New District Court Covid-19 guidelines allow judges to suspend an unsafe sitting

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

Email:

news@leinsterexpress.ie

coronavirus covid-19

Social distancing has proved difficult to manage at times at Portlaoise District Court

New Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines for district court sittings around Ireland have been announced by the Court Service which says a judge can suspend a sitting if it cannot be conducted safely.

Judge Colin Daly, President of the District Court, has announced a series of measures concerning the business of the Court to be implemented between January 1 and January 31. He says these measures are a necessary response to the Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Framework for Living with Covid-19 and the recent raising of restrictions to Level 5.

"These measures are to ensure access to justice in a manner fully respecting public safety and considering Government public health advice. These measures will be constantly reviewed in line with public health guidelines and may be subject to change as the guidelines change or our experience suggests changes are required.

"The Courts and the justice system have been identified as essential services by the Government in the Framework and we will continue to be open for essential business in the District Court, however, we must continue to conduct our business in accordance with public health guidelines.

"We will be limited to the number of people that can safely be present in any of our court buildings and court rooms at any time and we have put in place measures to better regulate the numbers required to attend courts to ensure that court buildings do not become overcrowded There may be times when those not actually necessary to the conduct of the case before the court may be asked to leave and we ask for your cooperation in this regard.

"District courts have adopted measures to stagger the court day according to business and the scheduling of hearings or applications. Details of the schedule adopted by each court will be available from the court offices or maybe set out on the Court Service Website. There may be some variations in the volume of work that can be safely carried out in different Districts as some court buildings will have a greater capacity for waiting than others, therefore it will be important to be familiar with the schedule for the court that you are attending.

"In all District Courts, only people who have been summoned to court or who have business listed before the courts should attend at court buildings for the foreseeable future. Exceptions will be made for advocates or support workers to attend with vulnerable witnesses. Those with business before the court are asked to come to court only at the time specified. Legal practitioners are asked to have their instructions taken in advance of the court event and to have any settlement talks in advance of court appearances," said the Judge.

Criminal Matters & The Children Court
If you have a solicitor and you are charged with an offence or summoned to appear before the District Court, contact your solicitor who will advise you when you need to attend court.
Solicitors may advise their clients to attend court only for entering their election for summary trial, for service of a book of evidence, to attend a hearing or for sentencing.
If you do not have a solicitor then you do need to attend court as directed.
Applications for legal aid need not be accompanied by a signed statement of means for the duration of this level of restriction and this will be reviewed in February 2021.
Hearings will continue but may be remanded if vital witnesses are not willing to attend court. Hearings involving state witnesses should proceed.
Prisoners will appear in court by live TV link as per Practice Direction DC20.
 
Civil Law
All civil law matters will proceed as scheduled. If any party is not able to attend they must contact all other parties and the court office and matters may be adjourned accordingly. If parties compromise or agree matters they can provide the court office with the terms of compromise and the court will rule all matters that can properly be ruled.Civil regulatory matters will proceed as scheduled. Parties need not attend court if they are legally represented, solicitors may advise their clients to attend court only to attend a hearing or for penalty. If you are not legally represented then you must attend court. If parties are not able to attend they must contact the prosecutor and the court office and matters may be adjourned accordingly.

Family Law
Family law matters listed before the District Court your case will proceed at the time specified.
Parties should attend court on their own unless they have a need for an advocate or support person.
If both parties agree to adjourn or have reached an agreement then they may email the terms of agreement to the court office and a consent order will issue as set out in Practice Direction DC16 which can be found on the Court Service website.
The District court will be open to hear all applications for protection from Domestic Violence.
If you need to issue new applications then you can leave completed documents in the drop box at your local court office and your applications will issue through the post.
 
Child Care Cases
Child care cases will continue to be dealt with in the District Court as scheduled.
If the parties have reached agreement then a consent order may issue in accordance with Practice Direction DC14 which can be found on the Court Service website.
New applications, extension of existing orders and hearings will continue to be heard as scheduled.
 

Those attending court are requested to observe public health guidance regarding social distancing, hand hygiene, cough/sneeze etiquette and use of face coverings while in the court building and the courtroom.

The Court Service has set guidance on how to access the courts safely and expect all court users will always observe this guidance. The Court Service says has put measures in place to help people safely navigate their way through court buildings and again asks people for cooperation.

"In the event that courts cannot be conducted safely, Judges may have to suspend cases until a safe environment can be achieved.

"We are encouraging all matters before the District Court to be concluded with as few court events as possible and we appreciate the cooperation of An Garda Síochana, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and legal practitioners and all court users in this endeavour.

"Where possible we will be using live television links for remote courts to avoid people having to physically come to a court. In the District Court this will most likely be for call overs of family law or child care matters and for some (mainly interlocutory) hearings in child care matters. Prisoners will continue to appear by live television link wherever possible," said the Service.

REMOTE ATTENDANCE BY PRISONERS

In the interests of public health and the health of all those engaged with the administration of justice, pursuant to s.23 (3) and (14) of the Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 with effect from the 14th September 2020 and until the 31st of December 2021 (or the earlier revocation of the Practice Direction) all persons remanded in custody by a Judge of the District Court, and all persons who are remanded on bail and who are in custody on unrelated matters and all persons who are in custody and serving a sentence on unrelated matters shall have all relevant applications as specified in s.23 (3) of the said Act heard using a live video link between the court and the place where the relevant person is located.