Courts Service announces that only urgent cases will go ahead

There will be no new jury trials for the remainder of the court term

Barristers and solicitors had complained  that they were continuing to work in crowded courts.

Barristers and solicitors had complained that they were continuing to work in crowded courts.

 

Only urgent court cases and those not involving witnesses will go ahead as the Courts Service introduced further measures to drastically cut operations during the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement on Friday followed criticism by barristers and solicitors that they were continuing to work in crowded courts.

Ongoing criminal jury trials will continue but there will be no new jury trials for the remainder of the court term which goes until Easter.

The Bar Council, which represents the country’s barristers, had asked the Courts Service to “revisit the decisions that have been taken” over concerns that the courts are not taking more drastic action to cut back on hearings to protect members during the pandemic.

The council and the Law Society, which represents solicitors, had criticised the approach taken by the service with the initial measures it introduced to deal with coronavirus, also known as Covid-19.

The measures had meant that the Central, Special and Circuit Criminal Courts would continue hearings as normal.

However, in a statement issued on Friday evening the Courts Service stated that it had managed a “very successful introduction of measures to scale back the work of the courts”, resulting in a huge decrease in the numbers needed to be in court.

New restrictions

Based on updated advice from the HSE, the Chief Justice and presidents of the various courts have introduced further changes that come into effect from Monday to limit community transmission of the disease, extend social distancing, and avoid over-concentration of people in one room or place.

In the Supreme Court, any appeals will be adjourned on consent until April 3rd and where there is no consent they will be adjourned “unless particular urgency can be demonstrated”.

Judgments will be delivered by a single judge and parties will not have to attend for delivery, and case management issues will be dealt with remotely.

The same measures will apply at the Court of Criminal Appeal where new dates for hearings will be at the “earliest possible” opportunity when the situation improves.

The High Court will sit to deal with urgent matters including habeus corpus, extradition, injunctions and their enforcement, wardship matters and judicial review applications. Personal injuries cases to be heard in Cork on Monday have also been cancelled.

Bail applications and extradition hearings will be conducted by video link in the Criminal Courts of Justice.

Actions and applications not involving witnesses will begin on the dates set for hearing.

In the Circuit Court only ongoing jury trials and custody sentencing hearings will be dealt with. District Court Appeals will be dealt with after June 10th and family law lists will be adjourned until after April 20th, as will civil cases and motions. However, a judge will be available in all courts to hear urgent applications including barring order and protection order cases.

District Courts will hear only urgent cases.

Concerns

In an email to members on Friday evening, following his appeal the day before for the Courts Service to review its proposals, president of the Bar Council Michael P O’ Higgins said they were “reviewing the contents”.

In an email to its 20,000 solicitor members on Friday evening, president of the Law Society Michele O’Boyle and its director general, Ken Murphy, said the Courts Service had taken on board the concerns of solicitors, many of whom thought “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”.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman and senior counsel Jim O’Callaghan said all proceedings should be adjourned because it was a health and safety issue and “we can’t continue with business as normal”.