13 Aug 2022

Self-isolating gardaí as Covid-19 measures hit Portlaoise court

'Extraordinary times,' says district court judge

Court - Smashed garda patrol car outside Portlaoise courthouse

Business carried on today at Portlaoise District Court

Two self-isolating gardaí; and a man granted legal aid as the restaurant where he works has been closed down: just two examples of the effect the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the administration of justice at Portlaoise District Court.

For what must surely be the first time in the history of the Thursday sittings, Main Street was not awash with people milling in and out of the courthouse building this morning, as the Covid-19 restrictions saw members of the public effectively barred from entering the courtroom.

“These are extraordinary times,” said Judge Catherine Staines at the commencement of today’s court.

She said she intended getting through as much work as possible, with applications for legal aid or statements orders able to be processed. Although no defendants were present, guilty pleas were entered in a number of cases by legal representatives such as solicitors and barristers. 

Judge Staines also said that the “big financial crisis” of the situation would be taken into account, acknowledging that there will be a huge backlog within the justice system down the line.

Only a few solicitors and gardaí were in attendance, for a sitting which saw most cases adjourned to June. A handful of members of the public were gathered in the foyer, but the public was not being granted access to the courtroom during the day’s business. 

Towards the end of the session, one defendant who happened to still be present was allowed into the courtroom, but he was instructed to remain at the very back of the room.

Within the courtroom, the etiquette of social distancing was being observed, with a space of 2m being maintained as much as possible between those present.

The effects of efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus were felt on the day’s proceedings in other small ways.

In the case of 26-year-old man charged with drug possession and possession of a knife, solicitor Ms Josephine Fitzpatrick requested legal aid, as her client, who normally works in a Portlaoise restaurant, is now not working as the restaurant has been closed down due to the Covid-19 measures.

In two separate cases, Sgt JJ Kirby said that statements were not ready to be given to the defence, as the garda in the case was self-isolating due to the pandemic.

In one of these cases, Judge Staines ruled that even though the garda was self isolating the statements could still be sent.

It is expected that the district court will continue to sit every Thursday for the foreseeable future, with the same restrictions in place. This situation could change as the weeks progress.

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