Welcome Changes Announced in the Court of Appeal to Address Delay

The current waiting time for civil cases to be heard by the Court of Appeal is approximately 20 months. For criminal matters, the delay is six months. However, changes have now been announced which will address this delay.

The Court of Appeal was established in 2014 to increase the appellate capacity of the superior courts. At that point in time, appeal times from the High Court to the Supreme Court stood at over four years. 

The court has a large caseload. In a civil context alone, the Court of Appeal hears appeals from the High Court except where the Supreme Court has permitted an appeal to it, as the appeal meets the threshold set out in Article 34.5.4° of the Constitution. The court also determines questions of law referred to it by the Circuit Court and the High Court military judge hearing a court-martial (cases stated). In addition, the Court of Appeal continues to deal with appeals transferred from the Supreme Court which had been initiated before the establishment of the Court of Appeal and had not been fully or partly heard by the Supreme Court by that time (Article 64 appeals).

It soon emerged that the resourcing of the court was insufficient to meet these demands. By 2017, despite using all available resources, new appeals lodged in the Court of Appeal exceeded the number completed. Waiting times had reached problematic levels and its effectiveness was being inhibited by insufficient judicial resourcing. For example, in recent weeks, lists to fix dates for the hearing of appeals have had to be deferred until further notice due to the current waiting times in the Court of Appeal. The case for significantly increasing the number of judges on the Court of Appeal was powerful and urgent.

In a welcome development, the Government has now approved legislation to increase the number of ordinary judges in the Court of Appeal from nine to 15. The General Scheme of the proposed Bill will now be published and will then move to pre-legislative scrutiny. 

While a resolution of the difficulties in the Court of Appeal may now be in sight, it is not yet clear when any new Bill might be enacted. Subsequent judicial appointments would then need to be made so it might be some time before the pressure on judicial lists begins to ease.

This document has been prepared by McCann FitzGerald LLP for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.