The Referendum on the Court of Appeal takes place on the same day as the Seanad referendum, October 4.
But what’s it all all about? We asked ‘Legal Coffee Drinker’ for her thoughts..
Broadsheet: “Legal Coffee Drinker, What is it all about?”
Legal Coffee Drinker: “All civil (non-criminal) decisions of the High Court – where most of our important cases get heard – can be appealed to the Supreme Court, usually with a stay being granted on the decision pending appeal.
At present, there’s a bit of a backlog in Supreme Court hearings, with appeals taking up to three years to get heard. Litigants have been known to die waiting for their appeal to come on. Jarndyce-v-Jaryndce in Dickens’ Bleak House comes to mind.
In fairness to the Supreme Court, it’s difficult for ten judges, sitting in constitutionally mandated groups of three (five in constitutional cases), to hear 600 odd appeals per year.”
Broadsheet: “Go on.”
Legal Coffee Drinker: “What the referendum suggests is limiting the appeals which come before the Supreme Court by establishing a new Court of Appeal to initially hear all appeals from the High Court. The role of the Supreme Court would be confined to hearing appeals from the Court of Appeal (or, in exceptional cases, directly from the High Court) in cases involving a matter of general public importance or the interests of justice. Most, but not all of these, would be cases involving issues relating to the Constitution.”
Broadsheet: “Is it a good thing?”
Legal Coffee Drinker: “Well, something has to be done about the Supreme Court backlog. As it’s not unusual for a case to take two years to get heard in the High Court, a further three year delay in getting an appeal to the Supreme Court heard means that the wheels of justice are grinding very, very slowly indeed. Delay, after all, defeats justice. A Court of Appeal filter system seems a more practical option than increasing the number of Supreme Court judges.”
Broadsheet: “Any more specific details?”
Legal Coffee Drinker: “The areas of law that could come up in a High Court appeal are manifold, and there’s something to be said for letting the Supreme Court focus primarily on constitutional issues. It would however have been nice if the constitution of the proposed Court of Appeal was more specifically defined. Relevant considerations – such as how many judges will make up the court and how many will sit together to hear a case are left open. With that volume of appeals per annum, any filter Appeal Court needs to be properly and adequately staffed with both judges and courtrooms in order to be workable.”
Broadsheet: “Right so.”
Legal Coffee Drinker: “If people are to vote for change of a long-established system, they need to be told exactly what they will be getting in return, so that they can properly assess if the new system proposed is preferable to the old one.
That said [drains coffee] it’s difficult to think of anything less workable – or more Dickensian – than a courts’ system which takes three years to hear an appeal.”
Broadsheet: “Thanks Legal Coffee drinker.”
(Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland)