Covid-19 lockdown domestic violence incident cases can come before District Courts from start of lockdown exit roadmap

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

Portlaoise court

Busy days such as these at the District Court in Portlaoise unlikely to be on cards any time soon

Domestic violence hearings which relate to incidents that ocurred during the Covid-19 emergency lockdown will be able to be brought before judges from May 18 in District  Courts.

The resumption of such hearings is among measures to be implemented at District Courts around Ireland on the day when the lockdown restrictions begin to be eased.

However, non-urgent matters will not resume and there will be restrictions on how courts operate and who can attend.

Non-urgent motoring offences will have to be rescheduled.

Apart from domestic violence criminal matters, some Family Law and Child care mattters have been added to the list of cases that are now regarded as urgent issues for local courts to begin dealing with from May 18.

The President of the District Court, Judge Colin Daly, in consultation with the Chief Justice and other Court Presidents has decided on the additional measures concerning the business of the Court will be implemented on May 18.

A statement said these measures are a necessary response to the developing COVID-19 situation and the continued need to focus on prevention of community spread of COVID-19 while ensuring access to justice in a manner fully respecting public safety and considering Government public health advice.

The following is an outline of the amended measures.

1.  Parties with non-urgent cases are not required to attend court at this time.

2.  The District Court will continue to hear urgent matters in all District Court Districts throughout the country and will resume hearings of certain urgent matters.

3. Urgent matters are now extended to include:

(i) Criminal Law 
Attendance for Service of Books of Evidence and sending forward for trial on indictment; matters for sentencing where a guilty plea is indicated; the hearing of cases where an accused person is in custody on the charges before the court; resuming and concluding part-heard cases; prosecutions for alleged breaches of Domestic Violence Orders which have occurred during the emergency period; and hearing cases where there are garda witnesses only.

The statement says remands where the accused is in custody should be dealt with by video-link wherever possible.

(ii)Family Law.

New applications for protection orders or interim barring orders and return hearings of interim barring order cases. If safety order hearings are being adjourned interim protection orders will be extended to the new date.

Applications and hearings for breach of maintenance or access that have occurred during the emergency period or applications and hearings for temporary guardianship orders.

Remote call-overs and hearings may be conducted in some courts.

Consent orders that do not require the hearing of evidence may be applied for by email by the applicant’s solicitor exhibiting consent in writing from the respondent’s solicitor. Following consideration by an assigned Judge orders will issue from the Court Office as appropriate without the need for the parties or their legal representatives to attend court.

(iii) Child Care Law. 
Extension of care orders and interim care orders and emergency care orders and interim care orders.

Applications to regulate access, After-Care Reviews, part-heard Care Order Hearings and certain Care Order Hearings.

Remote call-overs and hearings may be conducted in some courts.

Consent orders that do not require the hearing of evidence may be applied for by email by the applicant’s solicitor exhibiting consent in writing from the respondents’ solicitors and the support of other participants on notice. Following consideration by an assigned Judge orders will issue from the Court Office as appropriate without the need for the parties or their legal representatives to attend court.

The statement says that if your case is not included in the description of urgent matters above, then it is a non-urgent matter and parties do not need to attend court.

The statement says solicitors are to inform clients that they do not need to attend where their case is a non-urgent matter.

It adds that non-urgent cases will be adjourned, and parties will be informed of their new court dates by the Court Service by ordinary post or by their solicitor.

Civil Matters are also addressed in the measures.

All District Court Civil matters are at present considered to be non-urgent and will be adjourned generally with liberty to re-enter either on consent or on notice to the other party.

Exceptions include a case which does not come within the defined urgent category can be treated as urgent if a good case can be made. A party can email the relevant court office setting out the reasons why the case should be considered urgent. This should be on notice to the other side who must be given an opportunity to set out their position. An assigned Judge will assess if the matter may be treated as urgent.

Public Safety Measures

The statement says matters will be scheduled where the presiding judge is satisfied that there are proper measures in place in court rooms and at courthouses to ensure that social distances can be maintained and that the court environment is safe for witnesses and all court users to attend.

It says the Health Act Temporary Restrictions COVID-19 Regulations at Regulation 4 (l) permits members of the public to leave their homes to fulfil a legal obligation such as attending a court office or court. Schedule 2 of the Regulations at parts 10 and 14 recognises legal services and courts as essential services.

The statement says scheduling may be conducted by call-over of lists requiring legal representatives and prosecutors only to attend, and may in some courts  include remote call-over of lists,. Indications of pleas/consent at call-over and the avoidance of requiring witnessed to attend will be given the appropriate credit.

The statement adds thay cases will be managed to ensure that numbers coming to courts will be minimised wherever possible.

This may include staggered lists, where smaller numbers of cases are required to be in courts at allocated times, or scheduled lists/hearings, where cases are scheduled according to time slots. Practioners and Court users are expected to exercise social distancing and other public health guidelines.

The statement says these measures will be constantly reviewed to ensure that the business of the District Court is being conducted safely. It is hoped that we will be able to incrementally increase the amount of work that can be safely carried out in the District Court in accordance with Government guidelines and the roadmap for reopening society and business.

The statement replaces in full the updated statement published on 16th March 2020. 

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, welcomed statements by the Chief Justice, the Court Presidents and the Courts Service outlining the next steps being taken

"I appreciate the difficulties that the public health emergency is causing for the many people who both rely on and work in providing critical court services.

"The business of the courts is of fundamental importance and therefore I welcome the announcement of these important measures to ensure continuity of access to justice during the current public health emergency.  I welcome the statements by the Presidents, which show that the right balance has been struck in providing essential frontline services and access to justice, while ensuring the safety of service users and essential staff.

"The continued expansion of remote hearings and physical distancing measure is welcome. It is particularly important that maintenance, domestic abuse and insolvency matters can now be dealt with as a matter of urgency for those experiencing these difficult matters.

"I know that for many people, issues in respect of Court Orders for access and custody have been of particular concern and I believe that the new measures in respect of family law and child care cases will provide greater clarity and reassurance to many people.

"I believe that the measures announced today will ensure that the courts continue to respond to the current health emergency in an agile, innovative and sustained manner for the people who both use and deliver their services," concluded the Laois Offaly TD.

The full statements are available at https://beta.courts.ie/latest_news