Court system could be changed for the better by pandemic
Posted on 27th August 2020 at 21:35
Head of service says technology is reducing wait times for cases and will lead to savings
A greatly expanded number of jury trials are to be held in the Circuit Criminal Court from September, with hotels and even a GAA club being used to empanel juries so that social distancing rules can be observed, the head of the Courts Service says.
Only 12 court buildings outside Dublin have been found to be suitable for holding jury trials while observing social distancing rules, says Angela Denning. In normal times jury trials can be held in every county.
The Circuit Criminal Court hears all non-minor criminal offences apart from murder, rape, aggravated sexual assault, treason, piracy and related offences, which are heard by the Central Criminal Court.
About 270 trials were delayed because of the pandemic, and while the entire backlog will not be dealt with in the period between September and Christmas, the service hopes to make substantial progress. Arraignment and sentencing hearings can continue to be heard in all county courts.
Denning says the crisis caused by the lockdown has “been like an experiment in modernisation” for the service.
Many of the measures introduced to keep some courts operating during the pandemic, such as remote hearings and a huge increase in the use of video-links to prisons, are likely to be maintained.
The Courts Service in future will be a “hybrid”, with the newer methods of conducting business persisting alongside the more traditional ways of working, which will resume as circumstances permit.
“I hate that term, back to normal, because I don’t think we will ever go back to the normal that was the case back in February.”
Denning took over the top job in the Courts Service last September. Prior to that she worked in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, where she was head of the Government Reform Unit. And before that she worked as a High Court registrar.
“When I came in here, part of my brief was to try and modernise the courts, not an easy task. It is an environment that is steeped in history and tradition.”
When the coronavirus crisis hit the priority for Denning and the judges was to keep those parts of the service open that would have the greatest societal impact.
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