Exactly, yes. I will highlight some points from the opening statement that might be of assistance to the committee.
The number of files received during the year 2017 was approximately 13,600, which was 500 up on the previous year, but I make the point that the sheer number of files coming into the office does not represent the extent of work required in those cases. Particularly in the area of white-collar crime, there is a tendency for these files to be very large. For example, I understand the data on our system for those files that we dealt with relating to the banking cases amounted to 388 GB. I am not technically minded but those of the members who are technically minded will appreciate that amounts to a lot of data. Some of these files can be very large. That is also reflected in other areas. For example, in murder cases, sometimes gangland cases, a very large amount of data comes into our office and has to be assessed and analysed. That affects the amount of work that is required in those cases and affects the throughput.
Another factor I will highlight is that, as the Chief State Solicitor said, sometimes we are required to follow what others do. The number of court cases and court sittings can affect the amount of work we do and the amount of fees paid. There has been an increase, from four to six, in the number of judges sitting continually in the Central Criminal Court. That increases the number of cases being processed by the courts and increases pressure on the fee area. Similarly, since I last appeared before this committee, in 2015, there are now two Special Criminal Courts sitting simultaneously and that increases the number of cases being processed by that court and the fees payable.
Regarding developments since I last appeared before the committee, I will mention a number of issues. First, on victims of crime, the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016 has been passed by the Oireachtas. We set up a small unit in July 2015, called the victims liaison unit, to ensure that the office complies with its requirements relating to victims and their families. That unit has been very proactive and has engaged with outside agencies, ensuring training and so forth for gardaí.
We also receive, through that unit, requests from victims for reasons for decisions not to prosecute. Looking at a three-year period from 2016 to 2018, we received approximately 1,800 requests for reasons from victims. We also received requests for reviews of decisions because, under the victims directive and under the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, a victim is entitled to ask us to reconsider a decision not to prosecute. Over that same period, we received 637 requests for reviews. Approximately 40% of those cases relate to sexual offence complaints, and in a small number of cases we have reversed the decision not to prosecute and instituted a prosecution. In terms of our requirements for victims' rights, this also has an effect on court processes. We have to ensure that prosecutors, whether solicitors or counsel, are fully in a position to meet the requirements of victims under the directive.
The work of the office in the area of international matters falls into two parts. The first is extradition, where we seek the return of someone from another country to stand trial in Ireland. The second area relates to mutual assistance requests where we are looking for evidence in another country. I mention in my opening statement that the area of mutual assistance has grown quite heavily, and over the period from 2015 to 2017, the number of requests for mutual assistance doubled. That was largely driven by requests for information in the area of electronic evidence. Many requests go to America seeking electronic evidence from the large service providers there.
As part of the response to the banking crisis, we established a small special financial unit which dealt with all the banking cases over the years. Since the conclusion of those cases, the unit still operates and deals with other white-collar crime cases in close liaison with the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau.
In my opening statement, I mentioned issues to do with information and communications technology. I will highlight two of those. In some of those, we are proactively involved with others in the area, which is obviously very important in the modern world. One of the matters which we piloted is the electronic transmission of disclosure material to both prosecution counsel and defence solicitors. The Chairman and committee may be aware that in prosecution cases an important part of the work is to ensure there is disclosure to the defence on matters which may assist to undermine the prosecution case or enhance the defence case. A lot of that material can be quite sensitive and we have put in place a secure electronic transfer system with defence solicitors and counsel. That is operating at present in the Central Criminal Court and will be extended into the Circuit Court later this year.
We are also heavily involved, through Ms Helena Kiely, in the so-called criminal justice operational hub, which is a very important project from the point of view of the criminal justice system generally. It will allow data to be shared from the beginning of a case right through, from the Garda to ourselves, to the courts system, to the probation service and prison service. In due course it will be able to produce statistics, which is a problem in the criminal justice area because everybody assesses cases on a different basis, which means statistics do not match from one agency to another.
In terms of the expenditure for 2017, as the Comptroller and Auditor General has said, the largest area of cost is fees to counsel, which came to €16.4 million. As I stated, that is largely driven by the number of trials which are set by the courts. Any increase in business will affect the amount of fees paid to counsel. Extra sittings of the Central Criminal Court and of the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, which have happened, and the new Court of Appeal are all matters which generate further court work and extra pressure on the fees side.
I will end with two issues that are challenges for the future. The obvious one is Brexit in terms of the criminal justice system. From our point of view, we are working with the Department of Justice and Equality in terms of contingency measures. We are involved in two groups looking at mutual assistance, extradition and data protection. On extradition, at some point at the end of March, it seems that we will be working under a different system with the United Kingdom. Most of our extradition arrangements are with it. We have been working with the people there on the basis of the European arrest warrant, which is a slimmed down version of extradition which works quite well. We will have to move into another area, which will be challenging.
The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland is a very important part of Government policy. One aspect of that commission's report referred to the role of gardaí in terms of prosecution work. The Chairman may be aware that the Garda has a heavy role in prosecution work. In most cases in the District Court outside Dublin and in Dublin, the Garda decides whether there should be a prosecution and conducts that prosecution. It is an unusual model from that point of view. The issue was looked at 20 years ago or so by the Nally group, which did not recommend any change. If we were to move away from the present system where the Garda essentially prosecutes cases in court, there would need to be an important analysis of what that would involve. It seems to me a considerable cost would be involved in replacing inspectors and superintendents in courts with lawyers.
That is something that I think we will be working on with the Department of Justice and Equality and Garda, in terms of working out some method to see how that recommendation can be implemented. I think that is going to be an important challenge for the prosecution service.