The number of sitting days in all courts in September this year is likely to be significantly greater than in any previous September in order to address the backlog in cases, according to Law Society President Michele O’Boyle.
She was updating solicitors on the latest meeting of the Courts Service User Group, which is working on the restoration of courts business following disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the president, Courts Service chief executive Angela Denning (pictured) told the meeting a ‘road-map’ was almost complete, and that different types of legal business would be separated into different courthouse venues in order to facilitate compliance with the social distancing and other health and safety requirements.
Nine courthouses around the country have now been identified as the planned centres for criminal business, with either one or two such courthouses on each circuit.
A road-map for family law cases will follow that for criminal cases, and child abuse cases will come next.
President O’Boyle said there was a lot of pressure to start addressing the backlog in criminal court business as a priority. The Director of Public Prosecutions has a short-term aim to get back up to 50% of criminal trials.
She said trials with a number of co-accused present particular challenges as the over-arching strategy of the Courts Service is to minimise the number of people in or around a court venue at any one time.
President O’Boyle also welcomed an initiative by Chief Justice Frank Clarke to set up a working group to look at ways of further expanding the number of personal injury cases being heard.
Again, the number of witnesses and people in courthouses for these cases is presenting a particular challenge.
“The judiciary are of the view that it will just not be possible to assemble, in the traditional manner, the very large number of practitioners, parties and witnesses which have attended in the past for personal injury lists both in the Four Courts and at provincial venues,” she said.
As a result, a key objective of the Chief Justice’s initiative is to create the environment to settle far more personal injury cases in advance of the parties having to appear in courthouses.