Friday, May 15, 2020
On 8 May 2020, the Courts Service website published a statement setting out plans to extend the use of virtual remote hearings and arrange more physical hearings, to allow more cases to be heard by the courts in the coming weeks.
When lockdown measures were first introduced, the courts undertook to scale back court activity in order to comply with social distancing restrictions. The High Court, for example, adjourned most cases with liberty to re-enter, so that either party to the proceedings could apply to re-enter the case in the relevant court list when the courts eventually resumed normal activity. The High Court, however, continued to deal with pressing cases in a limited number of practice areas including examinerships, injunctions and their enforcement and judicial review applications.
In the statement on 8 May, the emphasis was on the safety of the public, judges and court staff. The Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, said that measures were being put in place to maximise the safety of the environment in which physical hearings will be conducted.
The Chief Justice also warned that these safety measures may well be in place until the second half of 2021.
The Courts Service published a statement from the Chief Justice along with a statement from each of the presidents of the other court jurisdictions (Court of Appeal, High Court, Circuit Court and District Court).
A link to the general statement published on the Courts Service website can be found here.
A summary of the position of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court is set out below.
The Chief Justice stated that the work of the Supreme Court is particularly well suited to remote hearings, on the basis that generally the issues in a case will have been refined by the time the matter reaches the Supreme Court and the proportion of time actually spent at hearing is likely to be reduced.
He noted that a Practice Direction (SC21) was published on 16 April 2020 which sets out the procedures for remote hearings before the Supreme Court. Practice Direction SC21 states that it is intended that for the time being, much of the work of the Supreme Court will be carried out remotely. Parties are also encouraged to use the E-filing system, which has been in place since last year, for filing Supreme Court pleadings.
A link to Practice Direction SC21 can be found here.
One novel procedure introduced by the practice direction is the “statement of case”, whereby the Supreme Court may issue a document to the parties in advance of the remote hearing, setting out the Court’s understanding of the key facts, legal issues which require determination and positions of the parties in relation to those issues.
The Chief Justice noted that this innovation has already been implemented by the Supreme Court and it is hoped that it may assist in minimising the length of remote hearings.
Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal will continue to hear cases remotely and as of Monday 11 May 2020, it was anticipated that three courts would be sitting virtually.
Lists to fix dates will be arranged in the coming weeks and parties are encouraged to contact the Court of Appeal office to have their case added to one of these lists, where the parties believe their case would be suitable for remote hearing.
The President of the High Court stated that it would be possible from Monday 18 May 2020 to expand both the type and number of cases being heard by the High Court.
However, it will still not be possible to hear cases which require oral testimony.
In addition to the urgent cases already being heard by the High Court, the following matters will now also be heard:
The President also stated that the courts will sit throughout the Whitsun vacation, a two week break observed by the courts and typically falling in the month of June.
A number of remote hearings have been piloted in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court with considerable success, and as indicated in the statements above, it is expected that remote hearings will be increased. In particular, the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal intend to rely heavily on remote hearings going forward.
Philip Lee represented the Data Protection Commission in a virtual remote hearing before the Court of Appeal (Civil) on 5 May 2020 in the proceedings of Peter Nowak v. The Data Protection Commissioner (Notice Party: Pricewaterhousecoopers) and Peter Nowak v. The Data Protection Commissioner (Notice Party: the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland).
The Court of Appeal judgment is expected to be delivered electronically in due course.
Philip Lee also successfully represented the HSE in a motion heard remotely by the High Court in the matter of Narooma v. Health Service Executive on 29 April 2020.
Court judgments delivered electronically
The courts have also announced that all judgments will be delivered electronically for the foreseeable future, as opposed to in court which was generally the case up until the current COVID-19 restrictions were imposed.
Philip Lee has received a number of judgments by email to date from the courts, where the parties have been invited to communicate electronically with the court on issues such as costs or the precise form of the final court order.
Filing of court pleadings and litigation deadlines
Finally, it is important to note that court offices remain open despite the current restrictions and therefore parties are still required to comply with deadlines for filing pleadings.
The relevant limitation period for initiating proceedings, as set out in the Statute of Limitations 1957, will also continue to run despite the lockdown.
One exception to the general position has been the extension of time for a range of timelines relevant to planning law under the Planning and Development Act, 2000. Those timelines have now been extended to 23 May 2020.
If you have a concern about a legal matter which might involve a deadline or Statute of Limitations issue, please contact our dispute resolution and litigation team who will be happy to assist you.