I move amendment No. 1:
In subsection (2), page 2, line 14 to delete "is hereby repealed" and substitute "shall be repealed on the date of coming into operation of this section".
I move this on behalf of Deputy McGilligan. If the Minister is agreeable, I suggest we discuss this and amendment No. 2 together for the purpose of bringing out the same point. The Minister will recall that on Second Reading I expressed opposition to the section on the basis that it was designed to reverse a decision taken in 1953 with regard to the number of circuit court judges and that this Bill was designed, in effect, to increase the number of circuit court judges at a time when it was stated Government policy to take away from the courts a large volume of the work done by the circuit court — work in relation to workmen's compensation.
I made the suggestion then that it might be more prudent in present circumstances for the Government to put their policy in relation to workmen's compensation into effect and see what the result was in so far as the volume of work in the circuit court was concerned before taking the step of increasing the number of judges. If the stated policy of the Government in relation to workmen's compensation is put into effect, obviously there will be a reduction in the volume of work to be handled by the circuit court bench. Since then—I do not know whether this is settled Government policy or not— it was announced in the Irish Times of 29th February last that there was also a move to take away from the circuit court the matter of malicious injuries. It is reported in that newspaper that a comprehensive change in the law relating to malicious damage claims is to be made soon on the lines of recommendations made by an inter-Departmental Committee set up two years ago.
The report goes on to forecast that instead of the malicious injuries code as we know it at the moment, there will be a change which apparently envisages some type of compulsory insurance cover rather than that applicants who suffer loss through malicious damage should be required, as they are now, to make application to the courts and, if there is no agreement, to have the matter dealt with entirely by the courts. Of course, that is simply the newspaper report. I do not know whether there has been any Government announcement. If that report is correct, it will diminish very considerably the volume of work dealt with in the circuit court.
I propose to refer briefly to some figures given by the Minister in relation to circuit court sittings and in relation to the volume of work done by the circuit court throughout the country in respect of the different types of cases coming before them.
Deputy McGilligan addressed a question to the Minister on 6th February last in relation to the number of days sittings required to deal with the volume of circuit court work arising in Dublin and asking the Minister to indicate in regard to such work, in each of the years 1960 to 1963, the number of cases which arose under road traffic, workmen's compensation and malicious damage headings.
According to the Minister, in 1960, the total number of sitting days was 436. The number of Road Traffic Act offences by way of appeals amounted to 195; the number of Workmen's Compensation Acts claims was 156; and there were 761 malicious injury claims. In 1961, there were three Road Traffic Act cases on indictment, 259 appeals from the district court, 189 workmen's compensation cases and 596 malicious injury claims.
The same picture is shown for the remaining two years 1962 and 1963. There was an increase in both years in the number of sitting days. In 1962, the figure was 465 and in 1963, 464. In the year 1963, there were as many as 918 malicious injury claims and 156 workmen's compensation claims. In the preceding year, 196 workmen's compensation claims were dealt with in the circuit court in Dublin.
It seems quite clear from these figures that as far as the Dublin circuit courts are concerned, there is a very large volume of both workmen's compensation and malicious injury cases. If either one or the other were taken from the courts, clearly it must relieve pressure on the courts. If both were taken away, it must have a very considerable effect on the volume of work which the judges are required to do.
I referred to the fact that in the Minister's figures there is an increase in the number of sitting days, and it is necessary for us, I think, to understand that when one talks of the number of sitting days in relation to court work, it means the number of sittings which are held by the total number of judges. In other words, if one were to get the average number of days on which the courts sat, it would be necessary to divide the figure which the Minister has given by the number of judges sitting.
On 3rd December last, Deputy R. Barry asked for the number of days on which individual judges sat. I think I am interpreting the Minister's reply correctly when I say that the greatest number of days any judge in the circuit court and anywhere in Ireland sat in the three years covered, 1961, 1962 and 1963, was 191. The number varied. The least number of sitting days mentioned in the answer is 83. The maximum is 191. I am not making any particular point about the least number of days on which a judge sat because the explanation may very well be that he was appointed somewhere during the period covered by the question and, accordingly, the number of days he sat may be well up on the average.
The point I really want to make is that the maximum number of days any circuit court judge sat anywhere in the Republic in the three years, 1961, 1962, and 1963, was 191. There are 365 days in the year. If we take out the Sundays, we are left with 313. The courts, with the exception of some of the district courts, work a five-day week. Consequently, if you take out the Saturdays as well, you are left with 261 days on which the courts might sit. If you are generous, and allow 61 days in the year for holidays, that leaves 200 days on which it would not be unreasonable to expect the courts to sit. There is no single circuit court in the country which has come up to even the 200 days in any of these three years.
It is also relevant, I think, in considering this matter to remember that the court sittings we are talking about —again, I am leaving out the district court, because they sit longer hours— are the circuit court sittings. The circuit court normally sits for only four hours in the day. It starts at 11 a. m.; there is a break for lunch of three-quarters of an hour, or so, and the court resumes at 2 p.m. or a quarter to two, and sits until 4 p.m. These sitting hours were fixed, I suggest, in more leisurely days and for more leisurely times. While I fully appreciate the mental strain a member of the judiciary must undergo, because of the fact that he must concentrate so very assiduously on the cases coming before him if he is to do his job properly, and the mental fatigue associated with that kind of intensive concentration, nevertheless it does seem to me that the proper remedy here lies not in increasing the number of judges in this small and comparatively poor country and poor community but rather in asking the judges to sit half an hour earlier in the morning and half an hour later in the evening. If the judges were prepared to do that, coupled with the taking away of the volume of work it is proposed to remove from the circuit courts, I think any overcrowding of circuit court lists would be solved in no time at all.
Deputy McGilligan's amendments are designed, first, not to repeal instanter section 16 of the 1961 Act but, rather, to state that it shall be repealed on the coming into operation of this section. Secondly, he suggests that a new section be added providing that the section will not come into operation earlier than 1st April, 1966, and that the actual date of the coming into operation might be fixed by Government Order. The purpose of the suggestion is, as I stated, to enable the Minister, the Government and the Dáil to see how the proposals in relation to the taking away of workmen's compensation cases from the circuit court will affect the situation and what effect it will have on the work in the circuit court. I think it is a sensible suggestion. It is one I recommend to the Minister.
In relation to sitting days, and the problem we are considering at the moment, we should remember that for a considerable period the Government found it possible to release one circuit court judge for duty abroad from 14th November 1960 to 15th January 1962 to enable him to accept an appointment as President of the High Court in Cyprus. I do not know to what extent his absence increased the difficulties which, I understand from the Minister, are there at the moment in relation to the overcrowding of the lists in the circuit court, but it is certainly a matter which should be borne in mind before the Government ask the House to increase the number of judges in the circuit court.