apologised to people with cases pending for the delay. Photo: Collins Courts

Ms Justice Mary Irvine apologised to people with cases pending for the delay. Photo: Collins Courts

Ms Justice Mary Irvine apologised to people with cases pending for the delay. Photo: Collins Courts

A slew of High Court trials, including murder and rape cases, are to be cancelled this month due to a lack of available judges.

Announcing the cancellations, the President of the High Court laid blame at the door of the Government for not expediting the issuing of warrants of appointment for five newly selected judges.

Ms Justice Mary Irvine said she had planned to allocate the judges to cases from next Monday, the start of the new legal year.

But as they are not available, several planning, asylum, chancery, non-jury and criminal case hearings will have to be cancelled.

Ms Justice Irvine said she was aware the decision would cause “a great deal of hardship and distress” to those impacted, but insisted it was the best decision that could be made in unprecedented circumstances.

The announcement this morning is a further sign of the rift between the High Court President and the Government over judicial appointments.

It will also come as an embarrassment to acting Justice Minister Heather Humphreys, who only hours earlier gave a speech saying access to justice was a priority for her and the Government.

Earlier this year, Ms Justice Irvine sought between 15 and 20 additional High Court judges to deal with the expected backlog in cases arising from the pandemic.

She said she was left “sort of speechless” when it was announced last April that just five additional judges would be appointed.

In response, Ms Humphreys rejected the criticism, citing the €370,000 annual cost of each new High Court appointment in terms of salaries, allowances and support staff.

The minister also suggested that work practices and productivity in the judiciary are under scrutiny.

The five judges were nominated on September 15 but have yet to take up office.

Speaking in the High Court this morning, Ms Justice Irvine said: “It was reasonable to assume, in planning for the start of the new legal year, that those additional five judges would be in place by October 4 at the latest, as was the assumption that the High Court judges who had retired or had been promoted in the intervening period would be replaced.

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“Unfortunately, these assumptions have proved to be misplaced. In fact, the High Court will now start the legal year with seven judges short of the complement it was assured it would have last April.”

Ms Justice Irvine said the latest information she had from the Department of Justice led her to believe it would be November before the new judges will receive their warrants and be in a position to sit.

She said there was a slight possibility two of them may be available in the last week in October.

“In these circumstances, and having delayed this decision as long as possible, I regret that I have no option but to cancel a substantial amount of work scheduled for October, almost all of which was listed to be dealt with by the court’s additional judges,” she said.

“In doing so, I want to say that I fully understand the hardship and upset that this decision will have on many of those whose cases are to be cancelled, as well as the consequences this decision will have for their legal advisors.

“I am acutely aware of the distress that the cancellation of criminal trials will have on the victims of crime impacted by today’s decision and also of the effect that the cancellation of those trials will have on the accused, particularly those in custody, who must be presumed to be innocent.

“I can do no more than assure all affected by this morning’s announcement that I will do everything I can to have these cases relisted as soon as possible in 2022. But for now, regrettably, the Court’s diary is full well into the new year.”

Among the cancelled cases is a planning challenge which had been due to commence on October 13.

A number of personal injuries actions listed for hearing in Limerick between October 18 and 29 will also fall by the wayside.

Announcements regarding the cancelation of cases on the chancery and non-jury lists will be made next week.

Some criminal cases will also be cancelled. Although it is not yet clear which ones will be affected, it is anticipated lengthier trials for murder and rape will not go ahead in October.

“This means the court will concentrate on keeping most of the shorter trials in place, subject to affording priority to a number of particularly sensitive trials concerning sexual offence involving juveniles and young vulnerable witnesses,” she said.

The Department of Justice has been contacted for comment about the announcement. No immediate comment was available.

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