Ireland Update - Covid-19: Remote Hearings In The Irish Courts

It is clear that the current public health emergency may continue for some time. The Irish courts are now looking beyond their initial response and taking steps to facilitate the ongoing administration of justice during the life of the pandemic. In this note, we consider the current position of the Irish courts and what may lie ahead.

Immediate response and current position

The initial instinct of the Irish courts, and many individual Judges, was to continue, as far as possible, with business as usual. As social restrictions became more stringent, so the courts responded accordingly. At the time of writing, there are only a few days left before the current legal term ends on 3 April 2020. Up to that date, the position is that, save anything that remains in the list, the High Court is dealing only with urgent business (which includes applications for judicial review, injunctions and matters relating to examinership).

Recent announcement and plans after the Easter break

Easter term begins on 20 April 2020 and the Court Service is currently working hard to return to some level of normal service from that date. On 31 March 2020, the Chief Justice and the Presidents of each of the courts put out a joint statement that recognised that "the courts must plan against the likelihood that some form of restriction will remain in place for some time".

The statement explained that the Court Service is in the process of putting in place the infrastructure necessary to facilitate remote hearings whilst, at the same time, complying with the constitutional obligation that justice be administered in public. The statement goes on to explain that systems testing is imminent and that it is hoped that a pilot facility, for the remote hearing of suitable cases, will be available around the same time the new terms starts on 20 April 2020.

Justice in public

The reference to the Irish Constitution in the recent statement is a reference to Article 34.1, which provides that: "Justice [...], save in such special and limited cases as may be prescribed by law, shall be administered in public." There is case law on the true extent of this constitutional obligation, including the fact it can be subject to common law exceptions1 . That said one can expect that the courts will be sensitive to the need to maintain transparency in these extraordinary times.

Whilst they do not operate under a written constitution, the English courts have also been grappling with how they square...

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