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Virtual Courts Update

21st May 2021

5,000 virtual court sessions, improved virtual court capabilities and positive support for a hybrid approach to virtual courts announced.

Upgraded virtual court technology opens up options for witness cases.

Friday 21 May 2021; One year after virtual courts were first introduced the Courts Service is reaching a milestone of 5,000 virtual court sessions and at the same time announces improvements to virtual court platform, Pexip. Virtual Courts as adopted and used by the Courts Service, the Judiciary, practitioners and the various agencies involved in the courts system, provided a much needed alternative during the pandemic to ensure courts stayed open and safe, allowing certain business and cases to continue to flow through the system. As restrictions ease and an increased number of in-court cases can be heard, viable options to ensure that important court business is put beyond the reach of Covid-19, continue to be very important.

The Courts Service is pleased to announce the roll out of Pexip Infinity as part of the virtual court platform for appropriate cases. This will allow the hearing of cases involving more witnesses and affidavits to be heard. Many Personal Injury cases could benefit from this new technology. Speaking about the upgrade President of the High Court, Justice Mary Irvine said “The Courts Service now has available an additional tool for remote hearings, Pexip Infinity, which addresses many of the concerns raised by parties when contemplating witness actions taking place remotely”

Courts Service CEO Angela Denning has said, “There are areas of court work that are opening up more because of the lifting of government restrictions particularly around travel. This includes increased numbers of family law case being listed, probate personal applications, and some witness cases in the High Court. Our priority continues to be keeping courts open and safe and as long as social distancing is in place we will have to manage the numbers of people in our buildings”

As long as social distancing remains, listing significant numbers of cases each day to allow these cases to be settled or heard in the customary way will be beyond reach. To process large numbers of cases within restrictions, will continue to require a combination of physical hearings and remote hearings, with potentially a hybrid situation with some people in court and some online. We need to be able to facilitate seamless movement from one type of hearing to another in response to any change in Covid-19 restrictions.

The pandemic had varying impact on the different areas, one area where litigants were most severely affected related to claims determined on oral evidence rather than on affidavit. Personal injuries litigation has been the area hardest hit by Covid-19 restrictions.

The improved virtual platform Pexip Infinity provides a new option to ensure that large numbers of personal injury cases can be heard in the short term. Although successfully used in several personal injuries actions, the standard virtual court platform provided challenges, for example showing both the witness and their questioner on the screen the same time wasn’t possible, and it didn’t allow anyone wishing to intervene to indicate their wish to do so. In answer to these challenges the Courts Service is in the process of making an advanced Pexip Infinity available for personal injuries actions.

Judges who have used it have found it highly satisfactory, not only for hearing the legal argument, but also for hearing the evidence of a number of expert witnesses. For anyone interested in learning more about how personal injury actions can be heard through Pexip Infinity a moot court has been recorded and available below.

POPULAR SUPPORT FOR HYBRID MODEL FOR SOME AREAS OF WORK:

The Courts Service welcomes the recent statement from Council of the Bar of Ireland that they are supportive of remote hearings to tackle the build-up of cases, and the positive support from many lawyers for Virtual Courts being used in the future for short or uncontroversial procedural business.

In a recent questionnaire – answered by courts staff, judges, practitioners, and the general public, support for use of virtual courts in uncomplicated matters was overwhelming. Of 467 responses legal practitioners were largest respondent group, making up 66% of the total. As a result of the pandemic court users are now much more informed and have first-hand experience of remote courts. The Courts Service issued the survey as one way to hear from users and get their feedback before making decisions on solutions for the longer term. It is very positive to see practitioners playing such an active part in helping the Courts Service understand what has worked and help determine the future direction of virtual courtrooms.

92% responded that Case management, call-overs, and lists to fix dates work well in virtual courts, and may be well placed to continue. This statistic is supported by the feedback from interviews conducted with practitioners, confirming that they find the ability to attend remotely beneficial – as they can attend multiple lists concurrently if required, or in the regions without travelling long distances. The reduction in time spent travelling is a clear benefit of virtual courts reducing travelling time from hours to minutes.

Hybrid Model of hearing cases

Angela Denning said that “based on initial feedback, our experience to date and that of the judiciary, I would envisage a future of ‘hybrid courts’. A mix of physical and digital courts that would be suitable, to meet the varying needs of our diverse range of users. Covid restrictions, although not welcomed, served to facilitate the disruption courts needed to embrace change.”

High Court Judge Mr Justice Michael Hanna, said that he has found remote technology “to be a useful and effective medium for the conduct of many aspects of personal injury litigation: I include those trials which lie at the less contentious end of the litigation spectrum. For example, I have conducted, without significant difficulty, an admittedly uncomplicated trial involving an elderly and infirm plaintiff on the eastern coast of Canada and defendant in person residing outside of Dublin”.

He feels “the conduct of many aspects of litigation online will be a necessary part of day-to-day business for the near future (at least)”.

High Court Examiner Patricia Troy says that “The use of remote technology has ensured that there are no build-ups in the Bankruptcy Court List for those Debtors who wish to be adjudicated Bankrupt. These Debtors are no longer required to attend an in person hearing but can attend virtually.  Feedback indicates that removing the requirement for debtors who wish to be adjudicated bankrupt to physically attend in Court, has made what can be a daunting prospect less stressful for participants”.

Examiner's Matters

Ms Troy also noted that “The attendance by participants at remote hearings before the Examiner has exceeded what would have been the situation when physical hearings were the norm. This can be attributed to the ease of access to remote hearings, and an increasing acceptance generally of this mode of conducting business."

Link to Video of Moot Court here.

(It shows people using it, testing it, mistakes and all, as people get used to the new technology


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With restrictions easing, the Courts Service are reminding court users to practice the public health measures and follow the guidance of the Courts and health and safety protocols best captured in our video – available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8l8zVkhOPo8&t=10s

Court users should continue to:

•               wear face masks

•               physical distance at 2m

•               continue good hand and respiratory hygiene

•               avoid congregating in groups

•               comply with directions from Courts Service staff in relation to the management of the numbers of persons in court buildings and

•               if you have symptoms, are a close contact of a person who tested positive for Covid-19, have been directed to restrict your movement or are awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test, you should not attend court. If you are involved in a case to be heard you should contact the relevant office at the earliest opportunity.

 

Further Information/ Updates

For queries relating to Jury Summons please contact the number provided on your summons and refer to the Courts Service twitter account @CourtsServiceIE.

Courts updates will be provided as and when available, please consult www.courts.ie:

•               the Covid-19 Notice pages for regional updates at https://www.courts.ie/covid-19-notices and

•               general Covid-19 updates at https://www.courts.ie/covid-19-response-updates