6th January 2021. The President of the District Court in consultation with the Chief Justice and other Court Presidents has decided that the following measures concerning the business of the Court will be implemented between the 7th January 2021 and the 1st March 2021. These measures are a necessary response to the Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Framework for Living with Covid-19 (the Framework) and the recent raising of restrictions beyond Level 5. These measures are to ensure access to justice in a manner fully respecting public safety and considering Government public health advice.
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. The Courts and the Courts Service have worked hard to ensure that our courts and court houses are safe as they can be for people to attend court. We are in a position now to operate more courts safely than at earlier stages of the pandemic.
These measures will allow access to the courts, principally by allowing only relatively small number of legal professionals to progress matters on their clients’ behalf and keeping those who do need to attend court to a minimum or to those most in need of assistance.
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.
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 may be set out on the Courts 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.
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, however you are advised to instruct a solicitor to appear on your behalf and to avoid having to attend court unnecessarily.
Prisoners will appear in court by live TV link as per Practice Direction 20 which has been extended to 31st December 2021.
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 later.
All scheduled criminal hearings listed from 11th January 2021 will be vacated and relisted for mention in March 2021 to fix new dates for hearings. However, hearings involving the prosecution of alleged breaches of domestic violence orders, hearings where the accused is in custody and hearings involving only state witnesses will proceed where it is safe to do so.
All civil law and civil regulatory matters will be adjourned generally and parties will be advised of future listings in due course. This measure is being taken to re-deploy resources to other essential services. A Judge will be available to deal with urgent matters. Please e-mail the relevant court office setting out the urgency of the matter where it will be brought to the attention of the Presiding Judge and if she/he is satisfied it is urgent it may be listed.
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.
Family law matters listed before the District Court will proceed at the times 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 or their legal representatives 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 Courts Service website.
The District court will be open to hear new applications for protection from Domestic Violence.
Court offices will be open to issue other new applications. You can arrange an appointment with the court office to issue proceedings or leave completed documents in the drop box at your local court office and your applications will issue through the post.
Parties as asked to note that if the other party seeks an adjournment of the case on the grounds of illness, a need to isolate or a reluctance to travel then there is a strong possibility that the case will be adjourned.
Parties are also asked to note cases requiring long hearings in court or which may require numbers of witnesses to attend may be adjourned to a time when they can be heard with greater safety.
Child Care Cases
Child care cases will continue to be dealt with in the District Court as scheduled.
Section 18 Care Order hearings will be vacated until March 2020 when they will be relisted to fix a date for hearing. Urgent Section 18 hearings may continue with the consent of the presiding judge.
If the parties have reached agreement then a consent order may issue in accordance with Practice Direction DC14 which can be found on the Courts Service website.
Consent adjournments can be notified to the relevant court office by email and new dates will be provided by return email to the parties.
Practitioners are asked to deal with matters as much as possible at call-overs and to agree to adjourn all non-urgent applications.
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 court room.
The Courts Service has set our guidance on how to access the courts safely and we expect all court users will always observe this guidance. The Courts Service has put measures in place to help people safely navigate their way through court buildings and again we ask for your cooperation. In the event that courts cannot be conducted safely Judges may have to suspend cases until a safe environment can be achieved.
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.
His Honour Judge Colin Daly
President of the District Court
6th January 2021