Draft laws will enable more inquests to be held in a bid to clear backlogs caused by Covid-19 deaths, and delays to other inquests due to social distancing restrictions.
The proposed laws will also expand the use of video links in criminal and civil proceedings as part of efforts to deal with a mounting waiting list resulting from the pandemic.
In addition, the provisions will allow for remote hearings for bodies such as appeal boards, tribunals and workplace relations committees, and will clear up legal uncertainties regarding emergency meetings of clubs, such as sports clubs.
The Cabinet this week approved the Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020, brought by Helen McEntee, the justice minister.
The bill contains two key amendments to the Coroners Act 1962, to enable extra coroner capacity to be added rapidly in any district on a temporary basis. This should:
- Clear backlogs of inquests that have arisen due to necessary social distancing restrictions;
- Deal with any additional deaths arising from the pandemic;
- Hold inquests into Covid-19-related deaths where required, once it is safe to do so.
Under the bill, the temporary extra capacity will be available in exceptional circumstances arising from the number or nature of deaths resulting from a pandemic, catastrophic event, or other mass fatality occurrence.
The coroner of a district may request the agreement of the Minister for Justice to appoint a temporary additional coroner for a period not exceeding six months.
The bill will introduce remote hearings in civil proceedings in an effort to overcome social distancing rules, and allow for electronic filing of documents in civil matters.
Provisions are being introduced to help deal with the backlog in criminal trials, which legal sources have said are “urgently needed”.
Video link provisions will be expanded to include all accused persons, not just those in custody.
The bill also allows new types of applications to court to be heard via video link, including arraignments, returns for trial, sentencing, and certain aspects of surrender proceedings.
The new provisions allow any witness in any of the application types covered by the video link provisions to give their evidence remotely.