Guilty pleas will be accepted online for certain categories of offence, under planned Courts Service reforms.
‘Virtual courtrooms’ are also in the mix as part of case-progression hearings, according to the Courts Service chief executive Angela Denning, in an interview with the Irish Independent today (Friday 17 January).
The changes are listed in a ten-year Courts Service strategy document produced by its board, which is chaired by Chief Justice Frank Clarke.
Digital innovations are designed to make court-use quicker, cheaper and easier, Angela Denning says.
The changes will involve minimising attendance at physical hearings to when it is absolutely necessary, and seeking to resolve cases before a formal hearing.
Less serious non-custodial matters such as road traffic, TV licence and litter offences will be dealt with through online pleas under the planned changes.
Road traffic offences account for 60% of District Court business and Angela Denning says she wants to free up valuable court time by reducing ‘churn-work’.
Procedural hearings and administrative adjournments are also targeted under the changes.
Proceedings streamed online
Proceedings may well be streamed online in order to satisfy the constitutional requirement that justice be done in public.
The Private Residential Tenancies Board has already introduced online video hearings to resolve landlord/tenant disputes, reducing travel time, wear and tear, and time off work.
The plans will require significant funding for IT upgrades, already flagged by the chief justice as essential to courts’ modernisation, in light of Ireland’s bid to position itself as a centre of legal excellence, post-Brexit.
Digital remote-court use has been rolled out successfully in Australia, and senior judicial figures have studied the results, with the intention of bringing in similar time-saving reforms here.
“We really need to invest strongly in our IT unit because we intend to deliver our services in a digital manner,” Angela Denning said.
'Digitisation of bad habits'
Chief Justice Frank Clarke has already warned against the “digitisation of bad habits”. He has urged lawyers to avail of digital opportunities to file for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Online court payments systems are first in line for an upgrade by the Courts Service.
Ms Denning says that she is determined to make court use easier and less intimidating for ordinary people, and to steer users towards alternative-dispute-resolution processes, where suitable.