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High Court judge seeks end of second-class citizenship for solicitors and speedier case management
The Republic of Ireland's first solicitor High Court judge is already voicing his own ideas for reform of the system following his groundbreaking appointment. Michael Peart is the first solicitor to be appointed to the High Court bench without previously taking silk. He was appointed in June along with eight other new judges, four of them to the High Court. Peart's appointment follows the Courts and Court Officers Act 2001, which finally enabled barristers and solicitors of at least 12 years standing to be appointed to the High Court or Supreme Court. The 1995 Courts and Court Officers Act had opened an indirect route to solicitors via the Circuit Court, but pressure continued to mount to end discrimination against solicitors and widen the pool of expertise and experience available to the courts. Peart's appointment has also been heralded as a worldwide first. The closest precedent is the appointment two years ago of Herbert Smith partner Lawrence Collins QC to the High Court. After 32 years in practice, Peart handed over his role as principal of his Dublin-based firm Pearts to sister Valerie Peart, and heard his first case last month. Peart hopes his experience as a solictor dealing directly with members of the public will bring a different approach to the bench. "Not all litigators are big corporations; some are small individuals with few resources behind them. I think barristers sometimes aren't as aware of that in the advice they give," said Peart in an interview with the Irish Law Society Gazette this month. As a judge, Peart said he hopes to expedite hearings to ensure a speedier resolution of disputes. He suggested a number of ways to unjam the system. "Some of the rules under which we operate are extremely old. Some of them actually facilitate delays," he told the Gazette. He would like to see case management by judges given greater prominence, so they can take a more hands-on role in controlling the time it takes between the commencement of an action and its hearing. A current review of criminal procedures by Mr Justice Nial Fennelly is likely to be followed by a review of civil litigation. Peart has also called for a revision of precedence in the courtroom, whereby even the lowliest barrister has to finish making applications in court before the sitting judge hears motions from solicitors. He told the Gazette: "I think something should be done to ease that, because solicitors, if they are to have complete parity of esteem, must appear in court on a level playing field and not be second-class citizens." He suggested that applications be heard on a first-come, first-served basis. The shape of Peart's future relationship with the Law Society in Ireland has yet to be resolved as there are no rules governing the issue.