Some criminal jury trials postponed due to Covid-19 pressures

Courts Service discusses impact of Omicron with judiciary, legal professions and gardaí

Criminal jury trials in the Dublin Circuit Court that were to take place next week have been postponed because of the high number of Covid cases and the number of people who have to self-isolate.

Also the Court of Appeal, which had begun to hear more cases in court late last year, has announced that it is to revert to its practice of conducting almost all of its business remotely, also because of the effect of Covid.

With the new legal term to begin next week, it is expected that the Courts Service will issue a statement on Friday outlining the extent to which court business is to be disrupted by the huge spike in infections from the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The service is liaising with the judiciary, the legal professions and the justice sector generally about the extent to which the surge in Covid cases is likely to impact the capacity of the system to hold physical hearings.

Contacts are taking place with the judiciary, the solicitors and barristers representative organisations, and Courts Service staff, in an effort to gauge the extent to which the courts are affected.

An Garda Síochána and the Prison Service are also under pressure because of staff being required to stay at home, with the former currently operating at around 80 per cent capacity, according to a source.

The Courts Service is also seeking to assess the extent to which witnesses and defendants will be restricted from attending scheduled District Court hearings, where the bulk of the public engagement with the court system takes place.

While some courts, such as the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, can continue or return to remote hearings that allow people who are self-isolating to take part in from their homes, other hearings, such as scheduled jury trials, are to be affected.

In an order issued on Thursday, the President of the Circuit Court, Ms Justice Patricia Ryan, said having consulted with the judges of the Dublin Circuit Court, no criminal jury trials will now commence on the Dublin Circuit before Monday, January 24th, and that this position will be reviewed on Wednesday week, January 19th.

For the next two weeks, mention of new cases will take place with the accused either attending by way of video link, if in prison, or without the accused having to attend if they are not in custody, she said.

Family Law and other civil matters listed from January 11th will proceed “where possible,” she said.

In a separate notice in relation to civil cases, the Court of Appeal said that due to the significant levels of the Omicron variant “parties and practitioners should be aware that as and from January 11th, 2022, the Court of Appeal will conduct the hearing of all appeals by way of a remote hearing unless otherwise directed by the court.”

The court said it will consider any requests for a physical or hybrid hearing from parties on a case-by-case basis.