Digital court reforms on the way to make remote hearings easier

17 Aug 2020175 Views

The Four Courts in Dublin. Image: © Pavel Losevsky/Stock.adobe.com

As a result of Covid-19, the Government is looking at reforms that would make it possible to electronically lodge court documents and expand use cases for video links.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has signed commencement orders for a new law to reform aspects of the courts, according to RTÉ News.

The new reforms aim to make it easier for Irish courts to hold remote hearings, in response to the challenges that have arisen as a result of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions. McEntee said that it is also an important step towards modernising Irish courts and the country’s civil and criminal law systems.

Some of the new measures set to be introduced include the lodgement of documents with the courts by electronic means and expanding video links to a wider set of use cases, enhancing the existing provisions on giving evidence by video.

A catalyst for change

Earlier this summer, solicitor Cian O’Carroll said that restrictions put in place to limit the spread of Covid-19 have served as a “catalyst” in speeding up the introduction of more technology and other reforms to Irish courts.

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O’Carroll, who is known for his representation of Vicky Phelan, Ruth Morrissey and other women in a high-profile case against Ireland’s CervicalCheck screening programme, participated in the first remote hearing held in the High Court after the Covid-19 lockdown began.

The solicitor told the Irish Times in May that Covid-19 restrictions have helped the courts system overcome an “inertia” towards change. O’Carroll also said that changes to the system have been sought by Ireland’s Chief Justice, Frank Clark, “for a long time.”

Justice David Barniville, who is president of the Association of Judges of Ireland, added that the High Court hoped that remote hearings would become “more widely available” as the country deals with the pandemic.

According to an A&L Goodbody article on Lexology, as of May there were three virtual courts available daily in the High Court for remote hearings and seven courts available for physical hearings.

A&L Goodbody said there had been “teething issues” in the roll-out of remote hearings, but that the focus of the judiciary remained on increasing the number of cases being heard daily both through remote hearings and physical hearings in adapted court rooms.

Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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