Courts Bill, 1980: Committee Stage.

Section 1 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill".

I wish to pursue the question of the extension of the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court and to ask why virtually unlimited jurisdiction is being granted. This section appears to extend the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court in areas about which we might be concerned. Problems will arise, not just in relation to the facilities available and the number of judges but specifically in relation to the extension of jurisdiction. Does the Minister consider that the present mechanics and structures of these courts are adequate to deal with the increased burden which will now fall upon them? Serious concern has been expressed on this matter. The Minister will be aware that a number of district justices and High Court judges have over a long period been provoked by inadequate court facilities to make numerous remarks.

It goes without saying that if we are to have justice in our courts the environment should be such as to enable people to come to level headed, sensible decisions with all facilities readily available and without any kind of injustice being perpetrated either on the prosecution or the defence. Unfortunately in this country we have courts which by no stretch of the imagination could be considered anything but far short of ideal. There are courts where legal representatives and clients are obliged to discuss business outside the building, sometimes in the rain, or in cars. We have facilities which have been condemned by a judiciary who are normally reticent, in this regard at least.

The difficulty occurs at a number of levels, particularly at District Court level. Section 2 deals with the Circuit Court and it is not exempt from criticism in this regard. Is the Minister satisfied with the facilities available? Surely the extension of jurisdiction, which is implicit in this and other sections, will do nothing more than place a very great burden on an already overburdened area and will run the risk of creating an injustice. It should be the Minister's concern to see that the highest standards of justice prevail. If one looks for evidence in this respect one must accept what judges have said about the matter. Time and again they have commented on what can only be described as the disgraceful condition of many courts throughout the country, which is a shame on all of us. I do not see how the Minister can justify extension of jurisdiction which will only aggravate the existing deficiencies.

The justification of increasing the jurisdictional limits of the Circuit and District Courts is a matter that has been raised by Deputy Keating. I should like to refer to the background. The Courts of Justice Act, 1924, fixed the jurisdiction limits of the Circuit Court in contract and tort, excluding matrimonial and criminal conversation actions, and proceedings at the suit of the State, any Minister, Government Department or any officer thereof at £300. In title to land actions, the court's jurisdiction limit was set at £60 valuation, and in probate and equity matters the limits were set at £1,000, personalty, and £60 valuation of land. The monetary, as opposed to valuation, limits of these jurisdictions were increased by the Courts of Justice Act, 1953, from £300 to £600 and from £1,000 to £2,000 respectively.

The Hire Purchase (Amendment) Act, 1960, gave the Circuit Court jurisdiction in hire purchase claims up to £1,000 and the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act, 1961, gave similar jurisdiction in credit sale agreement claims. The Succession Act, 1965, increased the court's probate jurisdiction to £5,000 personalty, and £100, valuation of land.

The Courts Act, 1971, increased the contract and tort jurisdictions of the court from £600 to £2,000 and the jurisdiction in hire purchase and credit sale claims from £1,000 to £2,000. In equity matters, the 1971 Act increased the personalty limit from £2,000 to £5,000 and the land valuation limit from £60 to £100, bringing them into line with the probate jurisdiction of the court.

The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure recommended in their 20th Interim Report that the contract and tort jurisdictions of the Circuit Court be increased from £2,000 to £10,000 and that for equity cases the £5,000 limit on personalty be removed and the £200 limit on rateable value of land be increased to £200. As section 28 contains a proposal, of which the Courts Committee were not aware when making their recommendations, to increase the maximum which may be awarded under the Civil Liability Acts as compensation for mental distress to the relatives of the deceased in a fatal accident, it was decided to increase the new tort limit to £15,000.

I am satisfied there are no delays in the Circuit Court. Section 31 provides for a time lag in respect of arrangements for introducing the new jruisdiction limits. This delay will permit the rule-making bodies to make rules of court which will be necessary to make the new arrangements fully effective. Having given further consideration to the likely work involved in preparing and bringing into effect the new rules and other likely practical requirements for the operation of the new jurisdictions, I am of the opinion that a time lag of 12 months rather than six months would be more appropriate. Amendments Nos. 36b and 36c give effect to the revised period. The extra time will also provide an opportunity to make better progress on the accommodation of proposals which the Minister for Justice referred to on Second Stage and to give detailed consideration to the administrative arrangements for the best use of the available court time and accommodation. I am satisfied that by the time the main proposals of this Bill regarding jurisdiction come into operation the arrangements for the distribution of business in the District Court will be such that the court will be able to handle the increased workload.

As I said before, the operation of the lower courts will be kept under close review for some time after introduction of the new jurisdiction arrangements. The best estimate available at present is that it is likely the District Court will be the only one whose caseload will increase as a result of this Bill. Demand on Circuit Court time is not likely to change significantly. However, if as a result of experience in either court under the new dispensation there arises a need for the appointment of additional judges, justices or court staff, I will not be slow to take whatever steps may be necessary to fulfil that need. It is not possible to estimate the effect which the improved access to courts as afforded by this Bill will have on the volume of business. It follows that it would be a futile exercise to make new appointments on the basis of what can only be guesswork at this stage.

As I pointed out, the Minister indicated on Second Stage that the proposals in this Bill were drawn up following careful consideration of the practical consequences. I should like to place on record that consultations on the proposals have taken place not only with the Chief Justice and the President of the High Court but also with the judiciary in the Circuit and District Courts and other interested bodies.

I trust I have stated clearly the justification of the extension of jurisdiction to the Circuit and District Courts.

I wish to direct some questions to the Minister because matters have been brought to my attention regarding some district courts. On Second Stage, the Minister stated that the question of courthouse accommodation rested mainly with local authorities. There appears to be a lack of communication and liaison between the Department and the local authorities.

I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy. I have allowed a certain latitude in relation to this matter. The reality is that we are discussing here the extension of jurisdiction, not the physical condition of courthouses.

We are proposing in this Bill to make changes with regard to District Court and Circuit Court jurisdiction. Deputy Keating referred to the difficulty of having consultations in many of the courthouses throughout the country but that is only part of it. I wish to deal with a matter that is causing concern in relation to District and Circuit Courts. Will the Minister tell the House what is happening in his Department in regard to the rationalisation of court sittings? It has been brought to my attention that there is at present in operation a process whereby quite a number of District Court sittings are being abolished. To give an example, in County Offaly there are seven different sittings of the District Court and I am reliably informed that at least three of those are being abolished.

I am finding it very difficult to relate what the Deputy is saying on this section to the extension of the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court.

There is now a situation obtaining in which there is an amalgamation of the courts taking place, with county boundaries being breached, with appeals going from one sitting in a county to another sitting. If the Chair wishes I can raise this point at a later stage under the extension of jurisdiction. I do not want to run contrary to the Chair's ruling. It is something I can raise at a later stage.

It is just that I find it difficult to relate what the Deputy is saying about the actual courthouses——

I can perhaps raise the matter under sections 9 and 10.

Is section 2 agreed?

No. The Minister in his reply made a number of interesting comments. In general the principle of an extension of jurisdiction is possibly ideal and is to be welcomed. We know there are at present many cases pending in the lower courts where the costs involved are perhaps even greater than the amounts essentially involved in the cases. In regard to the consultations which took place into the background to this Bill the Minister gave the impression — at least this was the impression I had — that there was a kind of unanimity, presumably among the professional organisations and so on, about the wisdom of this Bill and of this section in particular. I wonder if the Minister would accept that there have been the widespread complaints about which I have spoken. While it might appear at first glance that the physical conditions are not intrinsically related, the reality is that the extension of jurisdiction proposed here will mean a heavier workload for the Circuit Court, which is what we are talking about in this section, with apparently no proposal to increase the existing number of judges or to provide any kind of facilities in that regard. This simply means that two pints are being endeavoured to be fitted into a pint bottle and it will not work. If the Minister is of the view that he has consulted widely, would he, for example, refer to a submission from the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland which said specifically in relation to this section that the Law Society felt justified in sounding a serious warning that the Circuit Court, among other courts, is already operating at full capacity, perhaps with some very few exceptions, that the proposed increases in jurisdiction will seriously overtax the capacity of the Circuit and District Courts, the judges, justices, registrars, clerks and other office staff. That is a submission of a most telling nature from people who are professionals in this field. They feel that they are operating at capacity.

Regardless of that submission the request now is willy-nilly to increase jurisdiction. I might give extracts from a letter from an eminent legal personage, whose name I will omit because it is not relevant, but what is relevant is what he says. After chiding this House on the way it has dealt with District Courts, he goes on to say that many of our Circuit Courts are little better. In the court in which he practices extensively — and he names it — there is not so much as a consultation room, so that one has to consult with one's clients in the hall or else in the motorcar. In many of the Circuit Courts there is not as much as a consultation room. He says that the Bar Council made representations on this matter but to no avail. This gentleman says that the main thing wrong with the proposed legislation is that, as usual, we are putting the cart before the horse. We should first organise facilities before contemplating any change in the law. He says we should consider for a moment some of the problems that will arise. There will be major problems in relation to evidence and he talks about the difficulty, to which others have referred, of organising the attendance of doctors and expert witnesses, as the point will arise that they can be called to court at any time during the year. At present the position is that they know approximately when they are required in court and it is just a few times in the year.

I could go on at length about this but I do not wish to do so. The Minister made a very interesting remark. He said that if a problem arose he would monitor it carefully and would then respond. I suggest that that is precisely the kind of thinking that has led to the dilapidation existing in our courts and the deterioration of our standards in this respect. It is perfectly obvious that problems will arise. Indeed it is obvious that they have arisen already without any increase in jurisdiction. What I am asking the Minister — and I have an amendment at the end of Committee Stage anyway to try to ensure that this Bill will not become operative until such time as the facilities are provided — is: how can he reconcile the existing overwhelming evidence from people practising in the legal profession, from judges who have commented publicly on the matter, from anybody who has had occasion to visit some of these courts? How can the Minister honestly come into this House and tell us that the facilities are adequate, that an increased jurisdication of a very significant nature here will not add enormously to existing problems, thereby creating more?

These are not just problems of office administration. In this context we are talking about justice, about making sure that a person who goes before the court — a most traumatic event — gets justice; that he or she is enabled to be dealt with in a matter which is not cramped, not discriminatory, not in any way prejudicial to his or her interests by virtue of the fact that there are not adequate facilities to talk to one's legal counsel, that the judge feels that he has got to get through so many cases, that there are people almost crowding around the witness box or whatever. The disgraceful condition of courts is a problem fundamentally relevant to the proposal to extend jurisdiction. It is perhaps more relevant in the case of District Courts, where the statistics of the problem in this respect would be even greater. Anybody operating in that field has already said there are problems in that respect. Now we are about to increase jurisdiction. Can the Minister answer three questions for me? (1) What extra percentage of work will now fall on the Circuit Court? (2) Does he propose to appoint extra judges and staff? (3) What extra allocation will his Department provide to bring this new situation about in order that we can deal fairly with what is in essence a good idea if it were practicable?

Everything Deputy Keating has said is correct. I would appeal to the Minister to take a serious look at the situation and at Circuit Court courthouses as well. I might refer the Minister again to his Second Reading speech when he made the point that he had in preparation a set of proposals relating to courthouse accommodation which he would be putting to the Government in the near future. That speech was delivered some time ago. I wonder what has happened that set of proposals. Is the Minister now in a position to outline the precise situation in regard to them?

As the Minister and his Department are responsible for the administration of justice they should take the initiative and be responsible for the keeping of courthouses in proper condition. Local authorities are at present experiencing a lot of financial problems. I can assure the Minister that the updating and improvement of courthouse accommodation is low on their priority lists. Some courthouses are reasonably adequate; that is as much as one can say about them. The majority of them are completely unsatisfactory, have no consultation rooms, proper toilet facilities or heating. Those facilities are essential because in many instances people arrive at 9 a.m. for a consultation before a Circuit Court hearing. Those people may have to wait until 5 o'clock in the evening in buildings that do not have proper toilet or heating facilities or a proper room for consultation. That is not good enough in this day and age.

Irrespective of the relationship that exists between the Department of Justice and local authorities the Minister should be able to ensure that courthouses are maintained to a moderate standard. The Minister must exercise complete control over courthouses. The exterior of many of the courthouses is beautiful and many of them are historical buildings but it is sad to see them decaying as they are at present. The Minister should put forward the set of proposals he said he would introduce in the course of his Second Stage speech. He should tell the House what has happened since then.

Deputy Keating has tabled amendments in relation to facilities and so on and I want to avoid having two debates on the same subject.

My difficulty is that it might appear by not saying what I did that I was accepting section 2 which, unfortunately, impinges on the question of facilities. Obviously, if it is said clearly now it will not have to be repeated at greater length when we come to deal with the amendments. I have no desire to repeat myself on these matters.

Is section 2 agreed? Is the House prepared to leave the debate to the amendments?

There are other points I wish to raise in relation to section 2. Is the Minister prepared to reply?

I must assume that the Deputy proposes when he moves his amendments to refer to this matter again. In that case he would be asking the Minister to reply again. I do not think we should have two debates.

Before we move from section 21 should like to make two points, one is peripheral to the question of jurisdiction and the other relates to the whole question of financial ceilings in the Bill and my plea for index-linking. The Circuit Court, which is under discussion, deals with claims between £250 and £2,000. The £2,000 jurisdiction was conferred in October 1971 and it represented an increase then of £600. There is no argument about the need to increase jurisdiction at least in line with inflation which, as the Minister knows better than I, is soaring all the time. At present it is at an all time high. This is the most efficient and productive tier of the court system but, in case the Minister might take refuge and solace from this as a way of pushing through his desire to foist extra jurisdiction in this regard without giving the facilities to do it, it should be said that there are a number of reasons why it operates the way it does. In general, the standard of judges at this level is very high and cases can be and are heard within a short time. That is not necessarily the case at all levels. It is possible to have one's case in the Circuit Court heard within two or three months of the cause of action arising. There is no backlog as such at present.

However, that is achieved only by extraordinary dedication by a number of judges. Outside Dublin it is a norm for judges to sit from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. As was stated, it is nearly as demanding as the work of a Dáil Deputy. Certainly, it is very exacting. Fair credit goes to the judges who make that possible. While this is commendable in eliminating delays it cannot reasonably be suggested that litigants whose cases come on for hearing at 7.30 or 8.30 in the evening receive as fresh and as alert a hearing as those who are called earlier in the day. The question of the length of adjudication is something that should be considered in this regard. Perhaps, what is for some people a normal working day is too great in areas where one is dealing with extremely sensitive matters affecting fundamentally the future and the lives of many people. In other words, if there is to be a discussion in this respect we should err on the side of caution in asking judges to work fewer, in terms of courtroom hours, rather than greater hours but that is not the case.

In fact, the Circuit Court is packed to capacity and the £2,000 limit is obviously inadequate. This inadequacy means that in cases of a road accident where there are not personal injuries if one of the cars involved is new, the claim is likely to exceed the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court. Obviously, that is absurd. There is a need for a change in the jurisdiction I do not wish that to be obscured but there is no point in asking people who are already working to capacity to do something extra. All that would happen would be that we would have people with nervous breakdowns and the concept and principle of justice would be done a genuine injury. I put it to the Minister that any proposal to increase jurisdiction — this applies throughout the Bill — must take account of the fact that the Circuit Court is already working to capacity.

If there is to be any jurisdictional increase — this is the kernel of the matter — it must be matched by an increase in the number of judges and staff. It would not involve any substantial drain on the Exchequer as the court staff is already available. The question then is how great the jurisdictional increase should be. The increase proposed in the Bill is of such a scale that it represents a very substantial increase in real terms in the Circuit Court jurisdiction. In other words, there is more in the section than merely up-dating with inflation; it means a very real increase in jurisdiction. Some of the increases in jurisdiction will be dealt with in other sections and we will be disagreeing with the Minister in regard to them.

An argument in favour must be presented in terms of decentralisation. In principle that would certainly seem acceptable but it can and may give rise to practical difficulties. If the Circuit Court jurisdiction limit is increased to the limit proposed it will mean that quite substantial personal injuries actions will be heard before the Circuit Court. That means that litigants with substantial personal injuries would be deprived of a right to a jury trial, an important issue in a democracy. Just as serious is the difficulty they are likely to experience in arranging for the attendance of witnesses. It is the normal practice in cases of significant personal injuries that the court has the assistance of expert witnesses. Naturally enough when dealing with serious injuries one needs the assistance of a doctor, a psychiatrist or whatever professional assistance is necessary at the time of the trial. It is not unusual to have a general practitioner and two or three more specialists giving evidence on behalf of each party, for example. Naturally, the same specialists tend to be required to give evidence in a large number of cases. At present that does not give rise to any problems because all these personal injury actions are listed for the High Court. That means that for the bulk of the year the court goes out on circuit to Galway, Limerick and Cork and that facilitates the attendance of expert witnesses, medical and otherwise.

If the proposed increase goes through one could define the situation where, for example, a plastic surgeon might on the same day be required to give evidence of his treatment in Castlebar, Skiberreen, Monaghan and, perhaps, Roscommon. The clashes of commitments that must inevitably arise for professional witnesses will result in major delays. Has the Minister thought about this? In relation to the operation of the Circuit Court's criminal jurisdiction, one difficulty should also be mentioned. An accused has the fundamental right to a trial by jury and I hope that anything any Government may do will not impact detrimentally on that right. However, the legislature has realised that there may be cases when obtaining an independent and impartial jury may cause difficulty. That has been recognised in a number of ways. Obvious examples would involve allegations of violent rape or some type of agrarian dispute where there were strong local feelings.

In these cases an accused might complain that he would not be given a fair trial in an area in which the offence was alleged to have been committed. The prosecution might face similar difficulties in border counties in prosecuting smuggling offences, for example. Both sides have a right, on seven days' notice, to apply to have the hearing of their case transferred to the Central Criminal Court. I would not argue as to the possibility of there being some degree of abuse in this procedure of accused persons seeking to transfer, not because they fear the existence of prejudice on the part of a jury, but because they are aware of and disapprove of the sentencing policy of the Circuit Court judge. However, that is a matter which can be dealt with in another way.

I am asking whether there is a danger, now that we are going to make inroads on this very fundamental right, perhaps by way of a nod and agreement, of the situation being abused but that this is a way out. I suggest to the Minister that he think again in this respect because if there is abuse there is another way of dealing with it. Arguably, I could suggest that the absolute right to transfer be abolished and that instead both the accused and the State be given the right to have cases transferred for a cause shown, but what I am concerned about here is not the thinking behind the increase in jurisdiction but the very serious effect and implications involved.

I would refer briefly to the question of financial limits. It is nonsensical that this House must occupy itself, as happens regularly, on the fixing of financial limits in Bills, sometimes even on the introduction of whole new legislation to deal with financial limits that were fixed years ago and which are totally out of date, whether they be in the area of general fining policy or in the area of sanctions for specific offences. In the case before us it has taken years for the relevant Bill to reach the House. If the new limits are agreed, they will become outdated immediately because of the rapid rise in inflation, a situation that shows no signs of diminishing. Unless we agree to index-linking the limits now, there will be varying standards of justice because the £100 fine or the £2,000 fine of today is worth more than it will be worth in six months' time and it is worth a good deal more than it will be worth in two years' time. In some cases the Minister has taken power, by way of ministerial order to increase the limits, but the problem is that this is very new and has not been used widely.

In the legislation with which I am familiar, there is always argument in this regard. This is a matter which should never be the basis for substantive debate in this House or for new legislation as has been the case up to now. Why not build in a provision for index-linking the fines or the values of any financial limits in this Bill with current economic indicators which would increase automatically thereby endeavouring to ensure that what is justice for one person today is justice for another tomorrow or next year or at any other time? Surely that is merely commonsence instead of having a situation in which there is a good time to be fined and a bad time to be fined. The situation has become so ludicrous that it is no longer worthwhile for the Garda to take people to court. This is particularly true of fines in respect of litter offences. The same applies so far as the planning laws are concerned. The financial sanctions are irrelevant.

I stated earlier this afternoon what I intend to do in any situation in which it is deemed necessary to provide either judges, justices or court staff. I have stated also that at this point in time it would be totally inappropriate to enter into an area of guesswork as to what the volume of work may or may not be on the coming into effect of this legislation.

But the professions say that they are working to capacity.

I have been in consultation with the professions also and I am satisfied that the views expressed to me do not justify me in taking any course other than the one about which I am informing the House.

Deputy Keating has suggested that there will be great disadvantages and stresses and strains imposed on litigants and, indeed, on professional people because they will find difficulty in having professional witnesses at point A and at point B on the same date. I do not accept that this situation in itself will impose stresses, hardship and problems in respect of communications and transport. The information available to me — and this information is from the professional interests and from the courts committee — is that these interests are totally satisfied that the situation will not be anything of the extraordinary and serious dimensions that the Deputy plays it up to be.

It is not the case that the facilities are not available?

Having listened to all the views put to me, I am satisfied that the interests concerned are happy about the situation. Many of the professional people, particularly those in the medical profession, inform me that many of those who find themselves involved tragically in serious accident cases have their initial, if not all their consultations with local consultants at the hospitals in the areas in which they live. Invariably, these people are available in the Circuit Court in these areas and for this reason the argument that Dublin would necessarily be the hub of all activity in this regard is a misrepresentation of the situation.

The Deputy has raised also the question of juries but that is a question that does not arise on the section we are dealing with except in so far as there is no intention in the Bill to have juries in the Circuit Court for the purpose of civil cases. The Deputy has referred to the accused and to juries in criminal cases but we are not dealing with that context in the proposed legislation. I would be going outside my function on Committee Stage of this Bill in replying to something that is not material so far as the Bill is concerned.

The Deputy referred to the question of index-linking. I understand that he has tabled an amendment in that regard for a later section and on that basis I shall reserve comment on the point until the relevant section is reached.

Is it proposed to appoint extra judges and staff and, secondly, is it intended that there be a separate allocation for the Minister's Department in this respect, having regard to the fact that these courts are working to capacity? Is the answer yes or no?

Because the matter cannot be put in such black-and-white terms, I shall endeavour to elaborate further. Should the necessity arise to provide additional staff——

In other words, the answer is no for the moment.

Though the question has been framed in black-and-white terms, I am not prepared to answer it in that way. The points raised by the Deputy might create a misrepresentation among the public and among other Members of the House, and for that reason I intend to answer them by elaborating somewhat more than the Deputy has done.

I am only seeking the facts.

Whatever staffing and financing may be required to ensure that the jurisdiction imposed on these courts can be carried out properly will be made available.

How is it possible to impose extra work without making available extra facilities? Would the Minister be prepared to accept a greater workload without being provided with extra secretarial assistance, for instance?

I have answered the question quite positively. Whatever is required by way of judges, justices or court staff, together with the necessary finances which must automatically follow if the Minister's commitment to give that in a situation where they are required is to be operational, will be given.

Will they be given it?

Of course.

As soon as the jurisdiction takes over?

As soon as is necessary.

When is that?

As soon as the effects of the jurisdiction are felt. The operations of these courts will be monitored from the first day.

That is different.

The Minister has answered the question I was going to ask. I was going to ask had he in mind allowing plaintiffs in actions in the Circuit Court in contract or tort cases, particularly tort cases, to make application to be granted a jury. Obviously the answer is no. There has been a very big lobby to abolish the jury system here and we will be dealing with that on the later stages of this Bill in regard to the High Court situation. I feel that the jury system is a safeguard and a guarantee for the ordinary citizen.

The Deputy is going outside the scope of the section.

I am not.

We are dealing with the extension of the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court.

The Minister has emphatically stated that where the jurisdiction is raised from £2,000 to £15,000 the plaintiff will not be entitled to have a jury. I might add that human nature is a strange thing. Some judges will be generous with other people's money and some will be very careful not only with their own but with somebody else's money as well. That is human nature. What I want to get across is that, over a period of time, people generally get to know the attitude of a judge to a particular kind of problem. This can be seen over a period of years. There could be a situation where a case would be valued at £12,000-£15,000 and the plaintiff may feel that the judge might be somewhat careful and that it would be better to settle the case out of court. This could be a situation where the plaintiff should be entitled to apply for a jury if he wished. Fifteen thousand pounds is an enormous sum of money to people and there should be a choice open to them now that the jurisdiction is being increased because it is a very big jump from £2,000 to £15,000.

I feel that if people are not entitled to have a jury they may come up against judges who are over-protective of the interests of large insurance companies and so on and this would result in a disadvantage to the plaintiff. Because of the huge extension of the jurisdiction the Minister should strongly consider allowing juries in the Circuit Court at the choice of either party. There will be many cases where the claim is small and, irrespective of how it goes, the case will proceed without a jury. But in many cases where the amount of money involved is extensive, a person should be entitled, if he so desires, to have the case heard before a jury. The jury system goes back to the year 1200 and we should continue to have it in the High Court certainly, and in cases in the Circuit Court because of the increasing of the jurisdiction. Many people would not avail of the opportunity but there are many who would and I would ask the Minister to look into that.

We have touched on the position in regard to doctors, surgeons, engineers, architects and other professional people giving evidence in court. The Circuit Court visits some of the larger towns around the country. There will be a lot of surgeons attached to the local general hospital giving evidence but, in regard to neurologists and other specialists needed to give evidence they may be required to travel from Dublin to do so. In this context the settling of the list for the Circuit Court is going to have to come under review. I know the Minister has seen Circuit Court lists. They arrive ten days beforehand and I have seen 300 or 400 cases listed for a one or two-day sitting. Specialist witnesses may have to wait around the court for two days and the solicitor cannot tell them whether the case will be reached or not. If one brings down a surgeon from Dublin to Castlebar for two days and then the case is not heard it will certainly be very difficult to get him to attend in Castlebar on any occasion in the future. If the jurisdiction is being extended there will be a very big increase in the business of the Circuit Court. Because of this there is going to have to be a much more business-like approach to the settling of District Court and Circuit Court lists. I would personally urge the Minister to arrange a conference between himself and the different county registrars and the different Circuit Court judges in consultation with the Incorporated Law Society and the Bar Council to see if they can arrive at a more businesslike procedure in regard to the settling of Circuit Court lists. It is totally unsatisfactory to see 300 or 400 cases in a list for a two-day sitting. It would be a physical impossibility to get through it all. It would be like expecting the full Order Paper to be dealt with in one day here in the House and I do not think we will ever see that happen.

At least we are not sent to jail.

The situation is unsatisfactory. My concern would be that there would be a number of very eminent surgeons leaving their hospitals in Dublin and travelling down to a court and waiting for a number of days and the case not being heard. They might have had to leave behind a very important operation; they might have had to leave behind some very sick person to attend in court. It is to facilitate people who are expert witnesses in so many different lines. I am not speaking just of the medical profession but also of top engineers, architects and people in so many walks of business life and so on. I want to try to overcome this situation which at the moment is highly unsatisfactory. Three or four hundred cases may be listed for a two-day sitting and everybody knows in his heart and soul that 300 of those cases will be adjourned. You might find yourself half-way down the list and uncertain what the situation is. This is not a business-like approach. Imagine 400 cases listed with the plaintiffs, defendants, expert witnesses and so on arriving for that hearing. Think of the loss of manpower over that few days with all the people attending for the hearing of those cases. In fairness to the judges, they are very anxious to change this as also are the county registrars and everybody else. But that situation has existed, to my knowledge, for the past 12 or 14 years. The problem will have to be tackled and eradicated.

The Minister should see if the meeting I have outlined can be arranged even during the passage of this Bill. There should not be too much difficulty in regard to tackling this matter. I will mention some of the items that will have to be arranged. The county registrar would have to communicate far earlier than he does at present. The normal procedure in the circuit court is that the county registrar notifies solicitors and sends them the court list seven to ten days before the court hearing. Some of the solicitors will communicate with him to say that some of the cases are not going on. I suggest that six weeks beforehand a provisional list would be sent out and then each solicitor would have to communicate with his witnesses and so on and write back to the county registrar, saying, for instance. "In nine cases out of 20 I cannot get witnesses. People are ill, therefore those cases are not going on". Then four weeks beforehand the county registrar will be able to send out a second list and after another two weeks he could send out the final list, and one could arrive in court happy in the knowledge that his case will go on.

I do not want to repeat myself, but let us consider a list of, say, 200 cases. There would be 200 plaintiffs and 200 defendants — that is, 400 people — 200 solicitors and 200 barristers perhaps. You are running into probably 1,000 people most of whom are wasting their time in that court because their cases may not go on. Similarly you are wasting the time of doctors, engineers, surgeons and so on. I do not know whether this has ever been tackled seriously. I doubt whether there has ever been a businesslike and commonsense approach to see if those lists can be changed. I am referring specifically to the Circuit Court. The Minister of State is 14 or 15 months in his job. If he were to take the initiative in this respect I feel that he would have the goodwill and co-operation of all of the parties concerned. People with whom I discussed this matter are fully aware of this problem.

I will give an example. Some years ago I arrived in Dublin for a case that was due to go on and people travelled from all over to attend. They waited all day, the case did not go on and they were back the following morning in Dublin. I found it extremely difficult to explain to those people how the list situation works. Irrespective of any plausible explanation that one could give them, their main contention was that they had been totally discommoded and put out over the whole matter. They felt very aggrieved over the waste of their time and the excessive costs in which it involved them. I hope that this matter will be looked at thoroughly. Now that the extension of the Circuit Court jurisdiction is proceeding the Minister of State has an opportunity of tackling this matter on a realistic, practical and businesslike basis and I urge him to do so.

Before I sit down I will ask the Minister of State to let me know his views about the jury system. Does he envisage at this stage giving a plaintiff an opportunity of requesting the provision of a jury for, say, a serious case in which that plaintiff is involved where the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court now is up to £15,000? In a case of that nature where £12,000. £14,000 or £15,000 is involved, the person desiring a jury should be entitled to have one. The additional expense involved would not be too excessive. In fairness to the plantiff and people involved in court actions, this provision should be made. I ask the Minister of State to consider seriously the restoration of juries in cases of £15,000 or so in the Circuit Court where requested by the parties concerned.

I am glad that Deputy Enright when referring to juries used the words "the restoration of juries" because under the Courts Act, 1971, juries for the purpose of civil cases were abolished. It is not proposed in this legislation to restore — to use his word again — the jury system. It has been said on a number of occasions that the jury system is a valuable one and that there is a certain strong lobby against juries at the moment. I genuinely hold the view expressed by Deputy Enright that that lobby is pretty strong at the moment.

The Minister of State is not one of those.

I have no personal views to offer; ministerial views, yes. In the context of the proposed legislation we must also make people aware, and reiterate if necessary, that the individual who seeks to have a jury can still do so by seeking the jurisdiction of the High Court.

There is the rub, there is the problem.

That is there.

May I clarify on that? What happens then is that he goes to the High Court before a jury and if he gets only £13,500 or £14,000 the cost situation becomes very serious for him. He will not get High Court costs.

What the Deputy is saying is correct. Firstly, the abolition of the jury system in the Courts Act, 1971, was based on information that indicated clearly the numbers of people who sought the jury presence in the Circuit Court prior to then. For that reason it was considered desirable to abolish the jury system in the Circuit Court, and the person who seeks to go into the High Court today and avail of the jury system does so at some risk to himself. I acknowledge that and I agree with the Deputy, but that is the risk that he has to take. I would like to point out also that it is envisaged as a result of the proposed legislation that many family law cases will now come before the Circuit Court.

We will be dealing with that in a later section.

Yes, but I am speaking about juries. I have been asked why juries should not be restored in this proposed legislation. In fairness, if I am to give Deputy Enright a comprehensive answer——

I would not like it to be assumed that your justification or your rationale was in this case acceptable here.

It need not necessarily ever be acceptable over there, but that should not preclude me from giving my views even though they might not normally or naturally be acceptable to the Opposition parties or individual Deputies. I am sure Deputy Enright appreciates the fact that I am trying to give as comprehensive an answer as possible. In that connection I referred to the fact that it is envisaged that the new jurisdiction of the Circuit Court will attract quite a number of family law cases. As Deputy Keating will appreciate, this is a great step forward: that we can provide for the first time a proper judicial forum for the sensitive areas of family law cases in which heretofore there was admittedly some neglect. Intimacies which are often related in court in such cases are such that it might be difficult, in certain circumstances, for them to be totally aired in that type of situation.

Deputy Enright referred to the fixing of lists. I am informed that the fixing of lists for Circuit Courts is a quasi-judicial function. However, I note Deputy Enright's views. I also want to add that the administrative examination or hopefully restructuring which is being looked at at the moment includes that in the District Court content. Maybe the suggestion which Deputy Enright has made is something that might more advisedly be put to the local bar associations and county registrars who might take it up at local level in their respective areas.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I am speaking personally when I speak on this section. I am not now practising as a solicitor and, therefore, I have no vested interest one way or the other. I am a bit concerned about the increase in the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court from £2,000 to £15,000. I am concerned because quite substantial cases will now be heard in the Circuit Court dealing with running down actions and injuries received in those actions. When we reach the figure of £15,000 we will be dealing with injuries which could only be dealt with in Dublin hospitals. It follows from that that expert witnesses, consult-and surgeons and so on, will be required to attend in Circuit Courts throughout the country. It will not be possible to procure the attendance of the highly qualified specialists in these courts because it will mean that a consultant will be required probably to be away from Dublin for two days, even if the case is reached on the day on which it is listed. The first duty of a surgeon or a specialist is to be available in his hospital to treat and cure people who are badly injured. If they are going to be running all around the country, from Donegal to Kerry, giving evidence in Circuit Courts, they will simply not be available in their hospitals in Dublin. Furthermore, they would be coming to give evidence in cases where the plaintiff might very well be, and most likely would be, a man with no money. If the case is won, he will get such fees as the county registrar may tax for his visit to the Circuit Court. If the plaintiff loses the case, he will get nothing. It is not going to be easy to arrange for the attendance of these witnesses in Circuit Courts. It is not in the interest of the proper running of specialist hospitals to do so.

How is it possible to arrange this is Dublin? It is a different setup altogether in Dublin. A phone call will ensure that the witness is not required to leave his hospital for longer than perhaps half an hour before he is required in the witness box. In that way, he can be available. It can also be argued that county surgeons are required to go to Dublin. That is so, but it is much easier to arrange for the country surgeon or country doctor to travel to Dublin, because he usually has a good professional and maybe personal relationship with the solicitor concerned. The solicitor can arrange that the doctor will not have to leave his hospital in the country in most instances until the solicitor is certain that the case is on. Furthermore, if there were proper free legal aid available in running down actions — I understand there is not — then it might be argued that the witness would have his expenses paid anyway because of free legal aid. The net result of this will be to provide an inferior court service for these running down actions. It will also have the effect of forcing settlements upon plaintiffs which they might not otherwise accept, because they will have no alternative if the solicitor tells them that he simply cannot get the witness to come to Tralee, Letterkenny, Cavan or Roscommon. He will have no alternative but to settle the case. The insurance companies will get to know this, they will hold out and there will be settlements forced on plaintiffs which they would not otherwise accept.

If these increases in jurisdiction are being brought about the least that the Minister and the Government might do is to implement proper free legal aid so that witnesses can be paid if brought down to these courts. Since I saw this measure being introduced I had this fear. For the same reason I am against the abolition of juries, which indirectly comes into this discussion because I believe that any running-down actions where the plaintiff might not have an open-and-shut case, where there would be a doubt, are settled where juries are concerned. If there were no juries it follows that they would be tried by a judge without a jury and there are plaintiff's judges and defendant's judges and these are well known to the legal profession and to insurance companies. One very well known judge who presided in our courts for a great number of years was known as a defendant's judge. Cases that are listed or are likely to come before these judges will not be settled by the defendants who will let them run and take their chance. I think the net result of the whole thing will be that justice will not be done in the long run as well or as sympathetically as it is done at present. I should like to hear the Minister's views on this.

I thank Deputy Fitzpatrick for his comments, but I disagree with his estimate that the figure of £15,000 will necessarily involve the travelling of thousands of consultants around the country to the extent envisaged by the Deputy. Deputy Keating raised this matter earlier and I explained that in the Dublin area there is a certain convenience because of the proximity of these people. In rural areas there is not the same proximity even though they may be available in local hospitals. I have before me the comments of the Court Committee on this matter. They said:

It has been suggested that a concentration of these cases in the District Court and the Circuit Court might create difficulties in the provision of the necessary medical evidence because some medical consultants might be reluctant to travel to various venues around the country rather than to the High Court in Dublin. The Committee are not satisfied that there is real substance in these objections because experience has shown that in many of the cases in the High Court the consultants come from outside Dublin. In cases of road accidents patients are more frequently than not treated in local hospitals and are treated by local consultants save in cases which develop serious complications where it may be necessary, as for example in the case of severe brain injury, to send the cases to specialist units in Dublin.

I found, on examination of this, that it is in fact the situation. In the vast majority of cases the consultants are those that were in a position to see the patient on admission to hospital in cases of road accidents particularly. While I agree that proximity to Dublin makes matters much easier for all parties, in the country we can have the difficulty of a hospital being 30 or 40 miles away. For a consultant required in court the travelling of that distance might cause in itself as much difficulty and hardship on a particular day as travelling perhaps 100 miles from outside Dublin if he were one of the type of specialists caring for the victim of a road accident that had suffered severe brain injury or something of that nature. I am, however, satisfied that what is recommended in the committee's report is acceptable and that has been demonstrated on further examination.

Deputy Fitzpatrick also spoke about the jury system and the extension of legal aid. I do not intend to comment on the legal aid system in the context of this legislation. As regards the jury situation, as I have already said, they have not existed since 1971. I do not know what the arguments were for or against——

(Cavan-Monaghan): For all practical purposes they did not exist since 1936 because there was an appeal from a jury to a judge without a jury.

On a statutory basis anyway they did not exist after 1971 because the Bill of that year abolished whatever type of existence they had before that. I think I have adequately covered the situation in relation to juries. I agree with Deputy Enright that there is at the moment a strong lobby for the abolition of the jury system. I accept we have all heard that.

The Minister said he had no personal view.

I said I had heard that and it has nothing to do with any personal views that I hold. Certainly, as regards my personal views, this House is not the place to air them.

That is interesting.

It is a fact. Deputy Fitzpatrick also referred to the merits and demerits of certain members of the Judiciary. I do not wish to comment on that. I have heard Deputy Keating speak in that regard here on more than one occasion. I am satisfied that these people are of the highest integrity and impartiality——

(Cavan-Monaghan): I said there were plaintiff's judges and defendant's judges. I do not want to be misquoted.

I am certainly not misquoting the Deputy, but I should not like to remain silent in case it would be assumed that I agreed with him. For that reason I must make the point that the independence, integrity and impartiality of these people is something that the public at large are highly satisfied with. I should not like, and I know Deputy Fitzpatrick does not intend, to have it felt abroad that there is such a thing as partiality among the Judiciary. It has been long accepted that anything that would in any way, even though not intended in a certain way, endanger or undermine public confidence in our Judiciary or the courts could have very serious implications. I know that all the Deputies involved in the Committee Stage, Deputy Fitzpatrick, Deputy Keating and Deputy Enright have no intention of undermining public confidence in any way.

We are trying to improve the position.

As regards remarks about the Judiciary, on this side of the House I think we have at all stages agreed fully with the sentiments the Minister has expressed about the honesty, integrity and impartiality of our judges. The Minister said there is a very strong lobby for the abolition of juries.

(Cavan-Monaghan): An insurance company lobby.

It consists of multi-million pound insurance company muscle. These are the people who want to get rid of juries. I, and I hope everybody in my party, would be totally opposed to the abolition of juries. They are the only safeguard for an honest, poor person who receives injuries and wishes to have a case heard in court. It would be a poor day if we allowed wealthy muscle, such as the insurance companies have at their disposal and which they are well able to use, to influence public opinion through all kinds of advertisements to prevail. This is a safeguard the ordinary citizen is entitled to. The jury system has served this country well——

There is nothing in this section about the abolition of juries.


It must be very indirectly.

You will see that this is so in the debates published next week. There is a very big body of opinion on this side of the House who feel that this extension will cause problems for many litigants. If I may give an example of a Circuit Court case, a person who receives an ankle or knee injury may be off work for one year and lose £6,000 in wages. First he may be in a local hospital and then a Dublin hospital. This could cost about £20 a day, then he has to pay doctors fees and he could have further expenses of £4,000 or £5,000 In all, his expenses could amount to £11,000.

When his ankle has healed perfectly he might wonder how much compensation he will get. Will he get more than £4,000? If so, he will be all right if he goes to the High Court, but, if he gets less and goes to the High Court he will be faced with costs. This person will have to face these problems. If he is facing a jury he probably will be treated more generously than if only one person hears his case. For that reason there is a strong case to have the jury system restored to the Circuit Court. This would give people more confidence in having their cases heard in the Circuit Court and I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter.

The Minister dealt with expert witnesses and went on to deal with the settling of the lists. He regarded that as a quasi-judicial procedure. If we have to bring consultants, surgeons and some of the top people from the Richmond, St. Vincents and the Rehabilitation Centre to, say, Tralee or Castlebar——

Not all the experts are in Dublin.

I accept that. A top surgeon left our county hospital some years ago and he is famous all over Europe.

Injured people often come to Dublin for treatment. When their cases are heard in the Circuit Court the specialists must come from Dublin. If the cases are not heard on the appropriate date, the injured person is faced with the difficult problem of asking these specialists to come back.

The Minister has been very fair with his replies but I do not believe he fully understands the unsatisfactory nature of the listing of cases. This is one problem he must tackle. If he organised a consultative meeting with the county registrars, judges, the bar counsel, the Incorporated Law Society, and senior officials of the Department, this problem could be very satisfactorily resolved.

Our courts should be streamlined. They should be an example of efficiency and administration but unfortunately, because of the unsatisfactory nature of the listing of cases, they are not. I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter and I would like to hear his comments.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I must clear up one point. In the course of my last contribution I stated that insurance companies would be more likely to contest running down actions listed before judges without juries. I stated that some judges were known as plaintiffs' judges and others as defendants' judges. The Minister seemed to take me up as in some way casting a reflection on the integrity of judges.

Not at all.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I am glad to hear that, but the Minister spent some time making a case for the integrity of judges. Nobody has more respect or confidence in the Judiciary than I have, but I still believe they are human and therefore fallible. I still believe some judges who preside in our courts in running down actions are known as plaintiffs' judges and others as defendants' judges. I was making the case that where insurance companies know these cases are being heard before a judge with a jury, they will let the case go to a hearing rather than settle it. Justice is very often obtained far more effectively through a settlement than through an all-out contest.

I am not satisfied that the Minister has made the case for £15,000 jurisdiction in the Circuit Court. I believe it will work out as a hardship against plaintiffs, who will find it quite difficult to secure the services of the necessary expert witnesses based in Dublin who will have to travel from Dublin to give evidence.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.