Judge expresses frustration at workload

“I don’t know what people call busy,” said Judge John Neilan, commenting on his workload at Mullingar District Court.

“I’ve come to the point of being worn out,” he said, before he left the bench at 3.10pm, having sent for the court clerk.

“I’m pushing myself to the point of exhaustion,” he said. “I’m not doing it any more, apart from the fact that I’m getting too old for it.”

The issue arose when solicitor Robert Marren requested that a case for hearing be dealt with sooner, rather than later as his client Conor Farrell, 47 Grange Crescent, has been in custody since March 4.

He said the lengthy custody for a client who is pleading not guilty could border on injustice.

The judge then commented on his workload and sittings which regularly last until 8pm at some of his courts, such as Athlone.

“I’m finishing the business of the court at 5pm,” he said. “If we don’t reach [the end] at 5pm, it’s a matter for the court clerk.”

He said that she had indicated that “everything can be dealt with”, and he then insisted that he would not sit beyond 5pm.

The judge said the court clerk had indicated that hearings, where full evidence is heard and defendants plead not guilty, could be dealt with during the normal course of business, on one of the two less busy Friday sittings, without having to schedule extra days.

The judge said that in 2005 he got a letter from the President of the District Court warning him about his late sittings and saying that he was not vindicating the rights of court staff.

He said other courts finish at 4pm and that he could too, although a lot of business is concluded between 4pm and 7pm.

He was not looking for “overtime and better pay” as he was “quite happy” but insisted that “I work as hard as I can”.

He suggested that the Farrell case be put in to the next Thursday, the regular court day, but said it would “put a stop to the whole court”. There are 12 prosecution witnesses and the case would take at least a day.

The judge said it had been the practice of the previous court clerk to have two or three reserve dates, but the new clerk did not share this view.

“It’s a matter for them to see that appropriate time is available,” he said, adding that he had also received complaints from the head of the Courts Service that he doesn’t close his court on time.

He left the bench at 3.10pm to speak to the clerk and returned at 3.30pm, saying that he had endeavoured to secure extra dates and that the secretary of the President of the District Court had not been contactable.

The court lists were becoming “unmanageable” he said, pointing out that 30 extra charge sheets had come in at a recent sitting in Longford which weren’t on the original list.

“There’s no point in arriving home at seven, eight, nine, or 10pm,” he said. “All I’ve ever tried to do is deal with as much as possible but the powers that be aren’t happy with that either.”

He said Mr Marren and his client found themselves in an “appalling situation”.

It was 3.50pm before a date was set for the case which involves four defendants in total. Mr Farrell is charged with criminal damage and public order offences as well as threatening to endanger a person.

The court clerk arranged a special sitting for May 31. The business of the court concluded shortly before 6pm.

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