Further significant restrictions in the work being done in the courts have been introduced against a backdrop where many lawyers were concerned about the courts and the judiciary’s initial response to the coronavirus crisis.
Notices of additional changes were issued by the Courts Service late on Monday afternoon.
A spokesman for the service said the policies that began to be introduced last Thursday were “a sequential, organised, and orderly reduction in court business.”
“Working with the presidents of the various courts, we have issued notices on three court sittings days in a row, which have effectively adjourned all but urgent court matters for the coming weeks. This has happened in a calm, orderly, and organised manner.”
The latest notices mean that no new High Court cases or trials will begin, even if they do not involve oral testimony from witnesses, during the rest of this law term.
Judges will continue to be available for bail and extradition matters, habeas corpus, wardship, injunctions and urgent judicial review matters.
In the Circuit Court jury trials currently sitting will be completed, but no new jury trials will begin during the present law term.
In the District Court, the president has decided that only urgent matters will be heard during the remainder of this law term.
The notices issued on Monday follow the issuing of notices on Thursday and Friday last detailing the courts’ response to the coronavirus crisis.
Sources said many solicitors, barristers, and some judges, felt that the initial measures introduced did not adequately reflect the urgency of the situation, and that too much court work was still being conducted.
Some solicitors felt that although practices were urging colleagues to stay away from the office unless it was absolutely necessary, some solicitors were being forced to go to their office because they had to collect files for court sittings that they felt should not be going ahead.
Both solicitors and barristers also had concerns about attending what they thought were non-urgent cases in courtrooms where up to 20 people might be gathered in a relatively small space.
Policy in the courts is agreed between the Courts Service and each of the presidents of the Supreme, Appeal, High, Circuit and District court divisions.
The Law Society president, Michele O’Boyle, sent a circular to solicitors on Friday saying much of the feedback the society had received in relation to Thursday’s restrictions had been critical.
“Many colleagues thought that the courts should be closed completely, other than for urgent business, and that much greater clarity was needed as to how urgent business should be defined.”
At a meeting on Monday attended by Ms O'Boyle, the society's director general, Ken Murphy, the head of the Courts Service, Angela Denning, and others, court policy was further discussed.
One of the concerns identified had to do with the statute of limitations. Ms O’Boyle told members afterwards that if the courts offices were closed, then the statute of limitations will be put on hold, until the offices reopen.
A spokesman for the Courts Service said the changes introduced last week had the effect of creating a “huge decrease” in the number of people going to court, and had allowed for more “social distancing” in those cases that did go ahead.
“We have responded in a way which protected the health, rights, and liberty of all court users,” the spokesman said.
“Any overnight collapsing of all courts was and is not an option for extended periods – as people have a right of access to liberty, redress, and to have their rights vindicated or protected.”