Courts going digital – the downside

 

Sir, – I write in response to your editorial “The Irish Times view on courts in the pandemic: going digital – at last” (July 30th). Last week being the last week of the legal year, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on how the courts have managed through the Covid-19 crisis. While much of what is contained in your editorial is correct and reflects accurately the impressive response of both the Courts Service and the judiciary to the significant disruption brought about by the pandemic, some of the conclusions drawn are not supported by the experience of the past year.

In particular, although it is true that “while some cases need to be held in-person, many routine ones do not”, the conclusion that the new “digital-friendly practices” are more efficient does not necessarily follow. The experience of many of my colleagues and I in the courts has been that in-person hearings, even for the most routine applications, have proceeded more swiftly and more efficiently than those held remotely. Applications sometimes take twice as long as so much of the natural flow of advocacy is disrupted by the distance created between court and counsel as a result of the remote experience. Not to mention the constant interruptions caused by microphones not being muted, by connectivity issues, by microphone feedback and by background interference.

Neither is it clear how the move to remote hearings might tend to reduce costs for the public. Where are these savings to come from?

Just as much preparation and effort are required for remote applications as for in-person applications. The same books of pleadings and of authorities must be produced, the same submissions drafted. Where applications take longer due to proceeding remotely, that will tend to increase costs, not reduce them.

Remote applications have their place. However, just as Zoom table quizzes were poor substitute for meeting friends in person for a coffee or a pint, so too has the courtroom experience been diminished by the move to the digital realm. I look forward to returning to the Four Courts when the new legal year commences in October. – Yours, etc,

THEO DONNELLY,

Law Library,

Dublin 7.