There will be no new jury trials for criminal proceedings in the High Court while the country is under level five restrictions for a six-week period from midnight tonight (21 October).
New guidance, issued by the President of the High Court Justice Mary Irvine, states that criminal jury trials listed for hearing will be adjourned by the court.
Jury trials which are at hearing, however, will continue to a conclusion, subject to weekly review and strict compliance with public health guidance and the court’s guidance on face coverings.
The guidance said sentencing hearings, as well as pre-trial disclosure and case management hearings, would also continue, again subject to weekly review and compliance with public health guidance.
Justice Irvine also issued guidance on High Court civil proceedings during level five restrictions.
Work in a number of areas will continue subject to staff availability, the availability of technology-enabled courtrooms and compliance with public health guidelines.
All non-remote applications and proceedings at hearing at the time of the introduction of level five will continue, as will all applications and proceedings that are currently being heard remotely or are capable of being heard remotely. Applications and proceedings classified as urgent will also go ahead.
A list of work which will not go ahead under the new restrictions includes:
- All non-urgent witness actions,
- Personal injuries actions at country venues,
- Circuit appeals at country venues.
The full lists are available on the Courts Service website.
Justice Irvine said the fact that certain proceedings or applications could not be heard did not mean parties should not use their best endeavours to achieve a negotiated settlement.
The High Court President added that, due to the risks posed by COVID-19, presiding judges would have discretion to bring any application or proceeding to an end with immediate effect, either in the interests of public safety or the administration of justice.
In the High Court, everyone is asked to wear a face covering on any court premises or within its precincts unless the presiding judge directs otherwise.
There is an exemption for those who cannot wear a face covering for medical or other welfare considerations or those who are operating from behind a protective screen.
On Monday, the Courts Service published a general outline of how courts would operate under level five.