A Civil Service
1 June 2022
Efficient Dispute Resolution is essential to the economy, sustainable development and inclusive growth and should ideally facilitate access to justice to all relevant parties.
A Report on the Review of the Administration of Civil Justice which was headed by former High Court President Peter Kelly published in December 2020 (see our previous article summarising the key recommendations from the report). This Report on Civil Law Reform Measures was intended to identify key issues with the efficiency of the current Civil Litigation. The Irish Government has now announced a plan on the implementation of reforms on a phased basis with ongoing progress reports to be submitted into Government each year.
The current Rules of the Superior Courts (Rules relating to the High, Court of Appeal and Supreme Courts) are largely based on the Judicature Acts, dating from the 1870’s with numerous additions based on statute. These rules are arguably no longer fit for the purpose of modern commercial disputes. As a result, both court procedures and accessibility to the Civil Court system has increasingly come under the spotlight.
The Government has now indicated that the recommendations proposed in the report on the review of the administration of Civil Justice be implemented across seven key work streams which are designed to reflect the major issues identified during the review.
The following core steps have been identified.
- Hearing Dates: To improve and modernise Civil Courts to ensure earlier hearings and reductions in delay.
- Discovery: To reform the system of Discovery to review the cost of litigation, improve procedures and reduce delay.
- Judicial Review: To enhance the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the process and to amend elements of the current rules.
- Multi Party Litigation: To legislate for a comprehensive multi-party action procedure which currently does not exist.
- Litigation Costs: To agree and advance measures to reduce the costs of litigation including costs to the State.
- Facilitating Court Users: To facilitate access for vulnerable court users including children and young persons and facilitate litigants who are ineligible for Civil Legal Aid and Wards of.
- Court.Technology and E-Litigation: To create a secure digital environment to facilitate E-litigation and to modernise digital facilities of the Irish Civil Courts.
The Department of Justice has identified Work Streams in all these areas which will require a combination of legislation, amendments of the Rules of Court, operational improvements and simplified court forms and procedures with more effective and realistic deadlines.
Many of the proposed reforms such as the replacement of multiple court documents; a single document to replace and commence legal proceedings; clearer and more precise information being provided by litigants from the outset of proceedings and a complete reform of discovery in litigation are welcome, but it remains to be seen how such reforms are to be implemented.
The Report of the Review of the Administration of Civil Justice could not reach agreement on procedures to compel control of litigation costs following on from the review group majority and minority reports on this issue.
It is already clear that the wide reforms proposed will take several years to implement and will also require significant facilities to be provided to the court service including enhanced IT services and support. The initial implementation period is proposed to run into the second half of 2024 with a further range of recommendations to be implemented from 2025 onwards.
Unless the proposed reforms are embraced by future governments it is likely that at least some of the proposed reforms may not in fact be implemented.
New reforms which promote greater clarity and detail in litigation from the outset are to be encouraged along with any steps which can be effectively implemented to manage and control the discovery process in litigation which has become increasingly costly due to the multiplicity and volume of electronic documentation.
These proposed reforms are to be welcomed but given the multiple steps required to implement, many of the proposed reforms and the suggested timescale announced by government maybe ambitious.