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Jury trial requires minimum of 25 people in court, says working group
Courts Service chief executive Angela Denning

21 Aug 2020 / courts Print

Jury trial needs 25 people in court, say experts

Courts Service chief executive Angela Denning says the organisation faces very significant challenges resuming jury trials within current health guidance.

As winter approaches, Denning is concerned about staffing levels and jury attendance rates, should HSE guidance that close contacts self-isolate for 14 days remain in place.

However, at least one venue on each Circuit is available for urgent work next term as a start to resuming trials, the Courts Service says.

400 trials nationwide

At Circuit Court level, there are approximately 400 trials heard annually nationwide, with over a quarter of these in Dublin.

Angela Denning calculates that there is a backlog of 273 matters yet to go to trial before Circuit Courts, outside of Dublin.

Urgent matters, counties with significant backlogs, and custody cases will be prioritised during the next term.

Significant constraints will hamper the ability to provide access to justice in the pre-COVID manner, Angela Denning believes.

These constraints include courtroom capacity, ensuring court infrastructure is COVID-19 compliant, IT support, and the availability of staff to support the courts.

An expert working group has determined that the minimum number required in a court room for a jury trial to operate is 25 (with a single accused).

Risk assessment

After a countrywide risk assessment, suitable venues have been selected to host criminal trials next term.

All of these selected venues have sufficient courtroom space for 25, jury deliberation space for 12 and foyer space that is safe for the circulation of all court users.

Angela Denning says that, since jurors give their time to fulfil service to the State, they must be safe and feel safe for the duration of their service.

Kilkenny, Castlebar, and Cork will host the Central Criminal Court for longer periods than normal this coming term.

Hilary term

It is hoped that those venues will be available to the Circuit Court during Hilary term 2021.

Certain venues will no longer be suitable for jury trials and some counties will be excluded as trial locations.

The Courts Service says it fully understands the impact this will have on waiting times, victims, witnesses, Gardaí and other participants in the criminal justice system.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland