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Justice Plan 2021

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Ireland

Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee yesterday published a Justice Plan 2021, which is the first of a series of annual plans that the Department of Justice has stated that it intends to roll out to drive reform of the justice sector.

The 2021 Plan identifies 240 individual actions which the Department proposes to take during the course of the year with the stated objection of building "a justice system that works for everyone".

The 2021 Plan will be implemented in conjunction with the Department's three year Statement of Strategy and has identified five key goals, as follows:
 
  1. Tackling crime, enhancing national security and transforming policing;
  2. Improving access to justice and modernising the court system;
  3. Strengthening community safety, reducing re-offending, supporting victims and combating domestic, sexual and gender based violence;
  4. Delivering a fair immigration system for the digital age;
  5. Accelerating innovation, digital transformation and climate action across the justice sector.
The initiatives to improve access to justice and to modernise the Court system will include:
 
  1. Opening up legal education and removing barriers to people becoming solicitors and barristers;
  2. Allowing for greater diversity across the justice system;
  3. Publishing a new Bill to modernise and update Ireland's licensing laws;
  4. Appointing a CEO of the new Gambling Authority to help prepare the way for a new Regulator;
  5. Beginning detailed work on a new system for guidelines for legal costs to help bring costs down and to provide greater transparency on legal fees.
The proposal to introduce guidelines for legal costs is stated to be in support of the objectives of (i) reducing legal costs (ii) reducing the length of legal proceedings and (iii) tackling the high cost of insurance.

The 2021 Plan proposes that a detailed examination of the recommendations contained within what is referred to as "the Peter Kelly report" on legal costs be commenced in Q1 2021. As part of that work, the Department proposes to carry out a detailed economic and legal evaluation, which will include examining making such scales binding, except when both parties agree to opt out. This work is scheduled to be completed by Q4 2021. Rather oddly, the text of the plan uses the terms "guidelines" and "scales" interchangeably.

The 2021 Plan also intends to examine and give effect to the government commitment on the feasibility of obliging fraudulent claimants to pay the legal costs of defendants, along with reviewing and increasing the penalties for fraudulent claims by Q3 of 2021.

Reform on legal costs is a theme echoed in the recent Review of the Administration of Civil Justice chaired by former President of the High Court, Justice Peter Kelly.  Both Justice Kelly and the Minister share the view that legal costs in this jurisdiction represent a barrier to access to justice and remain too high. Just how successfully these strands can be woven together remains to be seen. That said, the reform of legal costs is clearly on the Government agenda.

The Justice Plan 2021 can be accessed here:  Department_of_Justice_Action_Plan_2021.pdf

The Department of Justice Statement of Strategy 2021-2023 can be accessed here.

The Review of Civil Administration of Justice Report can be accessed here.
 
 Written by Killian O'Reilly. 
 

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