High Court Civil Business Update
Ahead of the new legal term commencing next week and in light of the current Level 5 restrictions, public health guidance and the high incidence of the virus in the community President of the High Court Justice Mary Irvine has issued a Notice in relation to the conduct of Civil Business in the High Court. The new ways of working adopted by the Courts to manage the pandemic, and keep footfall to Courts low, will enable as much business as possible to be facilitated in the coming weeks.
A notice in relation to Criminal Proceedings in the High Court will issue on Thursday 7th January 2021.
High Court Civil proceedings
Due to the imposition of the current Covid-19 level 5 restrictions, the advice from NPHET concerning the projected rate of infection in the community over the coming weeks and other relevant Covid-19 information, it has been decided that until further notice civil work in the High Court will proceed subject to same limitations as were imposed at the time of the 19th October 2020 level 5 lockdown. The situation will be reviewed on a weekly basis from the 26th January 2021 leaving open the possibility that such limitations may be reduced or removed before the end of present level 5 restrictions. Please see the summary below for further details.
Civil Jury Actions Dublin.
The Civil Jury actions scheduled for three weeks commencing 3rd February will not proceed. The situation in relation to these actions will be reviewed in the coming weeks and an updated notice will appear in the Legal Diary on Tuesday 26th January 2021.
Personal Injuries Litigation in Dublin and at Circuit Venues.
There will, however, be changes to the way the Personal Injuries Division of the High Court will operate until further notice. Those changes, which are outlined below, will apply in respect of the Dublin List as well as all planned sittings at Country venues.
All urgent personal injuries cases will continue to be heard, subject to strict compliance with current Covid-19 public health guidance and High Court practice directions. Accordingly, any party who claims that an action already listed is urgent, or that any particular case ought to be heard regardless of current restrictions, should apply to Cross J. [on notice] for directions at a remote hearing which will be held on the 12th January 2020. Please see the Legal Diary for the time of the call over.
Cases currently at hearing
Subject to strict compliance with current Covid-19 public health guidance and High Court practice directions, all personal injury actions presently at hearing may be concluded. However, if a party to any such action considers there are good reasons why the case should be adjourned, the relevant application should be made to the trial judge.
Daily Personal Injuries Lists in Dublin and at Circuit Venues.
While routine personal injuries cases will not be heard until further notice, the cases currently listed for hearing on any given day will, having regard to the interests of justice and the Court’s own obligations to ensure that litigation is concluded in a timely manner, remain in the Court list on their allocated date in the expectation that the vast majority of these cases will be finalised by negotiation between the parties. This approach is warranted given that the current unprecedented circumstances have already caused certain personal injury actions to be postponed on more than one occasion and where High Court statistics show that approximately 97% of all personal injury claims are settled without recourse to a court hearing.
It will be for the parties and their advisors to conduct themselves in much the same way as they would if dealing with a personal injuries action listed for hearing prior to Covid 19. They should work throughout the day to explore, to the fullest extent, the possibility of achieving a negotiated settlement. There will, of course, be differences in that parties and their advisors will not be physically meeting each other when conducting their negotiations and if negotiations ultimately fail, the case will not proceed to a hearing that day.
It is well understood that negotiations are much more time consuming and difficult to conduct when people cannot gather together. Litigants are nonetheless entitled to expect that if their case would have settled but for the existence of Covid 19 that their case should still be capable of settlement, even if Covid considerations may make that task more difficult. And, it is probably no harm to remind all stakeholders of their obligations to ensure that the administration of justice is not brought to a standstill because of Covid-19 and that all concerned will act cohesively to ensure the best outcome possible for the litigants unfortunate enough to have their cases caught up in the current pandemic. Regrettably, many of the parties whose cases are listed for hearing over the coming weeks have already had their cases postponed once if not twice because of earlier lockdowns. Accordingly, it behoves all involved to ensure that, where possible, litigants can obtain the result they would have achieved had Covid-19 not interfered with the legal process.
It is important to make clear that in requiring parties to comply with the procedure provided for in this notice, no defendant is being asked to settle a claim in respect of which they consider they have no liability or where they consider the sum claimed to be excessive or even possibly fraudulent. Obviously, defendants must contest rather than settle such claims. Neither is any defendant being asked to pay anything more than they would have paid to settle a particular claim on a date when a hearing could be provided by the Court. Parties are being asked to do no more that they would normally do on a hearing date absent Covid-19. And, by doing so they will be lending their support to the administration of justice in these exceptionally difficult times.
All personal injuries lists as currently compiled will be called over remotely at 10.30 each morning. All cases not settled at that point will be called over again at 2pm to allow the parties continue to negotiate throughout the morning. At 2 pm the parties should be in a position to advise the court as to the progress made and as to any impediment to the conclusion of negotiations. Unless negotiations have completely broken down, all cases remaining unresolved at 2pm will be called over again at 4pm. At that stage the presiding judge will decide, having heard the parties, what should happen each case. Where appropriate, the Court may give directions or make such orders by way of case management as it considers necessary in the interests of justice. In cases where liability is not in dispute, defendants may be requested to make a payment on account, particularly in cases of obvious hardship.
It will be for the judge presiding over the daily list or such other judge as he or she may designate to rule all infant and fatal settlements.
The Masters Court will not sit again until further notice. The safety of holding sittings of this court will be reviewed on 26th January 2021 and on a weekly basis thereafter. Updated notices will appear in the Legal Diary and on the Courts Service Website.
Finally, in light of the risks posed by Covid-19, the presiding judge shall, in respect of all applications and proceedings, have discretion, either in the interests of public safety or the administration of justice, to bring any application or proceeding to an end with immediate effect.
The High Court Central Office will remain open and operational. However, practitioners and members of the public are reminded that attendance at public counter is for urgent business only by appointment and in strict compliance with social distancing rules. Communication with the office should be by phone or email and documentation for non urgent business can be filed by registered or ordinary post or through a document exchange service (DX).
Summary: Civil Proceedings and Applications
Until further notice the following work will continue subject to (i) staff availability, (ii) the availability of Technology/WIFI enabled courtrooms, (iii) strict compliance with public health guidance, the Court’s own guidance on face coverings and (iv) weekly review:
- All non-remote applications and proceedings at hearing at the time of the introduction of Level 5 restrictions;
- All applications and proceedings that are currently being heard remotely or are capable of being heard remotely;
- All applications and proceedings which can fairly be classified as urgent;
- All applications for injunctions and their enforcement and applications which must be brought within a time limit provided for by statute;
- All Judicial Review ex parte applications;
- All bail applications;
- All Article 40/Habeas Corpus applications;
- All applications for extradition;
- All wardship applications;
- Applications to appoint an Interim Examiner or Provisional Liquidator.
- All urgent Hague Convention and Child care matters.
- All urgent Family Law matters. Applications concerning “urgency” to be made to Jordan J.
- All case management/directions hearings, lists to fix dates and “for mention” lists, where capable of being dealt with remotely.
- All High Court personal injury cases listed for hearing will remain in the list for the allocated date for negotiation and case management purposes.
- All Common Law Motions, with the exception of the Motions in Common Law List 1, will proceed as normal.
Mary Irvine 5th January 2021