Disruption to court sittings in weeks ahead due to ‘unprecedented’ number isolating

Priority to be given to urgent matters such as domestic violence applications

The “unprecedented” number of judges, lawyers and witnesses who are unable to attend courthouses because of Covid-19 is to cause “some disruption” to court sittings over the coming two weeks, it has been announced.

A statement on the matter from the Courts Service on Friday morning came as the presidents of the various courts issued a series of orders allowing for changes to scheduled court hearings.

The new law term, due to begin next week, is to be affected by the record numbers of people infected with the virus or obliged to self-isolate under the public health rules.

“This is an evolving situation which will be kept under review on a regular basis, having regard to staffing levels, judicial availability, Government announcements and public health guidance,” the Courts Service said in its statement.

The service said that jury trials of necessity involve a large number of people attending court over a sometimes prolonged period. For this reason they are particularly affected when judges, lawyers, staff, jurors and witnesses are not be able to attend court.

“In the circumstances, criminal trials due to commence in the Central and Circuit Courts will not start before January 24th,” it said.

The Courts Service and the presidents of the respective jurisdictions are aware of the unique nature of each jurisdiction and the differing implications of curtailing services across civil, criminal and family areas of law, the statement said.

Priorities

The aim is to minimise disruption to the courts for the shortest possible period, with priority to be given to urgent matters such as domestic violence applications.

Notices, orders and practice directions from the respective presidents setting out how business will be conducted in the Superior, Circuit and District Courts for the initial weeks of 2022 have been published on courts.ie.

“Every effort will be made to conduct as much business as is possible. However, given the evolving situation, court business regrettably may have to be cancelled at short notice,” the statement said.

Where cancellations occur, it is the intention that any adjournment will be for the minimum period. “In those jurisdictions where hearings are transferred to a remote platform, it is the intention that in-person hearings will resume as soon as is feasible.”

All Supreme Court hearings until the end of the month are to be held remotely while the Court of Appeal is planning to hear all scheduled hearings remotely while considering requests for physical or hybrid hearings on a case-by-case basis.

Criminal trials due to commence in the Central Criminal Court will not start before January 24th. All other work will continue subject to the availability of judges and registrars.

Criminal trials due to commence in Circuit Courts will also not start until January 24th. All other work will continue subject to the availability of judges and registrars.

In criminal cases at District Court level accused persons are being excused from attending court where they are legally represented, though unrepresented persons should attend court.

Hearings in criminal cases will not proceed save in limited circumstances, though criminal cases involving domestic violence may go ahead.

Family law are to proceed if judges and registrars are available, and child care cases are to proceed. Consent orders will be issued if the parties are in agreement. Civil and licensing matters are to be adjourned to a date to be assigned by the court.

The case of the former Defence Forces member Lisa Smith, who is accused of Islamic State membership, is due to begin next week in the non-jury Special Criminal Court and, as matters stand, is expected to go ahead.

It has already been announced that some witnesses will be giving evidence by video from outside the State, because of the undesirability of their travelling in the context of the pandemic. Ms Smith, who denies the charges, is currently on bail.