The public are being asked to stay away from courts in Kerry amid concern about the alarming increase in Covid-19 cases, and solicitors have been asked to advise their clients not to turn up in person.
Since the pandemic began, the amount of space available for the public had been severely curtailed, to comply with social-distancing measures, but now the public, including accused persons, are being told not to enter courthouses in district number 17.
Except for rare exceptions, the changes will be in place "for the foreseeable future".
The new restrictions are in light of what Killarney District Court heard was “an alarming increase” in Covid-19 cases.
Solicitors in Kerry have been asked to advise clients to stay away. All matters are being put back for two months apart from pleas on minor offences.
The application by Killarney solicitor Padraig O’Connell that minor criminal matters will be disposed of, where the accused is pleading guilty, without them having to appear in court, was agreed to by Judge David Waters.
Licensing matters such as renewal of pub licence will also be dealt with by affidavit without the publican having to appear – again unless there is an objection by gardai, Judge Waters said.
The arrangements regarding court sittings in Kerry until March were outlined in Killarney District Court on Tuesday morning with Judge David Waters opening the court saying he wished to make a series of announcements and was consulting with gardaí and the representatives of the Kerry Law Society present.
Judge Waters said the announcements were in light of the rising numbers of Covid-19 cases He sought the views of the Kerry law society in court.
Pat Mann, solicitor on behalf of the Kerry Law Society, said it was the view of the practitioners that in light of the “alarming increase” and for safety reasons all matters should be on a callover list.
The gardaí too felt everything should be “shoved out” for two months, Sgt Kieran O’Connell said.
“Members of the public should not come into court,” Judge Waters then said.
“If summonsed people turn up, tell them to go away,” the judge advised solicitors, adding that if the public appeared he would “bark”.
Only in rare exceptions or in urgent matters would the public be allowed into the criminal courts; there was very little civil work at the moment, the judge said.
It was also anticipated that all sittings across the district — those of the Killarney, Listowel, Dingle and Kenmare courts — will be moved to Tralee District Court, the judge said, urging solicitors to check in with the courts offices next week.
Kerry, as with other districts, has experienced a backlog of thousands of summonses during the pandemic.
The courts service was going to continue to issue summonses to gardaí to be served, Tuesday’s sitting was told, but the persons summonsed would be advised by their legal representatives not to come to court.
Judge Waters also hit out at the continuing lack of video facilities in Kerry which could enable custody matters to be dealt via link.
“We still don’t have video link facilities in Kerry,” the judge said.
The lack of facilities meant some Kerry matters were having to be dealt with in Cork.
The restrictions announced mean there will be no contested matters for the next two months.
Kerry is one of the few counties not to have benefited from an upgraded courts complex and none of its district courts has been modernised. As a result the county has suffered severe curtailment in courts sittings and work during Covid-19. No Kerry jury has been sworn in since the pandemic began and trials since last term have moved out of the county — mostly to the new complex in Limerick. There are no Kerry trials scheduled for next term, so far.