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Applications to District Court under domestic violence laws rose by 12% during 2020 
The Covid-19 pandemic led to a significant reduction in the number of cases heard by the courts last year, though repossessions, employment cases, divorce and serious crime cases were up. 
The number of new cases for all courts during 2020 was 162,980, a significant fall on the 232,958 new cases in 2019, according to annual report of the Courts Service. 
“We have also learned a great deal about what works and what does not work in light of what might be described as a “forced experiment” brought on us by the pandemic,” said the Chief Justice, Mr Frank Clarke. 
“That learning will greatly inform not just how we manage our attempts to meet the challenges of build-ups but also how we plan to put in place modern procedures which are fit for purpose in a digital age,” he added. 
The Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, which are more easily suited to conducting their business remotely than courts where witness evidence is required, experienced a drop in new cases. 
Because there were fewer decisions in the lower courts there were, in turn, fewer appeals arising during the year. 
Likewise the number of cases that were resolved during the first year of the pandemic, at 98,388, indicated a sharp fall in the amount of business conducted compared with 2019, when 176,108 cases were resolved. 
The fall in overall business was not as marked in the criminal arena compared with the civil arena, with the number of criminal cases falling to 403,777, from 425,019 in 2019. 
The Circuit Criminal Courts received 18,275 new cases last year – an increase of 11 per cent on 2019 and an increase in serious crime of 31 per cent over four years. 
Meanwhile, there was a reduction in the number of cases before the District Court involving less serious crimes. 
Domestic violence 
The domestic violence and family law courts were one area where a determined effort was made during the lockdowns to ensure that help remained available. 
Applications to the District Court under domestic violence legislation during 2020 increased by 12 per cent to 22,970. 
There was a 10 per cent increase in applications for safety orders, to 8,887, and an 8 per cent increase in applications for protection orders, to 7,649. 
There was a 47 per cent increase in the number of bail applications heard at High Court level in 2020, an increase that the annual report said may reflect people in custody facing charges reapplying for bail because their trials were not getting on. 
In the area of repossession and other property cases, there was a 48 per cent drop in new matters at High Court level, reflecting the bans introduced on evictions and rent increases. 
At Circuit Court level the drop in cases in the property area during 2020 was 76 per cent. 
Debt-recovery cases, which are usually taken by financial institutions, fell by 67 per cent at High Court level. 
High Court applications from creditors to have people declared bankrupt fell sharply in 2020 by 77 per cent, but with the bankruptcy court now sitting remotely, the “early indications so far in 2021 are that applications are returning to normal levels”, according to the report. 
The trend in terms of High Court applications from people seeking to have themselves declared bankrupt is following a similar pattern, the report showed. 
“Overall the data mapping, regarding matters before the High Court, shows a significant year-on-year reduction of new cases initiated in matters involving finance – revenue, possession, liquidated debt – with a corresponding increase in cases where the State covered the costs of both sides of the litigation – bail, asylum,” the report said. 
During the year the Courts Service issued 654 new laptops to judiciary and staff to facilitate new working arrangements. There were 2,411 remote court sessions and prisoners availed of 13,326 remote links from prisons to the courts. 
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