The increase in the number of High Court judges is most desirable. I am expressing an opinion as a layman. The last two speakers have been legally trained, are familiar with court procedure and with attendance on behalf of their clients in the District Court, Circuit Court and High Court. Can the Minister of State give us the real reason for the long delay in presenting cases in the High Court? Presumably the main reason, as this Bill indicates, is the lack of High Court judges. This delay in hearing cases is causing annoyance and aggravation to both plaintiffs and defendants who are anxious to have their cases disposed of in the High Court.
The District Court may be looked upon as the poor man's Supreme Court because he cannot go any further on financial grounds. The Circuit Court is one of the most useful and valuable courts. Cases are usually appealed from District Court to Circuit Court and from Circuit Court to High Court for a decision. There are many workmen's compensation claims awaiting decision by the High Court. It is difficult to understand the delay in hearing a libel case against a newspaper or a slander case in which a High Court decision is deemed desirable. There are a greater number of cases to be dealt with at District Court level and at Circuit Court level. The pressure of the long list of undecided cases should be taken off the High Court. Many cases on this list are brought by local authorities, by Government bodies, and by semi-State bodies. With more commonsense exercised these could be disposed of much more easily and quickly, without wasting the valuable time of the limited number of High Court judges.
It is easy to say "We are proceeding to the High Court" when those saying so have not to spend their own money. I deplore, from my own experience, actions being brought by an individual which are deemed to necessitate a decision by one of the limited number of High Court judges. The local authority, semi-State or State body have money at their disposal, as against the limited funds available to the individual to contest his case fairly and squarely in the High Court.
Before cases reach High Court level they should be processed and their numbers pruned by a judge of the High Court. I have seen cases where the valuable time of the High Court has been taken up unnecessarily, a number of witnesses have been brought from all over the country and the case takes weeks and weeks to decide—for example, a case in which Bord na Móna and a constituent of mine were involved. Anyone with commonsense or intelligence would have known the manner in which this case would be decided, but because of a certain stubbornness of the individual, and mainly because he had not to fork out the money—it was taxpayers' or ratepapers' money rather than the hard-earned money of the people advocating a High Court decision—the case went to the High Court. Some reorganisation is required to have cases, particularly involving local authorities and so on, speedily dealt with.
The general public has no idea of the amount of work a High Court judge has to perform. He is on the bench from 10.30 a.m. until 4.30 p.m. or 5 o'clock and they think his work is then finished, but his work has only then begun. He has evidence to consider. He is pledged to perform his duty with the utmost impartiality, honesty, integrity and courage, and without fear or hindrance from any section of the community. Here I join with Deputy Tom Fitzpatrick in saying that we are very fortunate—in recent years, perhaps not always because not all judges are angels; they cannot be angels, any more than all politicians can be, human nature being what it is—in having, on the whole, a first-class Judiciary. Every judge sitting in the High Court has discharged, is discharging and will discharge his duty conscientiously, honorably, nobly and in the interests of fairness and justice. Justice is imparted after the fullest consideration of all the facts submitted in evidence.
Under this Bill we are increasing the number of High Court judges but I suggest, as a layman, that this number should not be less than 14. In a couple of years a similar Bill will have to be brought before this House for a further increase in the number. High Court judges have other responsibilities as well as deciding the variety of cases before them. In judicial inquiries and commissions the guidance and valuable assistance of such talented legal men are invaluable. We are very fortunate in having such legally trained men who have administered the law fairly and honestly. The success of our legal system has been due mainly to the integrity of the judges, and I say this with special reference to the Supreme Court and to the High Court.
I presume the Government will give careful consideration to the people about to be appointed. It is essential that the qualities and the personality of the person to be appointed as High Court judge be fully examined by the appointing authority, namely, the Government. For that position a person should have patience, understanding and sympathy. He should be able to balance the views of the intellectual as well as those of the most ignorant citizen who comes before him. I do not think in any walk of life that there is such a need for patience and understanding, particularly an understanding of human weakness. A judge has grave responsibility for administering justice and impartially administering the law and this vests great authority and power in him. When the High Court adjourns at 5 p.m. many of the judges have to work in their own homes signing legal documents, advising on legal matters, keeping in touch with county registrars and others as well as examining thoroughly the volume of evidence before them.
I should like to express the hope that an effort will be made to keep abreast of the demands on the court for quick decisions. There is little use in making this plea to the Government because once a person is appointed a judge he is free of the Government and everyone else. Unlike the Taoiseach, the Ministers and the most humble Member of this House who can be shifted by a very easy process, as we have seen in recent years, a High Court judge cannot be dismissed. I can only avail of this opportunity here to express my comments to the people about to be appointed judges. If possible they should give their decisions immediately and not reserve decisions for a considerable time. I know there may be cases where, for instance, a site has to be examined or evidence has to be examined further and in such cases it may be desirable to reserve judgement. However, this can put a lot of worry and mental strain on the participants in the court cases. On too many occasions decisions have been reserved or cases adjourned, even in the High Court, without any visible justification for the adjournment. I realise that the presiding judge knows all the facts but there appears to be a lack of information between the judge, the legal participants and particularly the plaintiff and defendant. Often they do not know why a judgment is reserved or why a case is adjourned until the next sitting.
The High Court is perhaps the most vital and important court. All the High Court judges should come together to try to clear the backlog of cases and try to determine if some cases might be disposed of other than by court sittings. Many cases could be settled if there was reason and understanding without having to take up the time of the court, thus avoiding inconvenience and mental strain to the people involved. There are workmen's compensation cases listed for the High Court and some of them have been there for many years without being disposed of. The time of the court should not be wasted on such cases and an effort should be made to have them disposed of satisfactorily.
I do not know if we have any women High Court judges. I am sure there must be some women in legal circles whose talents are equal to those of the men and doubtless the Government would be favourably disposed towards them. Irrespective of the outcome of a case there is always a financial loss. A greater effort should be made to have cases settled outside court if possible. The Court should only be used as a last resort. There are trivial cases awaiting decision and, because of the position they hold on the list, they are holding up urgent cases that require the attention of our High Court judges.
I salute these men for their understanding, their interest in the institutions of the State and their high standards of honesty and integrity. I say that from my experience of present day judges, but I did not always hold the same view. All judges cannot be angels, nor can all Members of this House, but because of human frailty many of them may be inclined to give way to their feelings. As I said, our judges are devoted to justice and fair play.
My only complaint is that too many cases come before them which should not be before them at all. Perhaps this is because legal people are anxious to take a good pluck of the goose before the cases come to the Four Courts. If there is the slightest doubt about the success of a case, there is a grave responsibility on our legal people to advise their clients about the high costs involved in bringing cases before the High Court and the Supreme Court. After unfavourable decisions many people who attended the High Court as plaintiffs or defendants would have been happier if they had been legally advised not to take their case to that court.
I hope the appointments to be made under this Bill will expedite matters. In my view this Bill was introduced to clear up the backlog of cases and to accelerate the work of the Supreme Court and the High Court. I support this Bill and have no objection to the appointment of the additional judges. As a layman I think there should be at least 14 judges. Some steps should be taken to bring the High Court on circuit more frequently, if a courthouse and office facilities are readily available. This is already happening in Galway and Cork.