The Judicial System is the pillar of the State which ensures that law and order are maintained. COVID-19 has significantly impacted Irish courts, something which there has been little to no national media coverage on. From increasing pressures on Ireland’s 13 prison centres to release more prisoners to criminal trials being adjourned to the summer months.
Government directions have provided that essential services are to continue as normal, however, this will be harder to achieve with the Courts Service considering Article 32.1 of Bunreacht na hÉireann requires the administration of justice to be carried out in public. It is only in limited and special cases where this requirement can be surpassed. With social distancing measures being enforced more than ever, article 34.1 will need to be complied with in different ways to ensure justice continues to be administered.
On the 31st of March, the Chief Justice and Presidents of each court jurisdiction released a joint statement to the public ensuring that the administration of justice will continue and plans for the near future are that court hearings will be dealt with remotely and electronically. In their statement, they indicated that ICT infrastructures are being put into place and they hope to have this virtual system running by the beginning of the new legal term on the 20th of April 2020.
The Circuit Court has since released a statement adjourning all criminal trials due to take place in the Easter term of the courts. Where an accused is in custody, their hearings will be held electronically and where an accused has been released on bail, their trial hearings will be adjourned until the summer term. The Supreme Court remains open with Judges delivering judgements and the parties are not required to attend these. Judgements will be uploaded online.
It is interesting to see the Courts System, traditionally known as quite archaic, adapting so quickly and efficiently to continue the administration of justice in Ireland, as much as possible. It is interesting to see the effect that this adjournment will have on future cases. There is no doubt that the courts will face a backlog and a myriad of different issues in the coming months from liquidations, employment disputes to medical law actions.
The judiciary continues to work on existing appeals and preparing for future actions. Their efforts to ensure that the legal complaints of Irish citizens are resolved whilst moulding themselves to the current situation are commendable.
Mahnoor Choudhry – Reporter