Inadequate courtroom space and staff shortages at Waterford Courthouse have resulted in a severe backlog in cases, resulting in an average wait time for circuit court criminal cases of 18 to 36 months, compared with 3 to 6 months in Limerick and Galway, it has emerged.
Hence this week’s announcement that the refurbishment of the city’s courthouse will proceed as an independent project, despite the shelving of decentralisation plans for Waterford, has been widely welcomed. Deferred until 2011 at the earliest, the Waterford decentralisation programme had included the provision of an
additional court chamber in a ‘Government Quarter’ that would also house over 200 jobs from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
However, in a bid to free up the main courthouse for criminal and civil cases, the Courts Service has entered into an agreement with the Office of Public Works to take possession of the fire station on Catherine Street when the Fire Services moves to its new premises in Ballybeg next April. “From this point we will then incorporate this site into our plans for the construction of an extension to and refurbishment of the courthouse,” a Courts Service spokesperson confirmed.
The city’s first and long-awaited standalone family court will eventually be based on the site of the existing fire station and this new facility, the spokesperson said, will help expedite family law cases ‘in a more timely manner and in a more private and suitable environment’.
In a statement released to the media, Labour TD Brian O’Shea criticised the delays faced by people trying to access the court facilities in the city, because of inadequate courtroom space and a major shortage of support staff. The pressure on the system, Deputy O’Shea said, was “appalling”, with the average waiting time for circuit court criminal cases in Waterford eight to thirty six months, compared with three to six months in Limerick and Galway.
The Courts Service has confirmed that some labour-intensive activities, including the electronic processing of family law payments, have become automated. All summonses received from An Garda Síochána and all results of cases sent back to them will be dealt with electronically in the near future, thus freeing up much staff time.
A fourth judge is to be assigned to the south-east circuit court from next January in an attempt to reduce the number of cases awaiting hearing. Two extra judges have been in place in the circuit for the past two years along with the permanent judge.