Courts will extend use of virtual remote court hearings, and organise more physical hearings in the coming weeks. Courtrooms are being laid out with physically distanced spaces. Cases will be listed at staggered times and distinct case types will be organised differently.
The Chief Justice has indicated that more use of Virtual Courts and the extended use of safe physical courts, with organised physical distance, will allow for an increased number of cases to be heard to in the coming weeks. As safety is paramount it will be necessary to ensure that all measures are in place before a significant increase in throughput can take place.
He said that "it is important to emphasise that the Courts Service has, for some time, been working on a range of both physical and organisational measures to enable a significant increase to take place in physical hearings. Those measures are designed to maximise the safety of the environment in which physical hearings can be conducted. The implementation of those measures will allow the presidents to plan for many more physical hearings".
The Chief Justice went on to say that these measures may well be in play until the second half of 2021. The measures he said, " important as they are, will not allow a throughput of cases on the scale which operated prior to restrictions being put in place. It remains unrealistic to anticipate that all courtrooms in all courthouses will be able to operate at or near the level which existed prior to the crisis".
Even if additional suitable venues can be identified there will still be significant limitations. It is for that reason that the use of remote hearings in those cases for which they are suitable, must remain an important part of the medium term solution".
Specific statements from the Chief Justice and the president of each court jurisdiction are published today, outlining what is to happen in each court.
Short details of each courts new arrangements with links to each statement in full are contained below.
The full text of the Chief Justice’s overview statement is contained at this link:
Angela Denning, CEO of the Courts Service has said that :
"The Courts Service has established a team comprising front line staff from across the courts to agree measures to be applied in every courtroom as health restrictions are eased and we increase the numbers of cases being heard."
She said that "working with the Presidents and judiciary in each court the Courts Service was organising increasing workload in a cautious, conservative, safe and innovative way, to allow access to justice whilst also maintaining social distance and safety".
"The Service has fitted out a prototype courtroom in Naas, designed to address safety concerns and social distancing requirements. Screens will be provided for Judges, staff and witnesses, along with floor markings, 2m distancing signage etc. These measures are already in some courtrooms".
Ms Denning announced that the Courts Service this week has created a new position and appointed a full time Health & Safety Officer whose responsibilities include reviewing the proposed measures to ensure that we are compliant with all necessary legislation and public health advice.
She announced that the Service is establishing a consultative user group to ensure that court users are involved in informing decisions.
Use of Virtual Remote Courts, and video conferencing in courts:
The use of video conferencing (in between prisons and courts) has dramatically increased to facilitate defendants in custody appearing in court via video conference for bail and remand hearings. In April 2020 there were 5080 video conference calls between courts and prisons, representing an increase of 400% on the number of such calls in April 2019.
Many of these video calls would involve multiple cases so the number of cases and defendants dealt with in this manner would be far greater than the number of calls. This used existing courts ICT infrastructure. Reducing the need for prisoners to travel to and from prisons to courts mitigated the risks associated with the spread of COVID -19 in the prison population.
Also using existing resources, 47 courts have been held remotely (Virtual Courts). Most of these were in the appellant courts in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, who dealt with call over lists, case management hearings, civil and criminal hearings in this manner. Many of the virtual sittings dealt with several or more matters.
Highlights and links to full statements made by the Presidents of each cour
· Supreme Court:
The Chief Justice on behalf of the Supreme Court has announced that A new practice direction operational from mid April introduced the issuing of a 'statement of case' setting out the Court’s understanding of the relevant facts and issues. The first three cases deploying that new procedure are due for hearing next week and the following week.
Six cases have been identified for hearing in the weeks following with an individual judge designated in each case to ensure that the appeal will be made ready for a remote hearing under the new procedure.
The parties have been contacted with a view to engaging in further case management to that end.
Seven cases have been identified where it is hoped that measures can be put in place to ensure that they too can be made ready for hearing under the new procedure prior to the end of July.
Consideration is also being given as to how the limited number of cases involving litigants in person should be managed.
It is hoped that all cases in respect of which leave to appeal was granted before the end of April of this year will have been heard by the end of July.
· Court of Appeal
Mr Justice George Birmingham, President of the Court of Appeal has stated that:
The Court of Appeal will continue to hear and increase the number of appeals remotely and increase the numbers heard.
From Monday next, it is anticipated that there will be three virtual courts sitting. In each court, one or two appeals will be listed, depending on the expected duration of the hearing.
A number of Lists to Fix Dates for hearings/directions Lists, where directions are given to facilitate the hearing of cases in the list, will take place in the coming days and weeks.
Parties involved in an appeal, which it is felt would be suitable for remote hearing, are urged to add their case to one of those lists, which can be done through the Court of Appeal Office, with a view to having it assigned an early date.
The CCJ will facilitate the virtual remote hearings of Criminal appeals, Civil appeals with a Criminal or quasi-Criminal dimension, and the business that, ordinarily, would be conducted in the Court of Appeal building.
· High Court
The President of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly has said that
It will be possible to expand both the type and number of cases to be heard from Monday 18 May 2020, and that the High Court will sit throughout the Whit recess / vacation. He pointed out that
· Three courts will be available for remote virtual hearings daily
· Seven other courts in the Four Courts complex will be available for physical hearings daily.
· Until further notice it will not be possible to hear cases which involve oral testimony.
He also announced that eight additional case types and matters will added to the urgent cases already being heard.
1. Insolvency matters both corporate and personal.
2. Judicial review applications including Strategic Infrastructure challenges.
3. Probate non contentious business.
4. All Family Law applications including adoption matters.
5. Commercial list cases.
6. Chancery list cases.
7. Non Jury list cases.
8. Criminal Asset Bureau cases.
· Judgments will continue to be delivered electronically and since commencement of this during the Covid restrictions the Court has delivered 71 Judgments.
· Circuit Court
Some Jury Trials to resume in many venues in the Circuit Court in September 2020.
District Court Appeals: Custody cases to proceed on the adjourned date. Non-custody cases will be listed for mention only on the adjourned date. Parties are requested not to attend. A new hearing date will be allocated and parties advised of same, except for the Northern Circuit where non-custody cases will be dealt with on the adjourned date, if possible. Parties will be advised further on the Northern Circuit.
Family Law Cases & Motions: Family law matters adjourned since March 2020 will be given a hearing date by the Court Office as soon as possible. Consideration will be given to dealing with matters remotely where possible and appropriate.
Civil Cases & Motions: Hearings which were adjourned since March will be given a hearing date by the Court Office as soon as possible. All trials and motions lists will be on a staggered/time slot basis. Parties are requested to attend no earlier than 5 minutes before their allocated time to ensure social distancing is adhered to. No ex-parte applications will be permitted, urgent applications can be e-mailed to the appropriate Court Office, the office will ensure these matters are brought to the attention of the Judge
· District Court
The President of the District Court, his Honour Judge Colin Daly, has announced that:
1. Parties with non-urgent cases are not required to attend court at this time.
2. The District Court will continue to hear urgent matters in all District Court Districts throughout the country as before, and will resume hearings of certain other urgent matters.
3. Urgent matters are now extended to include more areas in Criminal, Family, and Child Care Law.
In the area of Family Law the President announced changes for matters which can be dealt with include;
New applications for protection orders or interim barring orders and return hearings of interim barring order cases.
If safety order hearings are being adjourned interim protection orders will be extended to the new date.
Applications and hearings for breach of maintenance or access that have occurred during the emergency period or applications and hearings for temporary guardianship orders.
Remote call-overs and hearings may be conducted in some courts.
Consent orders that do not require the hearing of evidence may be applied for by email by the applicant’s solicitor exhibiting consent in writing from the respondent’s solicitor. Following consideration by an assigned Judge orders will issue from the Court Office as appropriate without the need for the parties or their legal representatives to attend court.
All District Court Civil matters are at present considered to be non-urgent and will be adjourned generally with liberty to re-enter either on consent or on notice to the other party.
Solicitors are to inform clients that they do not need to attend where their case is a non-urgent matter.
Non-urgent cases will be adjourned, and parties will be informed of their new court dates by the Court Service by ordinary post or by their solicitor.