Courts plan will carry out more law online

The Irish Examiner – August 3, 2016

Starting in the next few weeks, pub, club, and entertainment venue owners will be able to apply for annual and single event licences and extensions from the comfort of their own laptop.

The eLicencing facility will be able to process 50,000 applications a year, so that applicants so not have to attend a court office in person until the actual hearing takes place. The new process will begin in Co Donegal and then be rolled out to the rest of the country.

In the next year to 18 months, a new eProbate service will also be made available to enable executors of wills commence the process of distributing a deceased’s estate online.

It is expected to facilitate thousands of applications per year, sparing executors the inconvenience of having to await an appointment and travel to their district probate registry.

The moves follow similar initiatives to allow for the online payment of fines and the remote filing of claims to the Small Claims Court.

Increasing use of information and communications technology throughout the courts system also saw 2,000 fewer prisoner escorts to and from court last year as remand ‘appearances’ were conducted by video conferencing.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald yesterday announced an additional €2.5m for further IT improvements throughout the Courts Service which, Chief Justice Susan Denham warned, was reliant on outdated IT systems.

“Five-year-old desktop and office solutions are considered out of date and almost obsolete,” said Ms Justice Denham. “By the end of 2015 we were working with desktop products and programmes which were 12 years old — so old they are no longer supported.”

Ms Fitzgerald pledged to back more improvements.

“We are all aware of the significant demands and challenges for the courts in relation to upgrading their ICT infrastructure,” she said. “As technology advances at its rapid rate, in some cases the physical presence of the court house or the court room is no longer required for the application of the law.”

Ms Fitzgerald made her remarks at the publication of the Courts Service annual report which showed an increase in family law matters coming before the courts last year, including a 7% increase in domestic violence orders and a 10% rise in childcare applications over the year, and a 33% increase in safety and protection orders over five years.

There was also a 10% increase in divorce and judicial separation cases following years of no movement in the numbers. Chief Justice Denham said this may reflect an improving economic situation which allowed couples who previously could not afford to part to now go their separate ways.

She said there were also signs that the Government’s debt settlement provisions were taking effect with an 84% rise in debt settlements recorded. Possession orders fell by 40% in the High Court although they rose 21% in the Circuit Court.

The District Court meanwhile saw a 43% decrease in drink driving orders, although motoring offences still made up 61% of all cases at District Court level.

In total, the courts handled 685,000 civil and criminal matters last year as well as 400,000 financial transactions including fines, fees and awards, amounting to €1.6bn.

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