The outbreak of Covid-19 has resulted in unprecedented levels of disruption to the Courts Service and to the administration of justice.
In the face of this disruption on the 20th April 2020, for the first time ever, the Courts in Ireland sat with all parties being present in the Court via remote video technology. It is hoped that such virtual courtrooms will add to the various social distancing measures which have been introduced by the Courts Service in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.1
While it has been the Courts Service’s intention to modernise the Courts for some time, including the development of virtual courtrooms over the next decade, the current, Covid-19 pandemic, has accelerated the introduction of virtual courtrooms.2
Addressing the Court by remote video link on 20th April 2020, the Chief Justice commented,
“Remote hearings will be suitable for some types of proceedings in the High Court and a limited number of cases in the District and Circuit Courts. The Court Presidents and the Courts Service are exploring ways in which to increase the number of cases which can be dealt with in physical hearings.”3
In preparation for this new way of hearing matters, the Courts Service have set up virtual meeting rooms (VMR’s) for the purpose of each Court sitting. They operate via a VMR service which uses a video streaming app called PEXIP. Parties to the proceedings can join a PEXIP VMR session from various streaming services which include Skype, Zoom, Cisco Webex and Teams. The in-Court technology is that which is usually used for video-link to prisons and video conference with remote witnesses.
Following on from the historic events on 20th April 2020, the Court Service released a statement on 8th May 2020 setting out that the “Courts will extend the use of virtual remote Court hearings, and organise more physical hearings in the coming weeks.” In addition, the Court Service have stated that works have commenced to adapt courtrooms to facilitate physical distancing. The hope that the adaption of the courtrooms coupled with the staggering of Court hearings will allow for a safe environment to increase the number of cases that can be heard in the coming weeks.4
It is not just the Courts Service that is changing the way it operates in the face of the challenges posed by the Covid-19 crisis. Statutory bodies such as the Residential Tenancies Board are utilising video link facilities for the hearing of disputes between landlords and tenants.5
The Workpace Relationship Commission and the Labour Court too are reviewing the way they operate in light of the current pandemic.
The Workpace Relationship Commission – while currently postponing adjudication hearings, face-to-face conciliations and mediations – is still providing mediation of individual complaints by telephone and conciliating collective disputes in like manner. In addition, the WRC is preparing a white paper on the consideration of remote hearing. Meanwhile, the Labour Court has decided that virtual hearings will now be offered to selected cases and has selected a number of cases for hearing in a virtual court-room setting.
Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 pandemic has posed challenges for the Court Service in the administration of justice and for other statutory bodies in carrying out their functions. However, these bodies are reacting and adapting to the issues posed in light of this pandemic.
Kane Tuohy LLP Solicitors remain ready and willing to assist clients with any legal issues they encounter during this difficult time. Should you wish to contact us to discuss any issue you may encounter, please do not hesitate to contact any member of our team.
AUTHOR: Ciara Lennon, Trainee Solicitor
This Briefing Note is not intended as legal advice. For specific queries, please liaise with your usual contact in Kane Tuohy or with Hugh Kane (firstname.lastname@example.org / 087-9726164)