Thursday, 7 December 1995
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Enright: At the outset, I thank the Minister for Justice for granting the moneys to extend and renovate Birr Garda station. It was welcome and the people and gardaí in the town are pleased. I also ask the Minister to examine Tullamore Garda station because it is also in urgent need of renovation.
I am raising this matter because I am concerned about continuing rumours concerning the withdrawal of Circuit Court sittings from Birr. The Circuit Court has been sitting in Birr since the foundation of this State. Indeed, superior courts sat in Birr for many years before that. It would be a great loss if this existing facility, which serves both Birr and its surrounding area, was withdrawn.
I was delighted to see Birr courthouse renovated and refurbished. It is now one of the finest courthouses in the country. It has a proper courtroom and consultation room for client and their legal advisers, excellent judges' chambers, accommodation for the press and a fine public gallery. A Circuit Court review committee was set up in 1994 by the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, and perhaps the  Minister could let me know if its report may have been sent to the Department.
It is in the interest of litigants to have courts sitting in venues close to where they reside so they do not have to travel long distances. It is only proper and fair that a local court is available to people and we should ensure this is maintained.
It is also an advantage not to have long court lists. Huge numbers of cases are listed on them at present. The list is circulated and all on it have to attend. Their cases are called out and these people must come back on following and subsequent days. This practice brings the law into disrepute. Solicitors, barristers and judges get blamed for it. There should be a better way of distributing work with regard to the organisation of these lists. Although a major effort was made to improve this, having a large number of existing venues is much better than nothing and I am anxious to see this continue. It is better for the judge and registrar to attend a town such as Birr rather than have people from the locality travel long distances.
Birr is not the only town involved; other areas are also under threat from these rumours. The existing facilities are already there and they pose no additional cost to the State. It is false economics to close the Circuit Courts in Birr and other towns. The primary priority for the Minister for Justice is to take the ordinary citizen into account and it is our duty to facilitate them in every way.
Offaly is a large county. Rather than having people travelling from Moneygall to Tullamore, it would be much better to keep the existing Circuit Court in Birr. Similarly, people from Edenderry can go to Tullamore Circuit Court to have their cases heard, and I am certain I speak on behalf of many people.
While judges should maintain control over the running of the courts and not have the Minister for Justice interfering with its workings, deciding on their venues should be a political matter and I bow to nobody on that. We, in this House and in the Dáil, should make a  decision about where our courts are to sit.
To withdraw a service, such as a court sitting, from a town is something about which many would be very upset. Court sittings provide facilities, even for business people in an area, such as for hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, licensed premises, etc. They generate business for two to three weeks every year for many towns, which is of benefit to them, given the economic situation.
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. O'Shea): The position is that the fixing of sittings of the Circuit Court is a matter for the judge of each circuit and the President of the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court rules provide that sittings of that court shall be held at the places within each circuit as the judge of such circuit shall, from time to time, direct and appoint. Section 10 of the Courts of Justice Act, 1947, provides that the President of the Circuit Court may, from time to time, by order, fix in respect of any circuit, in consultation with the judge of the circuit, the places  therein at which sittings are to be held. This is a matter in which the Minister has no function.
As mentioned by Senator Enright, the previous Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, established a Circuit Court Review Committee in March 1994 under the chairmanship of the President of the Circuit Court to review the circuits of this court in order to determine the optimum size and number of circuits and the optimum number of venues with a view to ensuring the efficient working of the Circuit Court in all areas. The committee has submitted its report to the Minister and she is considering the report in the context of the Government's commitment to carry out a fundamental reform of the courts.
The Working Group on a Courts Commission, which the Minister established recently, is to carry out a major reappraisal of the organisation and structure of all courts, and any decision she might take on the Circuit Court Review Committee's report will, of course, be made in the context of this reappraisal.
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