An Bord Snip and the Legal System

I am opening this strand to facilitate discussion about the many recommendations made for reform of the legal system by the McCarthy Report. Whilst there are lively discussions going on here and in many other media concerning proposals for cuts there has been little discussion of the extensive proposals for the legal system beyond a focus on the abolition of the tipstaff posts within the Courts Service and merger of various ombudsman functions. The law pages of neither the Sunday Business Post nor the Irish Times give any mention to the Report. For convenience I list some of the highlights below:

Management of the courts and supporting the Judiciary

Rationalise the network and operations of the District and Circuit Courts

Abolition of Tipstaffs grade

Judicial review of judgements – ‘Courts should be given the necessary powers to correct themselves with the consent of both parties. Furthermore, those involved in the case should not be awarded costs if they insist on Judicial Review without initially engaging with the original court in its efforts to correct its decision.’

Address ‘out-dated practices which are sharply at odds with what is expected throughout other areas of the public and private sectors. In particular, the Group recommends that the Courts should:
• provide for Monday sittings;
• open the Courts for the full year (rather than closing for prolonged periods of time);
• introduce pre-trial hearings to deal with technical matters in advance of jury selection;
• streamline the selection of Juries (for example by providing the Defence an opportunity to object for stated reasons to individuals on a long panel of potential jurors, before jurors are
called to serve); and
• use court real estate more efficiently (e.g. using a court room to hear one case in the morning and one in the afternoon rather than one a day).
The efficiency of the Courts system could be improved by providing prospective judges with judicial training prior to going on the bench and ongoing professional development, by providing the Presidents of the Courts with meaningful powers and functions in the area of discipline and the
issuing of practice directions, by establishing a Judicial Council to address serious disciplinary issues and by strengthening the independent role of the Judicial Appointments Board in the appointment of judges.’

Reduce the number of County Registrars

‘The feasibility of introducing a limited number of short-term non-pensionable law graduate internship placements contracts of 1 to 2 years clerking for a group of judges to assist judges with research should be explored.’

Reduce surplus security personnel at the Four Courts

Review charging system

Introduce a limited means testing system for criminal legal aid

Extend digital audio recording to the Civil Courts

An Garda Síochána

Better co-ordination to reduce time spent by Gardaí in court

Rationalise the Garda station network

Transfer responsibility of immigration control at entry point to INIS

Review of Garda pay and allowances

Regulation and Oversight

Merger of ComReg and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (*corrected 22 July)

Merger of Property Registration Authority (PRA) with Ordnance Survey Ireland and the Valuations Office (*corrected 22 July)

Establishment of an Ombudsman Commission (taking on the role currently undertaken by the Office of the Ombudsman, the Children’s Ombudsman and the Information Commissioner)

Merge the Property Services Regulatory Authority with the Private Residential Tenancies Board

Transfer the disability functions of D/JE&LR to the Office for Mental Health and Disability in the Department of Health & Children


Improve Value for Money in the Coroners Service

Abolish Law Reform Commission

Reallocate the statutory employment and occupational benefits
responsibilities of the Equality Tribunal to the Employment Appeals Tribunal

‘Reduce expenditure on the gender mainstreaming [and integration] and transfer the function to the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment’

Reduce the allocation to equality organisations and projects

Abolish the Office of the Minister for Integration

Staffing levels in the youth detention centres should be reduced

‘Duplication of legal advice – The Group is of the view that other State bodies may be unnecessarily seeking legal advice for the same or similar matters particularly regarding the interpretation of legislation. This duplication leads to wasteful expenditure and the Group concludes that as far as possible public bodies should be able to avail of the expertise of Government legal services, via their parent Department in each

‘Legal Costs – The Group has noted the practice of different state organisations pursuing legal cases against one another e.g. the Commissioner for Aviation Regulation vs. Aer Rianta. This duplication unnecessarily increases the burden of legal costs borne by the State. The Group proposes that there should be compulsory arbitration of legal disputes involving State bodies. Any State body wishing to resolve a legal dispute with another State body would be required to inform the relevant Minister who would then be responsible for mediating a solution or arranging for other forms of independent mediation. Legislative change should be initiated to implement this proposal if necessary. The Group notes that the revised and updated Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies provides that where a legal dispute involves another State body, every effort should be made to mediate, arbitrate or otherwise before expensive legal costs are incurred and that the Department of Finance should be notified of such legal issues and their costs. ’

‘Distinction between junior and senior counsel – The Group has looked at the difference in the level of legal fees payable to junior and senior counsel. The Government, at its discretion, grants Patents of Precedence at the Bar on the recommendation of an Advisory Committee consisting of the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court, the Attorney General and the Chairman of the Bar Council. The Group is of the view that this distinction is unnecessary and contributes to higher legal costs payable by the State. Other jurisdictions function adequately without this hierarchy of legal professionals. The Group notes that this practice applies across the entire legal industry but considers that the removal of this distinction is unlikely to have a significant negative impact on the legal system.’