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Appointment of significant number of extra judges to be recommended by new top-level report

Increase likely to be linked to more efficient working practices, including more court sittings and shorter vacations

A top-level report due to be published on Friday is understood to recommend the phased appointment of a significant number of additional judges over the next five years.

According to sources, the Judicial Planning Working Group report has recognised that Ireland will need a significant increase in judicial numbers over the coming years but it wants that linked to the achievement of more efficient judicial and court working practices, including more court sittings, better case management and shorter court vacations.

Established by the Government in April 2021 to consider the number and type of judges required to ensure the efficient administration of justice over the next five years, the group’s report was completed last December and circulated to Government Ministers prior to publication.


A detailed study of the situation of Irish judges which was commissioned by the group from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to help inform the group’s work will also be published by the Department of Justice on Friday.


Chaired by Brigid McManus, former secretary general of the Department of Education, the group comprises civil servants from the Departments of Justice, of the Taoiseach and of Public Expenditure and Reform as well as representatives of the Courts Service and the Office of the Attorney General.

The group’s report was prepared following consultation with various experts and stakeholders, including the judiciary, which had two observers.

It is understood the report recommends the appointment of additional judges for the Court of Appeal and the High, Circuit and District Courts, which are all struggling with rising case numbers, for reasons including population growth, more complex litigation and backlogs, particularly affecting criminal and family law lists, which were exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the Court of Appeal and High Court secured some additional judges in recent years, there has been no increase in the number of District and Circuit Court judges in almost 10 years.

The presidents of four of the five court jurisdictions made submissions to the group seeking about 60 additional judges in total. Since the Court of Appeal was established in 2014, the Supreme Court has had a substantially reduced caseload for its nine judges and no extra judges were sought for that court.


A report published last year by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice, part of the Council of Europe, found that Ireland, which has 171 judges, has the lowest number of judges, 3.27 per 100,000 population, in Europe. The mean number was 17.6. The report showed that Ireland’s spending per inhabitant on courts was €31.10, below the European median of €43.53.

Implementation of the group’s recommendations will require substantial investment in the courts system, including addressing significant issues arising from the absence of the kind of comprehensive data necessary for strategic planning.

The Courts Service has already embarked on a 10-year modernisation programme, which includes a three-year data strategy to collect and effectively manage courts data.

The group’s report is also believed to address the knock-on effects for the wider justice sector of appointing more judges, including the impact on the Garda, legal professions, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the prison service.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times