Secular ceremony marks opening of new legal year

Secular ceremony marks opening of new legal year

Pictured: Chief Justice Donal O'Donnell addresses the opening of the new legal year

Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell yesterday welcomed the making of “a new tradition” as a secular ceremony to mark the opening of the new legal year took place in the Four Courts for the first time.

The two traditional religious ceremonies marking the occasion — both a Church of Ireland service and a Roman Catholic Red Mass — are “valuable and often beautiful” events, the Chief Justice said.

However, there has “always been, in my experience, some discomfort with the idea of the opening of the legal year being marked by not one but two religious ceremonies, and also increasingly with the idea that the opening of the year was associated, almost by default, with religion”, he continued.

Senior judges and lawyers from across these islands were in attendance for the historic event, which was devised by a committee chaired by Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne of the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice O’Donnell said the ceremony “also affords us a timely opportunity for reflection”, touching on reforms aimed at improving the administration of justice in the State, including the “quite dramatic” expansion of the bench under the Courts Act 2023.

While noting that the “pace of delivery has been slower than initially promised”, he said the “scale of these appointments is unprecedented and has already delivered positive impacts above and beyond the provision of much needed numbers — most obviously in accelerating a trend of bringing younger lawyers onto the bench”.

“This naturally introduces welcome energy and enthusiasm to the system, and it would be a real pity if that spirit was not supported, encouraged and built upon,” he added.

The Chief Justice also discussed next year’s centenary of the Courts of Justice Act 1924, which established the modern Irish courts system after independence.

“My hope for that significant occasion is that we not only celebrate what has been achieved in the last 100 years, but as importantly, that we set goals and ambitions for the next century, and in doing so, identifying those things in our system that deserve preservation, and those which can be adapted, improved or changed,” he said.

Angela Denning, CEO of the Courts Service, also addressed the ceremony, highlighting areas of ongoing work for the service.

She highlighted that the long-promised family courts complex at Hammond Lane will go to planning by the end of the year and subsequently be put out to tender.

Ms Denning also said a contract will be signed within days to purchase from Kerry County Council a site at the Island of Geese in Tralee for a new courthouse for Co Kerry “when funding becomes available”.

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