Judges have begun limiting sittings to just two hours due to concern over the potential for spreading Covid-19.
he move is a precautionary measure after new public health advice came to light yesterday.
But it is likely to cause even further disruption to court business, which has been hugely curtailed by the pandemic.
The Dáil’s Covid-19 committee was advised that if someone spends more than two hours in an enclosed space with someone else they are considered a contact for public health purposes.
The Courts Service and the judiciary were not previously made aware of this advice and it was not factored into plans to increase the number of physical hearing, which kicked in on Monday.
In one District Court today, a judge said he was “on the clock” and had to be finished within two hours.
In a statement, Chief Justice Frank Clarke and the presidents of the Court of Appeal, High Court, Circuit Court and District Court said they had become aware of health advice given to the Houses of the Oireachtas concerning persons who may be in the same room, even though practising social distancing, for a period of in excess of two hours.
“The Courts Service was unaware, until the matter became public yesterday, of what appears to be additional safety considerations beyond those already published,” it said.
“The plans which had been devised by the judiciary and the Courts Service to expand the number of physical hearings in our courts had taken full account of all published advice.”
The statement said the Courts Service had now sought urgent further advice on the issue.
It said the advice “clearly has the potential to affect the conduct of court hearings or sessions”.
“Pending receipt of such additional advices the court presidents have determined that all court sittings will last for no more than two hours in each day,” the statement said.
This decision does not impact on remote hearings which will continue as planned.
The new advice is a considerable setback to plans to reopen the courts.
Court business was pared back to urgent matters and ongoing trials in March, as huge swathes of cases had to be adjourned due to fears about the potential transmission of the virus in court buildings.
But the number of matters being dealt with was expanded last Monday in the District Court and the High Court.
Criminal trials involving juries have been scheduled to resume in the Circuit Court in September, while it is hoped some new trials could take place in the Central Criminal Court before then.
A time limit on hearings may mean plans for reopening courts will have to be re-evaluated.
Source: Irish News