A multitude of little superfluous precautions engender here a population of deputies and sub-officials, each of whom acquits himself with an air of importance and a rigorous precision, which seemed to say, though everything is done with much silence, “Make way, I am one of the members of the grand machine of state.”
Marquis de Custine (1790–1857), French traveller, author. Empire of the Czar: A Journey Through Eternal Russia, ch. 7 (1843; rev. 1989), referring to Russia.
As with all institutions of the Irish State which are covered in these I-I reviews, the Courts Service unfortunately suffers from the same routine sense of complacency that comes with a ‘jobs for life’ culture. It is not the best environment for sincere persons to aspire to high levels of public service - especially when staff see their superiors (most especially certain Registrars and Judges) indulging in some appalling abuses of authority and power. It is remarkable therefore to be able to commend many of those who do work in these compromised environments for their cheerful and helpful attitudes - albeit officially advised by their superiors to inform lay litigants (in particular) that they are ‘not qualified to give legal advice’. Regrettably, in far too many cases reported to us, this statement seems to be getting interpreted by certain disobliging Courts Service Staff (particularly in the Four Courts) as a ‘free pass’ to be as unhelpful and unaccommodating as they can possibly be - and in certain notable cases - even downright obstructive. This includes repeated breaches of the Courts Service’s own Customer Service Charter which clearly and unequivocally states:
"Our correspondence will identify the writer’s name and/or position, the address of the court office, a direct telephone number and an e-mail address."
And.. "We will promptly provide clear and correct information."
And.. "In cases where we cannot release information, we will explain why."
And.. "We will conduct our business to the highest standards of ethical and professional behaviour in an atmosphere of mutual respect and courtesy" etc etc..
So, we have to ask; why is it that despite these sincere written undertakings to the public that Court Service Staff consistently refuse to identify themselves in correspondence, and consistently fail or refuse to answer legitimate questions asked of them? Indeed, in considering the explicit E U Directives regarding citizen’s fundamental rights - especially in context of the justice system - (and now written into Irish law) it is very hard to account for the recent point-blank refusal of the Senior Registrar of the High Court to simply direct his staff to identify themselves either by their initials or an assigned staff number!? In face of multiple complaints of personal rudeness, stonewalling, errors, omissions, and deliberate and sustained obstructionism, the Senior Registrar’s declaration that he ‘doesn’t see any need’ for the public to know who they are dealing with, is a very telling statement from someone who either doesn’t understand the parallel concepts of ‘professionalism’ and ‘public service’ - or, who is being deliberately evasive and obtuse. Alternatively, it could simply be that a person of his obvious importance and standing shouldn’t have to condesend to deal with the lowly public - a public who are simply asking him to do his job properly in a professional and obliging manner.
It is an obvious conclusion to come to, that when ‘officials’ in any State Department act with such hubris and arrogance - and who refuse to be accountable to the very people who are paying their wages - that something is seriously amiss. The fact of the matter is that one small but calculated act of obstructionism on the part of a senior Courts Staff member can have a massively detrimental effect on a lay litigant’s case - adding months and years of unnecessary frustration, costs and anxiety to their lives. Unfortunately (as usual) if you chose to lodge a complaint to the Quality Standards Controls Officer at the Courts Service (and no, not even the CSSO Reception were aware of the position when we first approached them) ..then you invariably find yourself facing the same old routine whereby another so-called ‘stautory oversight body’ does exactly the opposite of what they are mandated to do, and simply ensures that the complaint - however serious it may be - is ‘dealt with’ via the usual denials, lame excuses and suppression of the facts; for the purposes of ensuring that no-one is held properly to account, thereby ensuring the minimum of embarrasment to the organisation. ‘Public Service’? Really?