The Department of Justice has announced plans to launch the biggest reform of the Irish Court System since the foundation of the state. It said that legal costs in Ireland are prohibitive and act as a barrier to people to exercising their rights before the courts. The Department said it wants to widen access and remove barriers to the justice system so it meets the needs of the public, society and business.
The Department’s 2021 Action Plan commits to stemming anti-social behaviour and knife crime, reforming Ireland’s licensing laws, overhauling the immigration system and regularising the status of undocumented migrants.
It aims to cut legal costs and the length of legal proceedings and tackle the high cost of insurance. It will see the introduction of new scales of legal fees to provide greater certainty on what people can expect to pay for legal services. “We know too the effect these high costs and complex systems have on our economy and our competitiveness, whether those are the cost of buying a house, enforcing a contract or purchasing insurance,” it said. The Department outlined that it would assess if these scales should be binding, except in limited circumstances. The introduction of pre-action protocols will facilitate early resolution of claims and an alternative dispute resolution mechanism will reduce the length of legal proceedings.
The Department said it will establish a the new Family Court with what it describes as the development of ‘pragmatic, sensitive and cohesive family law procedures’ to help those going through family law difficulties.
The 2021 Action Plan will also include a huge modernisation of the court system, to include more remote hearings and the electronic filing of documents. The long-awaited Judicial Appointments Commission Bill will streamline the process of appointing judges and the Department said it will ensure judges, lawyers and Courts Service staff are more diverse and “reflective of modern Irish society”. In addition, it plans to open up legal education “to give more people clear pathways to working in the legal sector”. A new Gambling Regulator will be established and legislation to licence and regulate the gambling industry will be enacted.
The comprehensive plan aims to update Ireland’s defamation laws which the Department hopes “will strike the right balance between reputation and free speech”. In an effort to support the hospitality sector which has been badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, it will reform the bar sector with “modernised licensing laws.”