High Court to hear more remote cases as part of increased hearings plan

Chief Justice says new measures may be in play until the second half of 2021

Chief Justice Frank Clarke said the new measures will not allow a throughput of cases on the scale that operated prior to restrictions being put in place. File photograph: Alan Betson/ The Irish Times

Chief Justice Frank Clarke said the new measures will not allow a throughput of cases on the scale that operated prior to restrictions being put in place. File photograph: Alan Betson/ The Irish Times

 

The High Court is to increase remote hearings as part of a new plan for court sittings published on Friday.

The Courts Service and the judiciary published their plans for increased court sittings from May 18th.

Chief Justice Frank Clarke said the new measures may well be in play until the second half of 2021.

Important as they are, he said, the measures will not allow a throughput of cases on the scale that operated prior to restrictions being put in place.

“It remains unrealistic to anticipate that all courtrooms in all courthouses will be able to operate at or near the level which existed prior to the crisis.”

The High Court, which last week began to hold a small number of remote sittings, is to increase the type and number of cases being heard and is to sit through the Whit vacation, where the court normally rises for ten days.

“Three courts will be available for remote hearings daily, and seven other courts in the Four Courts complex will be available for physical hearings daily,” the President, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, said.

“Until further notice it will not be possible to hear cases which involve oral testimony.”

Courtroom interiors are being adapted to allow for safe physical hearings while the Covid crisis continues.

In addition to the urgent cases which have been heard since the emergency began, Mr Justice Kelly has authorised hearings in a range of new areas, including all family law, commercial, chancery, and non-jury lists, and Criminal Asset Bureau cases.

The President of the Circuit Court, Judge Patricia Ryan, said jury trials are to resume in most courts in September of this year.

The holding of jury trials is considered the most difficult challenge facing the courts system as long as social distancing requirements remain necessary.

Prior to the crisis, the wait for a criminal trial in the Circuit Court was approximately 18 months.

In the Supreme Court, it is hoped the new measures will ensure that “almost all cases in respect of which leave to appeal was granted before the end of April of this year, will have been heard by the end of July”, the Chief Justice said.

“If that aim is met it will, I hope, be possible to say that the Supreme Court is up to date and that no backlog will have ensued from the crisis.”

He pointed out that the challenge being faced by the Supreme Court was different to that facing other courts, particularly the trial courts.

Chief executive of the Courts Service, Angela Denning, said the use of video conferencing between prisons and courts has dramatically increased to facilitate defendants in custody in relation to bail and remand hearings.

During April there were 5,080 video conference calls between courts and prisons, representing an increase of 400 per cent on the number of such calls in the same month last year, she said.

President of the District Court Judge Colin Daly said the court’s practice of hearing urgent matters would be extended to a range of new areas including where an accused person is in custody on the charges before the court, and prosecutions for alleged breaches of domestic violence orders that have occurred during the emergency period.

President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said the court is to continue and increase the number of cases it is hearing remotely. It is also to sit through the Whit vacation.

The details of the new plans for the various courts can be accessed on the Courts Service website.