Given the recent discussions among the Dáil’s Covid-19 Committee regarding the issue of meetings in enclosed spaces, there led an announcement from the Presidents of the Courts that court sittings would not exceed two hours per day, pending further advice.
This statement prompted concern among legal practitioners and the Court Service, as courts around the country are already experiencing curtailments as a result of the ongoing pandemic. A further instruction to impose a time limit on such physical sittings would impact upon urgent applications being brought before the courts and overall would affect the ability of the courts to allow access to justice. This would also pose a significant setback to the efforts being made to resume physical hearings in a safe and innovative way.
The Courts Service, having sought further urgent advice on this matter, have released a statement on 21st May announcing that court sittings will be able to resume fully, for longer than two hours daily, while ensuring a safe environment and following public health guidance.
Angela Denning, CEO of the Courts Service has outlined advice received from Professor Martin Cormican at the Health Protection Surveillance Centre which clarifies the issues raised among the Oireachtas Covid-19 Committee. It has been stated that from an infection control perspective, it is unnecessary to limit court sessions to two hours.
Following Professor Cormican’s advice –
- The Courts Service is confident that it will be able to identify parties who have been in court for more than 2 hours.
- A record of all those who are in courtrooms for more than 2 hours is to be maintained – in case contact tracing is required. This record will only be used for contract tracing purposes and will not be retained longer than necessary.
- Numbers who might safely be accommodated in each courtroom have been assessed and are being managed to organise safe hearings.
- Social distancing and additional hygiene measures are in place in courtrooms.