Video conferencing to be central to pilot scheme which will see some courts being held remotely

Some courts will be held remotely under a new pilot scheme to begin on April 20, in the latest illustration of the radical changes to Irish life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Video conferencing to be central to pilot scheme which will see some courts being held remotely

Some courts will be held remotely under a new pilot scheme to begin on April 20, in the latest illustration of the radical changes to Irish life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Chief Justice and the Presidents of the Court Jurisdictions issued a statement in which they stressed that while "vital court hearings remain in place", plans had to be put in place in the event that current restrictions on movement and gatherings persist into the future.

While the exact details have yet to be finalised, it's anticipated the plan will first be piloted at civil cases in the high court, and in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.

The remote court hearings, likely to be based around video conferencing, will be piloted in new legal term, starting on April 20, and will add to measures already in place to prevent the potential spread of the coronavirus even as courts continue to hear cases.

According to the statement issued this afternoon: "While the precise level of restriction in place may be varied from time to time, the courts must plan against the likelihood that some form of restriction will remain in place for some time.

"With that in mind a lot of work has been done to increase the amount of court work which can be done without requiring persons to be physically present. Further measures will be considered as circumstances permit."

The statement from the Chief Justice and the Presidents of the Court Jurisdictions said: "There are many cases which are urgent.

"Criminality and the arrest of suspects has not ceased. Urgent family and childcare issues remain.

The legal rights of the vulnerable continue to require vindication. There has been an increase in urgent corporate insolvency matters.

It said there were "different burdens on different courts", referring to the caseload demand in the district and circuit courts.

"Importantly, a considerable amount of work has been done on putting in place the ICT infrastructure necessary to facilitate remote court hearings which nonetheless comply with the constitutional obligation that justice be administered in public," it said.

"An initial systems trial will be conducted in the immediate future and, if successful, will be expanded to ensure that the system works satisfactorily prior to it being deployed to conduct actual hearings.

"It is currently hoped that it will be possible in early course for the courts to pilot remote hearings, where they are suitable and where they can be conducted in a manner which is fair and where the parties and their representatives can comply with all Government guidance and direction for the time being in force.

"It may well be possible for such a pilot facility to be in place close to the beginning of the new legal term on 20 April 2020.

"Further statements will be issued to update both the public and practitioners on these developments and on other measures designed to allow the maximum number of cases to progress and be ultimately decided subject only to that being capable of being done safely.

"Each President will, in due course, issue further guidance on how such measures will apply in the relevant court."

The statement also said that in line with efforts to comply with current Government direction and guidance, "it would be appropriate for judges, in cases where they considered it necessary, to comply with the obligation that justice be administered in public by means of allowing only bona fide members of the press to be present in court."

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