Chief Justice Susan Denham has described as "unsustainable" the four-year delay caused by the huge increase in the numbers of cases being appealed to the Supreme Court.

The country's top judge said she was not advocating how people should vote in the forthcoming referendum on a new Court of Appeal.

However, she said it was important that citizens in coming to a decision understood the context within which the courts were working. 

Ms Justice Denham said the backlog must be addressed so that people with real legal difficulties could have cases dealt with speedily. 

She was speaking to court staff in Limerick at the opening of the combined court offices there.

Referring to reform, she pointed out that the Supreme Court now deals with ten times the number of cases compared to 1937 when Ireland's Constitution was drafted.

The large increase in cases has caused delays of a real magnitude, with some waiting four-and-a-half years for a hearing - which Ms Justice Denham described as "unsustainable".

Last year there was a 21% increase in the number of appeals filed in the Supreme Court meaning 605 new cases, with over 400 appealed so far this year.

Behind all these statistics were people in cases waiting to be resolved such as in family law, personal injuries and disputes over wills.

She said the courts should facilitate them and the common good by dealing with cases in a speedy fashion.

If there was a Court of Appeal, she said, it could hear the routine appeal cases.

This would leave the Supreme Court free to focus exclusively on cases that raise matters of general public importance,  Ms Justice Denham added.