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Monday, September 05, 2016

The Irish Court of Appeal and the 33rd Amendment

In 2013, Ireland held a national referendum on a proposed constitutional provision. The referendum passed, and the proposal became the 33rd Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland. The amendment authorised the creation of an intermediate appellate court between the High Court (i.e., Ireland’s trial court of general jurisdiction) and the Supreme Court of Ireland. During the referendum, the new court was promoted as a solution to the backlog of the appellate cases before the Supreme Court. The creation of the new court was supported by the judiciary and each major political party, including those in opposition. Only a few people publicly opposed the creation of the new court: I was one of those people.

It is interesting to note that just prior to the 2013 referendum, the media and members of the governing coalition indicated that the size of the Supreme Court backlog was some 500 to 600 cases. But one year later, in 2014, when the Court of Appeal opened, the Supreme Court transferred more than twice that number of cases from its list [or docket] to the Court of Appeal. Compare Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, A new court of appeal would enhance access to justice The Irish Times (Dublin, 11 September 2013, 5:23am) (“Over 500 appeals await resolution.”), and FG duo say yes to new court of appeal The Irish Independent (Dublin, 2 October 2013, 5:22am) (quoting Fine Gael* TDs** Andrew Doyle and Simon Harris’s joint statement: “There are currently over 600 appeals in the queue ...”), with Courts Service, Annual Report 2014, p.36 (explaining that the Supreme Court transferred “1,355 civil matters ... from Supreme Court to Court of Appeal” and that the Supreme Court retained “[o]ver 800 appeals”). This discrepancy has never been explained. Indeed, it is not possible to believe that the backlog—in the space of one year—went from 500 appellate cases to some 2,155 cases.

Seth Barrett Tillman, Has the Irish Court of Appeal Solved the Judicial Backlog? Can it?’ (2016) 34 Irish Law Times 210, 211 n.11. This article is availalbe on Westlaw.IE. Irish Law Times is a professional journal: its articles are reviewed by practitioners.


*Fine Gael or FG was the dominant political party in the coalition which controlled the Irish government at the time of the 2013 referendum and when the Court of Appeal was put into operation in 2014.

**TD is an abbreviation for Teachta Dála, which translates as member of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish Parliament.

Twitter: ( @SethBTillman )

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