September referendum on new court of appeal

Shatter confirms referendum to abolish Seanad

A referendum to change the Constitution to allow for the establishment of a new court of appeal will be held in September along with the referendum to abolish the Seanad, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has confirmed.

The Minister announced yesterday that at its weekly meeting the Cabinet had approved the holding of a referendum to allow for the amendment of article 34 to provide for the establishment of the court.

Speaking in Athlone, where he was attending the annual conference of the Prison Officers’ Association, Mr Shatter said delays in the current appeals system were not fair to families or to those whose sentences were under appeal.

He said the State was obliged to offer a system in which courts could hear and decide on appeals within a reasonable period of time. The new court of appeal would cover criminal and civil matters. It would sit much more frequently than the existing Court of Criminal Appeal.


“The Government made a decision on Tuesday of this week that the referendum on the new court of appeal would take place in September. I hope that the outcome of that referendum will result in public support for the creation of this new court.”

It was hugely important to address the current delays. These were no fault of the judiciary but had come about simply because the courts had been overwhelmed with appeals in the past decade.

He was very happy that he had Cabinet approval to move ahead and draft the wording of the referendum.

Backlog of cases
The need for a court of appeal arises mainly from the backlog of cases before the Supreme Court. The average delay for new non-priority cases is now of the order of four years.

Earlier this year Chief Justice Susan Denham announced her decision not to accept any new priority cases, given that there were already over 70 cases on the priority list.

The Supreme Court in Ireland, unlike in other common law jurisdictions, is the court of final appeal in all cases. This means that whereas in other countries the Supreme Court mainly deals with cases involving substantial points of law or issues of major public importance, in Ireland the Supreme Court is taken up with issues ranging from routine interlocutory orders to the major constitutional issues and everything in between.

The new court of appeal will deal with most cases that are currently dealt with by the Supreme Court, thus reducing its workload and allowing it to focus on the development of the law. The model for the new court of appeal is largely drawn from the report of the working group on a court of appeal, which was chaired by the Chief Justice.

Exceptional circumstances
The intention is that after the establishment of the court of appeal, most appeals will be concluded at that court and only in exceptional circumstances, and subject to the Supreme Court's own "leave to appeal" requirements, will cases proceed to be heard by the Supreme Court. This should result in the number of cases heard by the Supreme Court falling substantially.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times