‘Claim turned back’ to courts for debt cases as Covid protections end, minister said

There is an expected ‘pent-up demand’ from courts, insolvency and legal aid for debt cases as pandemic protections and supports end, officials told minister of Justice.

A briefing prepared for Heather Humphreys, as she temporarily assumed the role of facilitating maternity leave for Helen McEntee in late April, describes the impact of the pandemic on the justice sector, from courts to crime and even classification movies.

The document describes a decrease in the number of cases before the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the High Court.

The High Court found a reduction in cases on the commercial list (down 58%), non-asylum judicial checks (down 18%), personal injury cases (down 14%) and cases of non-asylum. asylum (down 4%). .

High Court debt cases declined 69% in 2020, to 548 that year, from 1,744 in 2019.

Ministry officials said the figure “consolidates pent-up demand expectations for court services, ISI [Insolvency Service of Ireland], Legal Aid Council and Abhaile [service for those in mortgage arrears] once the banking and legal moratoriums in force have been lifted and when the current social support ends ”.

In March, High Court President Madam Justice Mary Irvine reportedly highlighted the expected demand in debt cases as she pleaded for between 15 and 20 more judges to be appointed at a Law Society online event from Ireland.

This week, Ms Humphreys was forced to defend the government’s decision to appoint five judges following criticism from Judge Irvine who told the summer edition of The Parchment Magazine that the High Court is in a “desperate situation” due to shortages on the bench. .

Ms Humphreys said the five new judges, with the possibility of a sixth, were “one of the biggest increases in judges in living memory”.

Her officials did not link the expected increase in debt cases to the number of judges in the briefing prepared for her in late April.

A spokesperson for the department said the government “is committed to ensuring that the courts have sufficient resources to ensure the effective administration of justice.” He also said the courts had resumed normal operations since May and were working on a plan on how to deal with claims that will arise after the pandemic.

The High Court is said to have sat daily and additional hearings will also be held during the September recess to address the backlogs.

Crime Levels

Separately, during the briefing, Ms Humphreys learned that Garda Commissioner Drew Harris had indicated that “since the introduction of the current [Covid-19] restrictions, there has been a significant decrease in most categories of offenses, including breaches of public order ”.

However, there have been increases in domestic violence (up 20%), drug possession, possession of offensive weapons, cybercrime and online fraud, as well as abuse and fraud. online child sexual exploitation.

In addition, the Data Protection Commission noted an 8.8% increase in the number of cases registered in 2020 for a total of 10,156 cases. And this despite a decrease in the number of contacts and complaints compared to 2019.

The Border Management Unit reported a significant decrease in the number of passengers arriving at Dublin Airport, from 15,172,081 in 2019 to 3,636,256 in 2020.

The disruption of film releases during the pandemic was reflected in the work of the Irish Film Classification Office (Ifco). While film submissions through March 17, 2020 (220) were broadly in line with 2019 (214), there was a 70% drop for the rest of the year – 279 films compared to 948 in the same. period in 2019.

Julio V. Miller

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