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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 18 Jun 1991

Vol. 409 No. 9

Courts (No. 2) Bill, 1991: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill proposes substantial changes in the monetary limits of the civil jurisdiction of the Circuit and District Courts, in the case of the Circuit Court from £15,000 to £30,000 and in the District Court from £2,500 to £5,000.

The Bill also provides for a number of other important matters. These include provisions for the variation in future, by Government order, of the monetary limits of the jurisdiction of the Circuit and District Courts, provisions dealing with the costs that may be recovered when a case is taken in a higher court than is necessary, an increase in the number of judges of the High and Circuit Courts and in the number of justices of the District Court, and provisions for the service by post of District Court summonses in cases of summary jurisdiction.

This Bill represents the first instalment in a major programme of legislative reform that I plan to introduce in relation to the courts and the legal profession. I have already announced another initiative in the courts area which does not require legislation. That is the introduction of a small claims procedure in the District Court.

The new procedure will be established as soon as necessary rules of court have been made. Small claims courts, or procedures, operate in other jurisdictions, and I am confident that the introduction of a small claims procedure in our jurisdiction will make our courts more accessible, convenient and less costly for persons with relatively small claims. The new procedure is consistent with my overall policy of ensuring that legal services are provided and justice is administered in a cost-effective way. I will outline, briefly, the manner in which the small claims procedure will operate.

Under the procedure, a claimant may, instead of issuing a civil process in the ordinary way, apply to have a claim, not exceeding in value £500, processed through the small claims procedure. The procedure will not apply to claims related to personal injuries, damage arising from a traffic accident and hire purchase, leasing or other loan arrangements.

The application will be made on the appropriate form to the Small Claims Registrar at the nearest District Court Office. The claimant may call to the office for assistance in completing the form. A fee of £5 must be paid with each application. The Small Claims Registrar will consider each application and take whatever steps he may deem necessary, whether by way of interview of the claimant, or otherwise, to record the full facts of the claim.

The registrar will attempt to settle the claim between the parties, and may interview the parties themselves, or any other person who may be relevant in assessing the claim. If a settlement between the parties is reached, particulars of the settlement will be recorded by the registrar. If the registrar cannot effect a settlement between the parties, he will refer the matter for hearing in the District Court and he will inform both parties of the date, time and place of hearing. At the hearing, the Small Claims Registrar will present the facts as set out in the claim to the district justice. The claimant and respondent will be liable for their own witness and legal costs, if any.

I have decided to establish the procedure initially on a pilot scheme in the Dublin Metropolitan District Court, in Cork and at two other District Court venues. My intention is to extend the procedure to all District Court venues as soon as the pilot scheme has been fully tested.

I plan to introduce a further Bill — a Courts and Courts Officers Bill — before the end of the year. It will deal in particular with the establishment of a Court of Civil Appeal.

Although it would not be appropriate to discuss the detailed proposals in advance, my general approach is to create a structure in which the Supreme Court would deal only with appeals in the more important cases involving issues of law, including, of course, all appeals in constitutional cases. All other appeals from the High Court would be heard by the new Court of Civil Appeal.

A Bill to amend the law relating to solicitors has been in preparation for some time. Last year the Fair Trade Commission published a very comprehensive report following their study into restrictive practices in the legal profession. I will be introducing a Solicitors' (Amendment) Bill very shortly. It will be a major piece of legislation which will take account of the various recommendations made by the Fair Trade Commission for changes in the law relating to solicitors.

The Bill will include important provisions relating to the disciplinary provisions governing solicitors including the system for dealing with complaints and various new measures for the protection of solicitors' clients.

As Deputies will probably be aware, there is no corresponding legislation regulating barristers. Many of the Fair Trade Commission's recommendations are for fundamental changes in existing practices in the barrister's profession.

I have made it a priority to initiate a dialogue with representatives of the Bar Council on the subject of change in the profession. I met with the chairman and other members of the council on 10 April last. I am encouraged by the response I got from them and I am aware that the Bar Council are proposing to make certain changes voluntarily. I shall be having further discussions with the Bar Council soon to see what further progress can be made in this area.

I shall return now to the proposals in the present Bill. The limits of the civil jurisdiction of the District and Circuit Courts were fixed originally by the Courts of Justice Act, 1924, and were increased first in 1953, mainly to compensate for the fall in the value of money. They were again increased by the Courts Act, 1971. The limits were last increased by the Courts Act, 1981, and on that occasion the civil jurisdiction in contract, tort and related jurisdictions was fixed at £15,000 for the Circuit Court and £2,500 for the District Court.

The Fair Trade Commission in their recent report into restrictive practices in the legal profession suggested that the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court should be increased to £25,000 and that the jurisdiction of the District Court should be increased to £5,000.

The Government, after careful consideration, have decided to increase the Circuit Court's jurisdiction in contract and tort to £30,000 and the District Court's jurisdiction in these matters to £5,000. Other jurisdictions of the Circuit Court which have been traditionally linked with the contract and tort limit, will also be similarly increased.

Under the Courts Act, 1981, the Circuit Court's jurisdiction limit in actions relating to title to land and in equity cases was increased to £200 rateable valuation. However, the court's jurisdiction under the Registration of Title Act, 1964, remains limited to land with a rateable valuation not exceeding £60. There is no good reason for leaving the court with a lesser jurisdiction in registration of title matters and the Bill increases the rateable valuation limit to £200 in these matters.

The District Court's jurisdiction limit in contract and tort cases will be increased from £2,500 to £5,000. Other jurisdiction limits which are traditionally linked with these limits are also being increased to £5,000. These proposed increases in the jurisdiction limits of the Circuit and District Courts — which double the existing limits — are contained in sections 2 to 10 and section 13 of the Bill, and are fully justified having regard to the level of inflation since the last increase.

The proposed increased jurisdiction limits of the lower courts will make access to the courts in civil matters cheaper and more convenient for litigants. The District and Circuit Courts are located conveniently around the country. As a result of my proposals, legal and other costs should be significantly reduced for the public over a wide range of litigation, as it will be possible to initiate many more actions in the District and Circuit Courts where costs are lower and cases are disposed of more speedily.

The Government are concerned, in particular, about the escalating cost of liability insurance, and are committed to reform of the present arrangements for the determination of personal injury actions. I expect that the proposals in this Bill will lead to a substantial transfer of personal injuries actions from the High Court to the lower courts, resulting in savings in legal and other costs, such as travelling expenses for litigants and witnesses. This should have a particularly beneficial effect on the level of legal costs in these cases which comprise the majority of cases heard in the High Court, and facilitate reductions in the real cost of motor, public liability and employer insurance.

The Bill also proposes in sections 11 and 12 to increase the jurisdiction of the lower courts in important areas of family law. The Bill provides for an increase in the weekly amount that the District Court and the Circuit Court on appeal may order under the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976, for the maintenance of a spouse and dependent child, from £100 to £200 for a spouse and from £30 to £60 for a child. These increases will assist many deserted spouses in obtaining substantially increased maintenance for themselves and for their children. A similar increase in the weekly amount that may be awarded by the District Court for the maintenance of a child under the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964, from £30 to £60, is also proposed.

It has been necessary in the past for the Government to bring an amending Bill before the Oireachtas each time they desired to increase the jurisdiction limits of the Circuit and District Courts. Section 16 of the Bill contains an important provision which will allow the Government in future to revise, by order, the monetary limits of these courts having regard to changes in the general value of money since the limits were previously revised. This provision will enable the real value of the monetary limits of the lower courts to be readily maintained at the levels approved of by the Oireachtas in this Bill. It will avoid the necessity of amending legislation each time the Government consider that the jurisdiction limits should be revised to take account of changes in the value of money.

I should make it clear that if it were desired at a future date to alter the civil jurisdiction limits of these courts other than in line with changes in the value of money, this could only be done by introducing legislation. The new provision will apply to all monetary jurisdiction limits conferred on the courts in civil matters, whether conferred in courts legislation or in other enactments. It will also allow for the variation of amounts specified elsewhere in this Bill in regard to the recovery of costs by a plaintiff in a civil action. I will come back to this matter later.

The Government have decided that, because of the importance of any decision to increase the jurisdiction limits of the lower courts, a motion of both Houses of the Oireachtas approving of any proposed Government draft order will be required before the order can take effect.

I am proposing in section 17 of the Bill to increase the maximum number of High Court judges from 14 to 16, in addition to the President of the High Court. I assured the Oireachtas, when the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act, 1990, was being debated that I would keep its effect on the workload of the High Court under close review. Experience to date indicates that the Act has had a significant impact on the workload of the High Court, and two additional judges are needed to ensure that these complex and often time consuming cases are dealt with as expeditiously as possible.

At present, there are two temporary Circuit Court judges and six temporary district justices. It has become clear that the increase in work which gave rise to these temporary appointments is likely to continue, and the Bill recognises that fact by providing a sufficient complement of permanent judges for the Circuit and District Courts to deal with the current workload. This is provided by sections 18 and 19 of the Bill.

The number of permanent ordinary judges of the Circuit Court is being increased from 15 to 17. Provision is being made for eight Circuit Court judges to be assigned permanently to the Dublin circuit and two to the Cork circuit. At present, six judges are permanently assigned to the Dublin circuit and one judge to each of the other circuits. The number of permanent justices of the District Court is being increased from 39 to 45, in addition to the President of the District Court. I am satisfied that these changes are necessary in the interests of the efficient administration of justice in the Circuit and District Courts.

A further important proposal, in section 21 of the Bill, provides for the service of summonses by registered post in summary cases. This represents a major change in the existing law governing the service of summonses which dates back to 1851. At present, under the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851, summonses must be served personally by the Garda.

The vast majority of these summonses relate to parking and other road traffic offences. The existing system of personal service dates from a time when modern developments in the law relating to road traffic offences could not have been foreseen. The present system of personal service for these types of offences is archaic in present day circumstances, but more importantly it is very costly in terms of Garda resources.

The taxpayer invests substantial sums of money in training and maintaining the Garda Síochána. It is, therefore, imperative that the manpower resources of the Garda Síochána are utilised in the most cost efficient manner to provide an effective police service to the public.

As soon as the new system of summons service is introduced it should be possible to release about 60 gardaí who are full-time engaged on summons service duties in the Dublin area for the operational police duties for which they have been trained. When the new system is operating on a nationwide basis, it should be possible to release about a further 70 gardaí outside the Dublin area for operational duties. A second major benefit from the new summons service system will be that a much improved rate of summons service is likely to be achieved, with a resultant increase in revenue to the State.

I would emphasise that the provision in the Bill for service of summonses by registered post will not replace the existing system of personal service of summonses. It is additional to the existing system of personal service, which will be retained for summonses which cannot be served by post.

Another provision in the Bill — in section 15 — will enable the Circuit Court to transfer a case to the District Court at the request of a party to an action, on the ground that it should have been commenced in that court. Where the case remitted is for unliquidated damages, the District Court will be empowered to make an award up to £10,000, that is, twice its proposed new jurisdiction limit. The High Court has power already to remit a case to the Circuit or District Court on similar grounds. Under section 4, the District Court will be empowered to hear and determine an action above its statutory limit of £5,000 where the parties to the action consent. A similar provision operates already in the Circuit Court.

It is essential, if the increases in jurisdictions provided for in this Bill are to effect a real reduction in litigation costs, that plaintiffs are encouraged to initiate their actions in the lowest court which has jurisdiction to hear them. This is also desirable from a social viewpoint, as otherwise litigants who are financially better off would have an advantage over poorer litigants. This policy is reflected in statutory provisions in courts legislation which generally limit the costs which a successful litigant may recover, in an action, to the costs appropriate to the lowest court having jurisdiction to grant the relief given.

The current provisions governing the limitation of plaintiff's costs are contained in section 17 of the Courts Act, 1981. These give a wide latitude to the courts to grant costs which are higher than the level of costs appropriate to the lowest court having jurisdiction to grant relief.

I have decided in the light of experience of the working of these provisions that further restrictions are necessary on the grant of higher costs. Accordingly, section 14 of the Bill, which substitutes a new section 17 in the 1981 Act, contains revised proposals to limit the recovery of costs by a successful plaintiff in a civil action.

Generally, I am proposing that the courts' discretion to award higher costs should be limited to cases in the High Court where damages between £25,000 and £30,000 are awarded. In such cases, Circuit Court costs only will be payable unless the judge certifies that it was reasonable, in the interests of justice, that the action should have been determined in the High Court. In the case of an action taken in the High Court, where the damages awarded are between £15,000 and £25,000, Circuit Court costs only will be recoverable and where the damages are between £5,000 and £15,000, a successful plaintiff will be entitled to recover the lesser of an amount equivalent to the damages awarded, or the amount of costs at the Circuit Court level.

A further disincentive to taking an action in a higher court than necessary is included in the provisions in the new section 17, subsection (5) of the Courts Act, 1981. The courts are being given a new discretionary power to penalise a successful plaintiff who takes an action in a court, other than the court with lowest jurisdiction, by requiring the plaintiff to pay to the defendant the equivalent of the additional costs incurred by the defendant in having to defend the action in a higher court than was necessary.

The new section 17 of the 1981 Act is more restrictive than the existing provisions and is intended to be so. It reflects the Government's determination to effect a real reduction in legal costs as a consequence of the increases in the jurisdiction of the lower courts proposed in the Bill, while at the same time providing reasonable scope to a plaintiff in deciding on the appropriate court in which to commence an action, if he is not to be penalised in relation to the amount of costs he might recover.

The changes in the jurisdiction limits of the Circuit and District Courts will come into effect one month after the passing of the Bill. Other proposals that require rules of court to be made as to procedures will come into force after three months. The proposals for increases in the Judiciary will come into effect immediately.

To sum up, the main objectives of this Bill are to make litigation in the courts cheaper and speedier and to facilitate more convenient access to the courts at local venues. This will be achieved by a doubling of the present jurisdiction limits of the Circuit and District Courts.

Future revisions of jurisdiction limits can be effected more quickly and simply by Government order under the Bill. A modern arrangement for serving summonses is being introduced which will release more gardaí for operational duties and should increase State revenue. The numbers of the Judiciary are being increased to reflect the volume of work in the courts.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome this Bill. It was necessary to look at the monetary limits of jurisdiction which applied in the lower courts with a view to improving the delivery of service in the courts. However, this is not a panacea for the ills which persist in our courts. We have grown used to long delays and quaint practices and we have not succeeded in addressing the most basic problems which exist in the administration of justice.

I want to acknowledge the sterling service which the Judiciary and the administrators of justice in general have given to this State. It is important that our system of justice be held in high esteem, and that is the case. While the public at large have confidence in the system, there is concern at the long delays in bringing cases before the courts and the costs involved. We need a modern, efficient system of justice delivered at reasonable cost. Long delays in bringing cases before the courts cause undue hardship to far too many people. In personal injury cases people who have sustained serious injury often have to wait three or four years to have their cases heard. At a time when they most need support, they are denied it. This must be remedied.

We need a system of justice which will provide adequate access to the courts for all our citizens, not just for some of them. The State has an obligation under the Convention on Human Rights to provide adequate access for all citizens, irrespective of financial status. Do the Members of this House believe that this is a reality today? We are nowhere near arriving at a satisfactory level of access. The services of the Legal Aid Board are available to some citizens only. Surely people of inadequate means cannot be expected to travel inordinate distances even to inquire about that scheme.

In places where we have legal aid centres people cannot get service because the centres are understaffed and have long waiting lists. As we speak, there are citizens all over the country who need legal aid but cannot get it. We need not speak of delays in processing cases for these people since many of them will never succeed in bringing their cases before the courts in the first place. They are denied a basic constitutional right. It is entirely unsatisfactory and very wrong.

A few months ago the Minister decided to open three new centres while the existing ones were only partly operational and in some cases were closed. Will the Minister do his utmost to bring about adequate access to the courts for all our citizens? Will he agree that lack of finance should never prevent one from seeking his or her rights through the courts? The Minister should bring forward a legal aid Bill to confer the right of access to justice on all our citizens. He should examine the most efficient way of bringing this about whether through private practitioners or by extending a network of properly staffed legal aid centres. Poverty should not prevent a citizen from seeking out justice through the proper channels. The State has a duty to confer the basic constitutional rights on all its citizens irrespective of one's financial status. It is failing in that duty now.

The increased jurisdiction of the lower courts will inevitably entail a great increase in the number of cases coming before these courts. Should we not now consider the setting up of a family law tribunal to hear certain family disputes? This would have the advantage of freeing up the business of the lower courts on the one hand while allowing us the opportunity to set up procedures to deal with matters appertaining to family law in a sensitive way thereby reducing the distress and trauma that are always involved in family breakdown. Will the Minister agree that those responsible for handling family law cases should have a basic understanding of psycology and an understanding of family dynamics? A family law tribunal can be set up by Statute under Article 34 of the Constitution. I hope the Minister will give serious consideration to this proposal especially in view of the huge increase in the incidence of family breakdown in recent years. For obvious reasons there should be a minimum of delay in processing applications to the court for barring orders, for example, and for maintenance orders and child custody.

I welcome the increases in the maximum maintenance order payments in the District Court as proposed in section 11 of the Bill. This is a sensible increase and will allow a majority of cases to be dealt with in the District Court.

I should like to know what is the present state of play on the proposals the Minister was preparing to put before us to close courthouses all over the country? Will the Government now reconsider their position in that regard? Has the Minister examined the likely increase in the number of cases coming before the courts in the light of the extension of jurisdiction proposed in the Bill? Has he examined the changes that occured when jurisdiction was extended previously in 1981? Will it be necessary to provide extra accommodation? In view of the fact that it is proposed to increase the number of High Court judges from 14 to 16, will the Minister also be proposing to appoint extra support staff there? There is no mention of that in the explanatory memorandum. It is also proposed to increase the number of District Court justices from 39 to 45. Surely there is a need, too, to appoint additional registrars and clerks. Has the Minister made provision for this? Has he decided what the extra requirements are? There is no mention of that in the memorandum either.

This Bill will inevitably place a heavier burden on the lower courts. If the Minister has not done his homework it is possible that a Bill which was intended to remedy problems in the administration of justice could well, at least for a time, make the situation worse. I hope the Minister will elaborate on this in his reply.

The administration of justice remains unsatisfactory. There is much this House can do to improve this area so I am glad the Minister in his introduction brought forward some new ideas in that respect. There is much the legal profession can do also. Long delays in bringing cases before the courts bring the law into disrepute and lead to frustration among the general public. High costs prevent people from seeking justice and we are all forced to bear the brunt of that in the form of unreasonable insurance costs, for example. To be successful the fight against crime needs prompt prosecution and sentencing of criminals. We are well aware that long periods on bail leads to further crime in the interim. As well as examining ways of improving the delivery of justice the Government should turn their attention to the prevention of crime by dealing with the symptoms when they are first noticed. A proper investment in treatment for child abuse cases, an improvement in the level of child literacy, support for families who are unable to cope and other such measures would take a great deal of strain off the system of justice. Indeed, if we do not pay attention to these areas we are likely to witness an explosion in the time bomb of crime. We are seeing it already in the huge increase in juvenile crime.

This Bill represents only a tentative step in the direction of a proper system of justice. Maybe some of the positive noises we have heard recently from the Minister and the Taoiseach and other members of the Government will result in a positive programme being introduced. I welcome some of the ideas put forward in this Bill. In particular, without examining the Bill in detail at this stage. I think the small claims procedure in the District Court is an excellent innovation. I am glad to see the procedure will be established fairly soon and I look forward to seeing how effective it will be and how it will lessen the strain on some of our courts.

I am glad also that the Minister proposes to introduce a court and courts officers Bill, and a Bill to amend the law relating to solicitors. In the Minister's statement to the House this evening are the seeds of fundamental changes in the administration of justice. He will have my full support for any of the far-reaching proposals he intends to bring before the House and I hope we will be very successful in dealing with them.

I join with Deputy Cotter in welcoming this Bill which will have the full support of the Labour Party. I think we would all agree that many of the proposals in the Bill are long overdue. I would like also to refer to the situation of courthouses. Those of us involved in local authorities, and there are many, understand fully and appreciate that that aspect of the whole operation of the courts has been very badly neglected over the years, the reason being that courthouses very often are located outside the territory controlled by the county council. For example, while the county council in Louth have responsibility for the courthouses in Dundalk and Drogheda, Drogheda Corporation and Dundalk Urban District Council have no responsibility for them. Therefore, I feel they are contained in a sort of no man's land and are very low in priority as far as local authorities have been concerned. That situation must be addressed because many of the buildings are in a dangerous condition, to say the least, and were not designed for this century. They do not have proper facilities for consultation between solicitors and clients and are deplorable in terms of lighting, heating and acoustics.

The conditions under which solicitors, judges and particularly the public have to operate are deplorable. Perhaps in his reply the Minister would take that on board and give some indication of what his Department propose to do. I am not suggesting that the Minister is responsible for that, it is a matter that comes under a completely different heading than justice but one that could play a very important role in the efficient administration of this Bill and of justice as a whole.

I agree entirely with the idea of changing the serving of summons procedure to registered post as opposed to using gardaí in this way. On many occasions I have seen at first hand gardaí going to places of work, to places of entertainment or to peoples' homes trying to serve summonses. It is, to say the least, a ridiculous waste of Garda time when they could be engaged much more usefully on the beat to restrict the level of crime on the streets and towns rather than chasing after people trying to serve a piece of paper on them.

I have noticed in the Minister's speech reference to many of the items of legislation under which we are currently operating. We are back into the mid-18th century in terms of British law under which the Garda Síochána still have to operate 150 years later. The Minister referred to increased revenue. That money should be channelled into courthouses and the back-up services necessary to service the additional members of the Judiciary who will be appointed. I support that proposal and compliment the Minister on making that decision, because the delays involved in having cases heard from one court to another is absolutely ludicrous. In fact, some people have to wait years to get into the High Court, unless it is a very serious and urgent matter. Many of the cases on which I have had to give evidence in the High Court on wages and conditions of employment were waiting two, three or four years before they were dealt with. I do not know the absolute answer to that problem but I hope the shifting of emphasis and the appointment of more judges will be dealt with more speedily. It must be frustrating also for the Garda Síochána who have to operate under these conditions and the delays which consistently occur.

I also welcome the new proposal dealing with deserted spouses because this is an ever growing problem. Many men walk away from their wives and families and take no responsibility whatsoever for their maintenance. One often gets the impression that this is done deliberately. I do not think the taxpayer who has to pay his PAYE every week should be asked to foot the bill for people who run away from their responsibilities. I am glad that at last some positive move is being made in this Bill to come to grips with that problem. The guy who is hiding in London or Birmingham will not be found, but the efficiency of the courts in dealing with the matter will be of assistance to everyone, including the Members of this House and other public representatives, who are left to sort out the problems and pick up the pieces afterwards. The question of family courts has to be looked at because it is a new development. This problem was around in the mid-18th century, unlike some of the other matters referred to in the Minister's speech. It is a new phenomenon and one we will have to look at very carefully. The public are concerned about the manner in which that aspect of justice is administered.

I welcome the Bill. In his reply I hope the Minister will be able to give us some details on the points already raised and on the points I am sure Deputy McCartan will raise.

The Workers' Party fully support this legislation and will support its Second Reading. Nonetheless, there are a number of matters we could deal with by way of amendment, although having considered the legislation, there is nothing of great substance that needs to be dealt with by way of amendment. This is substantial legislation which, in effect, proposes increasing the jurisdiction of the Circuit and District Courts, increasing the number of judges and providing for service of summonses by registered post; each in its own way is important and welcome. As with so many innovative Bills coming before this House, we are often left wondering why it has taken so long for such an obvious and clearly needed reform, such as the service of summonses by registered post, to be introduced, particularly having regard to the Minister's startling revelation that that simple amendment of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851, would make available 60 extra gardaí to walk the beat in Dublin alone. That is a remarkable, startling statistic in itself and says a lot for previous Ministers for Justice who have failed to address this matter sooner.

Having said that, the legislation must be recognised for what it is and its limitations. It seems that the Government, in seeking to address their programme for the local government elections, sent the Minister for Justice back to his Department to look again at his legislative programme and to come forward as quickly as possible with any type of new legislation that could be announced at the press conference which launched Fianna Fail's local government programme a few days ago.

That is not a negative answer.

It is regrettable that a very useful start to a legislative programme was brought forward in that stark and narrow way — to simply increase the jurisdictions, to play around with the backlog of litigation and increase the number of judges is not enough. Left on their own, they may prove to be a set of proposals that will boomerang on the Minister rather than help to promote an image of a Government attempting to catch up on legislative reform in the few weeks before the local election date. That is the image that comes across in the media reports of what has been going on in the Minister's Department. His rare appearances in this House in recent months to deal with any of the debates in the area of his remit would make it almost impossible for us to find out what is going on in the Department of Justice.

We were told that the Government, in the last number of weeks, realised that the phenomenon of the massive increase in crime in the Dublin area would be a major issue for debate and that the Department of Justice had to get their act together and start coming up with some scale of proposals. The reports in today's edition of The Irish Times are extremely worrying and I have no doubt are more worrying for the Minister for Justice than for many other Deputies when one sees that the level of crime in the north Dublin area in particular has risen dramatically in the past year.

Today I spoke at a meeting of the Raheny Businessmen's Association; it is very sad to see a well settled area like Raheny which has a good reputation noted in the front pages of the national media as recording the single highest increase in crime, in the order of 28 per cent, almost one third up on last year and far greater than anything recorded on the south side of Dublin or indeed in the country. In that regard we have been presented in the last week with two Bills by the Minister for Justice, the Courts (No. 1), Bill, 1991, and the Courts (No. 2) Bill, 1991, before us today. The Minister introduced them with a fanfare and a flourish and said that they were the first instalment in a major programme of legislative reform.

The principles of these concepts taken in isolation cannot be argued with. It is important to increase the number of judges and the question of redressing the jurisdictional level is long overdue as it is a decade since this was last done. It is also certainly long overdue to release the 60 or so members of the Garda Síochána who are tied up with serving summons, a job foisted on them by an 1851 Act. As I said, in principle and taken in isolation, these are very good concepts but there is a far greater programme of legislative reform needed, far greater than anything about which the Minister spoke this evening and far greater than anything contained in the Bill before us. It is not enough to increase jurisdictional levels and the number of judges; what is at issue here is the whole credibility and confidence that the public can retain in our Judiciary and the way in which justice is administered.

I listened to Deputy Seán Barrett speaking on this subject last week. It is often a phenomenon of debates of this sort, particularly in relation to members of the conservative and right parties, that they preface their remarks about any debate on the Judiciary, the administration of justice and the functioning of our courts generally, by saying we must honour, respect and defend at all times the independence of the Judiciary. It is a concept with which I do not have any difficulty but, apparently, it is something I am first to be reminded of whenever an element of criticism or controversy——

Or character assassination.

—— enters any contribution with regard to the Judiciary, the functions of the courts or indeed any matters dealing with that area.

The greatest threat to the independence of the Judiciary, to the maintenance of confidence in the administration of justice and indeed in the development of public support for our courts and Judiciary is the indifference which successive Ministers for Justice have shown in this House to the general conditions of courthouses, the fabric of the buildings and the way we have vested the Judiciary and the officers of our courts to expeditiously deal with their workload — and our needs — in an intelligent, accessible and understandable manner. It is this failure of successive Governments and Ministers for Justice to address this problem which has allowed our courts to become out-of-date, archaic buildings, outmoded and unsuited to the jobs we have given them. We have allowed our courts to be administered by a plethora of paper pushing, file amassing civil servants, incapable of dealing with the weight of paper which surrounds our litigation. This allows the backlog of cases to develop which, in time, will do more damage to the independence of the Judiciary and to the reposit in them of the respect and support which they deserve and require to ensure effective administration of justice. In that context, the Bill before us is utterly inadequate to deal with the job facing the Minister; it is a rushed job, a cobbling together of a number of isolated ideas in the Department which might appeal to those who have not thought deeply about what is involved.

Let us look at the facilities we make available to judges in which to work with their court clerks and registrars and to members of the public who come before our courts seeking redress, a fair hearing and speedy disposal of their litigation. As Deputy Bell pointed out, many of the court buildings, particularly at the District Court and lower levels, are in a shabby, if not dangerous condition. Many of them are close to falling down; they are draughty, leaking and an insult to the concept of judges being required to sit in them with dignity to dispense justice.

What does a member of the public think when he or she arrives as a litigant, or as a witness? They must stand in court rooms with bare, dusty and knotted floor boards; they must sit in an adjoining room because there is not adequate space in the courtroom. There is very poor amplification in the courthouse with the result that nobody can hear what is being said or follow what is happening. There is nowhere for people to consult their lawyers apart from the street, across the road in a public house or on the stairwell or draughty corridors in many of the court buildings. Week in, week out, judges complain that they must use buckets in their consulting rooms and in their own chambers to collect the water dripping from the roof. They have entered into endless correspondence with the Department of Justice in the hope that something will be done with the fabric of the buildings.

I do not deny that there are pockets of improvements; for example, Waterford has a reasonably modern and effective Circuit Court building in which to administer justice. However, that was as a result of solicitors and lawyers in Waterford bringing declaratory action in the High Court against the Minister of the day under existing legislation and regulations dating back to the last century, obliging the Minister to maintain proper conditions. They were supported in their action by the Law Society and ultimately won the day, forcing the Minister to settle. It was hoped, as a result of that litigation, it would lead to a serious commitment by the Department to improve conditions comprehensively around the country, but that has not happened.

I also acknowledge that particular local authorities have been singularly progressive in the area providing good court accommodation. Bray in particular — and Wicklow County Council — are to be commended in this regard. However, I reiterate the point made by Deputy Bell that there is not a single authority, one office or area responsible for the national development of our courts stock and building. It is a matter for the local authority in many instances but the problem here is that local authorities often have to raise money by way of a loan and are out of pocket because the Department are so slow to recoup the expenses; the interest paid by the local authority is never recouped. There is a disincentive to local authorities to carry out improvements to buildings. Local authorities often ask why it should be their responsibility to carry out repairs to buildings when the buildings carry a far wider remit of responsibility in relation to the circuit courts—or higher courts—in the Dublin area in particular.

The Office of Public Works have responsibility for the maintenance of many of the buildings in the greater Dublin area, particularly the impressive Four Courts. It is a matter of great frustration to the Presidents of the District Court, Circuit Court and High Court, and indeed to the Chief Justice's office to have to deal with endless correspondence with the Department and the Office of Public Works requesting the carrying out of very basic maintenance work. We see judges pictured with a fine array of shelving displayed behind them. That is an unmistakable feature of the chamber of any judge who is taking his job seriously, but there is difficulty in getting proper funding for building up library stocks so that judges have ready and easy access to books for research purposes. For various reasons I have had occasion to visit the chambers of judges and those people have a major problem as regards the accommodation available to them. The range and quality available is laughable. It is time the Department considered the establishment of a single courts building authority, outside the responsibility of the Department of Justice, the Office of Public Works and local authorities. It is time to give the job to one single authority within the administration of the judges, with a budget to carry out their work. Those people have the expertise and the knowledge of what is needed and what should be done.

If we want to ensure that the Judiciary have the respect and authority they deserve we should provide them with the working conditions appropriate to their status in life. If we can spend £17 million in providing a good suite of offices for the highest office holder in the land, there should be some degree of priority in the way we provide for our courts throughout the country. The point has been made that one of the reasons the Department are so slow to move on this issue is that they do know their own mind. They cannot make up their mind whether they intend to close down many of the more remote District Courts and centralise the system by moving District Courts into the same towns in which Circuits Courts already exist. I am not at all happy with the programme in this regard. As I have stated in the House previously, District Courts should remain close to the community or district not only in name but in location. I would ask the Minister to set out a programme for the refurbishment of our court buildings. They should be modern and efficient, and there should be no difficulty in that regard. There are some very good examples around the country. The second matter that is of great concern and is not addressed in this brief legislation is the issue I have raised here a number of times, that is the appointment of the Judiciary. It is clear that all previous administrations have appointed judges on a party political basis. It seems that apart from the statutory period of time a barrister or solicitor must be in practice, be it seven or ten years, the only other qualification required to be a judge is that they have shown favour or allegiance in their private practice towards the Government party or parties of the day. That is a matter that is beginning to cause concern to the public who believe that more democratic criteria should be laid down for the appointment of these people to very high positions in the community, positions that are extremely well remunerated and are on a par with, if not higher than those of our senior civil servants and other public office holders who are appointed by means of an interview body, entirely independent of any lobby or party political favour, open in its deliberations, comprehensive in its considerations and democratic and fair in its decisions. Such a system must be introduced at an early date with regard to our Judiciary. There is no reason an independent commission of appointment should not apply to the Judiciary. Why should the appointment of these people be different from the appointment of any other senior civil servant whose job is independent and is seen to be so in all respects.

A proposal that could be taken on board in this regard without any difficulty, and indeed without any legislation, is the appointment of judges by the President on the nomination of the Taoiseach or the Cabinet. The Taoiseach of the day could transfer this task from his office to that of the Council of State advising the President. She, in consultation with a committee already established and representing a broad range of interests in our community, could consider a short list of appointees to the various benches. We would then begin to take this legislation more seriously. We would begin to understand that the Minister for Justice has a commitment to ensuring the independence of the Judiciary and that they are given the highest respect possible.

In the last couple of weeks we have had an unseemly debate surrounding the highest office of the Judiciary, the Chief Justice and others. That type of debate should not be repeated but it will be——

Deputy McCartan has enjoyed a certain freedom in the matter of general comment which may be more appropriate to an Estimates debate. He will appreciate that he should apply himself to what is in this Bill and what could, with amendment, emerge from it. He has not so indicated, and I would ask him to satisfy those two fundamental requirements of Second Stage. Deputies should address themselves to what is in the legislation or to that which they propose should be in it.

That is what I thought I was doing. I do not intend to labour any point at great length. I am addressing what I believe should be in the legislation, proposals which would in some way enhance the administration of justice generally as the Minister suggests the legislation should do. I am responding to some of the points raised by the Minister for Justice in his opening speech.

The debate we have had over the past couple of weeks in respect of the pensions legislation was unseemly in many respects and should not be repeated, but it will be repeated if issues like this emerge. One of the ways to overcome this difficulty with regard to the appointment of members of the Judiciary at all levels, including the European Court, is to establish an independent commission and invite all qualified applicants who are interested in the position to submit their names to be included on a short list, as is maintained at present by the Department of Justice in respect of the District Courts. The commission should then be allowed to set out clear job specifications for all positions and interview whoever is interested. Those appointed should be appointed independently with specific job specifications and there should be no capacity at a later stage for people to say that they were made promises or given undertakings or assurances that their terms of reference would be put right later. That is the way to get over that difficulty. If that were done we would be going a long way towards ensuring an independent judiciary that will command and deserve the respect of all in the community.

It is now time that the Department introduced a programme for judge training. If members of the Judiciary are invited to apply for positions in the High Court, the Circuit Court or the District Court and put their names on a list as potential applicants, they should while waiting appointment undergo a course of training on the various aspects of the job, including the administrative responsibilities of a judge. Many judges working on a day to day basis in the courts have to be not only deciders of fact and law but also very clever court administrators in the juggling around of lists, and the backlog of work to be dealt with.

Such training is important and is particularly important for registrars and clerks. Many court administrators come from within the Department of Justice or other Government Departments after having been appointed as junior civil servants and progressing up the scale but they are not given courses of training to meet their work as court administrators. Many registrars and clerks undertake educational programmes on their own initiative through the Institute of Public Administration or through a university and as soon as they obtain their qualification, degree and enhancement of status are moved on to other Departments or other sections within the Department of Justice. That problem was adverted to in the context of the Land Registry in that as soon as or shortly after many of the officials became expert in their areas they were moved on to other sections of the Department. The problem affects the administration of justice in the courts, particularly with regard to their day to day workings.

Once appointed to the Bench judges should be asked to attend courses on social problems and social statistics and awareness. They should also be given the opportunity to take a break from their job. It is interesting that judges of the Australian High Court are obliged every three years to take a year away from work in order to engage in research work, travel, or undertake investigation of the administration of justice in other countries. That is an excellent idea. Quite often our judges become weary of their workload and the constant grind of sitting day in and day out hearing the same issues in courts, going over the same kind of cases, meeting the same people before them and, at the end of the day, having no opportunity to reflect on their job in a broader sense and develop a perspective on their job and responsibilities. Much work can be done in that regard but it has not been addressed in the Bill. Increasing the numbers of judges and juggling around with the backlog and workload of the caseload by simply changing jurisdictional levels will not remedy the fundamental problems that attack as a cancer the way justice is administered in our courts.

It is also high time that our courts were computerised and worked on a computer network. I invite the Minister, or the Minister of State — the Minister having yet again departed early from the debate——

He is a very busy man with a heavy workload.

That is the one thing we keep hearing about the Minister. He is a very busy man, indeed. He is so busy that perhaps it is time, now that the portfolio of Communications has been taken from him, that the Justice portfolio was taken from him. The Minister should ask someone from the Department of Justice to stroll into the central office of the High Court, the nerve centre of the High Court network, look right and left as he or she goes in the door and see the mess there. Files are shoved, pushed and left hanging half in place in closeted compartments right along the serried ranks. Every document filed and dealt with in the civil process of the High Court is in written form and has to be filed in the central office of the High Court. How can we expect efficient administrative operation of our courts when we have such an archaic, antediluvian method of recording the proceedings and processing of court documents?

I remember some ten of 15 years ago visiting the Magistrates Court in Edinburgh and being amazed to see the clerk of that court at the end of a computer terminal with a telephone to hand. On inquiring as to what kind of job was being done, I was advised that the clerk had to constantly telephone to find out information essential to the judge dealing with the administration of justice. A similar system operates in London in the Magistrates Court in Bow Street, which we hear so much about, and in other Magistrates Courts. The clerks find out about such matters as previous criminal records from the Central Criminal Records Office, the availability of probation schemes, the opportunitiès to put people into remand homes and what is available to a judge in regard to custody provisions.

Deputy McCartan, sílim go bhfuil tú ar seachrán beagáinín arís. The Deputy is making a very interesting contribution but is straying somewhat. He has to relate his contribution to what is proposed in the legislation. The Deputy said the Bill was scant and if it is scanty we must deal with it in all its scantiness; we cannot use it as a means of extended commentary on every aspect of the legal process.

I am sorry, I do not wish to get into argument or debate with you. This is the second time you have interrupted me. The purport of the debate, as I understand it, ranges from the Bill which contains general provisions on the administration of justice, to the Minister's speech which dealt with a wide programme of legislative reform, and the contributions of other speakers, on the general effectiveness of the administration of justice. I have a few short points to make, perhaps sometimes in a longwinded way, but, nonetheless, I have a short number of points. I will not take much more time.

I do not like the Deputy's use of the word "interrupt". The Chair has to remind all Deputies of our approach to different Stages of legislation. On Committee Stage, there will inevitably and invariably be the occasional comment on measures not provided for in legislation under discussion. The Deputy will accept, when he reads his contribution at a later stage, that he has made a little more than brief reference to what is not in the Bill or what cannot be in it and made no lengthy reference to what is in the Bill and what he would hope might be included in it on Committee Stage.

In relation to this aspect of the debate, the Minister introduced the Bill as being representative of his first instalment of "a major programme of legislative reform".

In regard to the Minister's suggested programme, there is a great number of matters, some of which I have dealt with and some of which I will have to abandon in view of the strictures being laid on me by the Chair, that the Minister should look at again to see if he can fit into the busy schedule of work he has, some of the ideas I have advanced.

The Minister also dealt at great length with the concept of this scheme of small claims courts. Before I go any further, might I inquire of the Chair if I am allowed to make some comment in this regard?

The Deputy is entitled to comment on any matter referred to by the Minister in his introduction. The Chair was advising the Deputy that if the Minister says he intends to appoint two new Circuit Court judges and says no more, that may not be used as an opportunity to discuss at great length all the qualifications, real and imaginary, that any District Court justice might have. Of course the Deputy is entitled to comment on anything he wishes.

The Minister dealt at length with the concept of the small claims system and explained how it would operate. I welcome the introduction of the system. The question of resources arises here. We must bear in mind that the Minister is proposing to double the jurisdiction of the District Court but he has not given any estimate of the extent to which the workload of the District Court will be increased as a result of this extended jurisdiction. Neither has he given any indication that the staff of the District Court will be increased other than that there will be an increase in the number of District Justices and temporary District Justices available. If the Minister is serious about establishing a small claims system in the District Court, then it is incumbent on him to explain how the personnel will be increased to implement those proposals. It is clear that there will be a massive increase in the work of the District Court and the Minister should be in a position to tell us how he intends to ensure that the proposals on paper are matched by action, that is, with the provision of additional court space and extra court officers so the system can work efficiently.

Has the Minister satisfied himself that the system being devised is non-statutory and will work effectively and be in keeping with the Constitution? The Constitution provides in general terms that justice shall be administered by courts established and courts appointed. The process here is one where an officer of the court, a registrar, will have the responsibility in the District Court area. I presume, unless I am advised to the contrary, that the registrar will in all probability be the court clerk for the District Court area and that the registrar or his or her assistant will be the person responsible.

I welcome the introduction of a small claims system. I am anxious that it will work efficiently and effectively with adequate staff and resources and will not be open to challenge in the High Court. In regard to a litigant who wants to avoid being subjected to the speedy and effective mechanism of the small claims procedure, is there any way the registrar can oblige that litigant to be tied by the decision of the registrar adjudicating on it? To put it another way, if a person insists, as it would seem the Constitution provides for, that matters be adjudicated by a judge sitting in a court established under the Constitution, is there any way that a litigant, a manufacturer of a defective product or a shopkeeper who has sold a faulty article, can be obliged to attend and abide by the decision of the registrar? Is there a possibility that the whole process could be frustrated by people who do not want to see a system for small claims operating? There has been a very strong lobby from certain vested interests for some time and that explains why we have not made progress in this area.

The Programme for Economic and Social Progress provides for the establishment of this procedure. There is a commitment there that it will be examined and established, and I am glad it will be. However, I would like to be assured that this is not just some quickly thought up scheme being established without legislative basis, full consultation with the Attorney General and satisfaction on the part of the Minister that what we are doing is constitutional, will be efficiently and effectively established and will work to the good of all those people who so badly need a small claims procedure. I would like to hear from the Minister in respect of these matters.

The Minister also dealt with a proposal to introduce a Bill to amend the law relating to solicitors, he referred in passing to the report of the Fair Trade Commission published last year and he went on to say that he was involved in dialogue with the Bar Council. In principle, it is unfair and somewhat unbalanced that one leg of the legal profession is regulated to such an extent, which is policed by the High Court and which will be further policed by the introduction of a legal Ombudsman, while the other arm of the legal profession, namely, the Bar is not subjected to similar comprehensive statutory control. It would be particularly remiss of the Minister for Justice if, in introducing legislation in response in part to the Fair Trade Commission report, he did not make the Bar also subject to the authority and policing of a legal Ombudsman.

For too long a litigant has been unable to get anywhere near a recalcitrant member of the legal profession. For too long members of the Bar have been able to retreat to the safety and the sancity of the Bar library and be subject to little or no redress by an aggrieved litigant. They have a double level of protection, that of the Bar library door on the one hand and the solicitors profession on the other who simply say that they will pass on the message and that there is no access to members of the Bar. It is time the affairs of the Bar as a profession providing a service is put on a proper contractual basis, that when they are engaged as lawyers acting on behalf of their client they have a strict enforceable legal contract with the client, that they can be sued for negligence of duty as a solicitor can be, that they in turn can sue for recovery of their fee should they not be paid, and that the old notion that the Bar can charge no fee and expect only an honorarium should be put to sleep. If there is to be amending legislation in response to the Fair Trade Commission report to deal with the legal profession, it must deal with the legal profession as a whole.

While the Minister might have dialogue with the leaders of the Bar profession, namely the chairman and other members of the council, they are a council without leadership. The Bar have not agreed among their own members as to how they should respond to the Fair Trade Commission report, or whether they should change at all. We have heard time and again about the last encounter the present Minister for Industry and Commerce in a previous Government had with the Bar Council. Their attitudes have not substantially changed. They are engaged in very heated dialogue within their own chambers and there is substantial resistance to change within the Bar. There will not be change unless the Bar is put on a similar basis to the solicitors profession, accountable to the public. It is time to have comprehensive legislation dealing with both sectors.

The Fair Trade Commission report talked about a single legal education institute to cover both professions. It is ridiculous that two schools of legal education exist, one for the Bar and one for solicitors. Solicitors are fully regulated in legislation dating back to 1954 but there is no legislative basis with regard to the Bar. They are not disposed to countenance change in this area or to countenance anything that will bring the Bar profession into the closing decades of this century. I would urge the Minister to bring his dialogue to a speedy conclusion and introduce his ideas in this area into the amending legislation which is coming before us in respect of solicitors, and deal with the legal profession as a whole.

The other matter dealt with in terms of increased jurisdiction in the issue of family law provisions and the increased jurisdiction of the District and Circuit Courts. I welcome this but would reiterate the point made by Deputy Cotter and others that unless we increase the resources to the law centres and legal aid centres to carry out the workload, increasing court jurisdictions will not make a whit of difference to people seeking recourse through our family law legislation. If they cannot get to court and are unable to represent themselves, changes in jurisdiction will make no difference at all. The Minister has not addressed the point that was made throughout the debate on the judicial separation legislation that the District Court should be used as a vehicle for the implementation of the provisions of that important legislation. If we are serious about giving effective redress to spouses with difficulties in their marriages, the District Court should be used for all of the provisions of the Judicial Separation Act. That would make that Act work much more efficiently and effectively than it does now.

I was astounded at the remarkable statistic given by the Minister for Justice in introducing the provision with regard to the service of summonses by registered post, that 60 policemen would be freed to carry out more effective policing. I welcome that provision but it is remarkable that a Minister has not addressed this matter up to now. I hope that the 60 gardaí who will be made available for more direct police duties will be made available in those areas that have been clearly identified as having an urgent crime problem, in particular Raheny, which has had a 28 per cent increase in crime, and the other north Dublin areas which have not had a substantial increase in policing over the past five years but which have had an alarming increase in crime, according to statistics. These areas deserve better, particularly as the Minister is a north Dublin Deputy.

This is very succinct and scant legislation which needs more attention. It should do more than increase the number of judges and juggle around with a legal workload and backlog. This area should get wider attention than the Minister has given in his wide-ranging speech tonight. I hope the Minister will take on board the fair criticisms I have made and agree that there is an urgent issue surrounding the administration of justice generally, about efficiency and effectiveness, about the independence of our judges and about the respect that our courts deserve from the public generally. Unless the Minister acts to deal with the wider issues our courts unfortunately will not get the regard they deserve, and this Minister will be found to be wanting in the general area.

The usual.

I did not catch what the Minister muttered. I am sorry I discommoded him. I make the point that the succinct provisions here are welcome and will be supported, but unless the Minister takes the wider issues into account, the job will not be dealt with.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I listened to the various speakers during the evening and I am glad that the Bill seems to have a great deal of consensus. This Bill is needed if we are to develop the legal system in an appropriate manner.

The Minister for Justice has introduced most of the legislation in this House, certainly in the past year. The Minister has been complimented from both sides of the House for the legislation he has brought forward. It is important that the Minister receives that recognition. He has to deal with an extremely difficult area and he has introduced some very important Bills.

I welcome the increase in the monetary limit of the civil jurisdiction of the Circuit Court from £15,000 to £30,000. I have been involved in a number of medical legal cases and I welcome the fact that such cases will be heard in the Circuit Court in future. I also welcome the increase in the monetary limit of the civil jurisdiction of the District Court from £2,500 to £5,000. The legal profession are well aware of the necessity for this increase. I welcome the provisions in relation to the introduction of a small claims procedure in this jurisdiction. I note that the Minister has promised to introduce additional provisions which will deal with the problems outlined by Deputies.

I compliment the Minister on introducing this Bill. I look forward to the upgrading of certain courthouses. The Minister has already taken certain steps in this important area. I have been in a number of courthouses and many of them leave much to be desired. Hopefully proposals to improve the condition of courthouses will be part and parcel of this legislation. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this long overdue Bill which proposes to increase the monetary limits of the civil jurisdication of the Circuit and District Courts. It is ridiculous that these limits were not increased years ago. No doubt every Member has been contacted by District Court clerks, members of the Judiciary, solicitors, the general public and the Garda about the atrocious condition of courthouses. A number of years ago I received many petitions and letters regarding the condition of courthouses. I am glad to be able to say that over the years the Government, and various Ministers for Justice, have improved the condition of many of them. Nevertheless, there is still much room for improvement. There is a shortage of finance to carry out repairs to courthouses and erect new buildings. However, it is clear from what has happened over the past number of years that the Government intend to improve the facilities in courthouses to the benefit of judges, solicitors, court clerks and the general public who have to operate day-in and day-out in ante-deluvian conditions. The courthouses in Midleton and Youghal have been improved and I am sure similar improvements have been effected in other courthouses. Over the years many small claims have been dealt with by courts which were designed to deal with large claims. I am glad the Minister has finally decided to introduce a small claims procedure.

I note that a Bill which will amend the law relating to solicitors will be introduced in the near future. Over the years many people have called for the introduction of such a Bill. Last year the Fair Trade Commission published a comprehensive report on restrictive practices in that profession. Over the years many complaints have been made about solicitors. I have had many dealings with solicitors and in general I found them very able and accommodating. Of course, some individuals operated on the shady side of the law and they gave that profession a bad name. The general public have found it difficult to take proceedings against those members of that profession who have sullied its name. It is time statutory regulations dealing with misbehaviour by solicitors were introduced. One of the major complaints made by the general public about solicitors is that they will not act against other solicitors in their area. I am delighted that at last steps are being taken to deal with this problem. Deputy McCartan referred to problems in regard to barristers and they should not be ignored. I agree that questions need to be asked and answers given in regard to the practices of some barristers.

The question of High Court judges and the number of cases dealt with in the High Court in Cork has been raised time and again. There is a backlog of High Court cases in Cork due to the shortage of a High Court judge. I am glad to note that there will be an increase in the number of High Court and Circuit Court judges. It is important that court cases are dealt with speedily as many people depend on quick judgments for their livelihoods and peace of mind. However, some people have to wait for years for court cases to be heard. It is incumbent on the Government — I am glad they are now doing this — to increase the number of High Court judges so that more cases are dealt with.

Debate adjourned.