Wednesday, 15 April 1981
Seanad Eireann Debate
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mr. Doherty): The question of jury trials in civil actions is one which gives rise to forceful arguments both for and against. The position in this jurisdiction is that there has always been a right to a jury trial in High Court civil actions. That right was done away with in the Circuit Court by the Courts Act, 1971, which, incidentally, raised the jurisdiction of tort to the level of £2,000. Because of the present low level of Circuit Court jurisdiction relative to the cost of repair or replacement of a motor car, most running costs fall within the jurisdiction of the High Court alone. I am sure Senators will agree that the more serious the accident and its effects on those involved, the relatives, the more important it is that the case should be heard in a forum where the jury option can be availed of.
Senator Cassidy referred to the fundamental nature of the decisions to be made by the District Court under section 15 of the Bill. There is nothing at all wrong with the District Court dealing with such serious matters. After all, the District Court can already put somebody in prison for 12 months and that is a serious matter. We must face up to the fact that the status of the District Court is such that it can deal with custody and guardianship cases.
Senator Murphy made a contribution which I do not consider had any bearing on the Bill in so far as it referred to civil legal aid which has no part or place in this legislation, other than to avail of an opportunity to have a side-swipe at that Civil Legal Aid Board and the system of civil legal aid as introduced by the Government. From that point of view, there was nothing in his contribution which concerned the Bill before the House.
Senator Honan suggested that we get a booklet out. That is a good suggestion and one I will consider. It might be premature to propose the publication of such a booklet, immediately after the coming into effect of this Bill. There are other legislative packages to come before the Houses and be passed. It might be timely then to consider the publication of such  a booklet and in that context, perhaps involve the Civil Legal Aid Board who I am sure would have a very definite interest. But I take the Senator's point as a worthwhile suggestion.
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