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Courts in midst of greatest tech experiment ever, says boss
High Court President Justice Mary Irvine and Courts Service chief executive Angela Denning

02 Nov 2020 / courts Print

Courts in midst of greatest tech experiment ever – boss

Courts Service chief executive Angela Denning has said that Irish courts are in the middle of the greatest tech experiment ever.

She said huge value would accrue if legal practitioners engage with the changes through user groups, such as the Virtual Courts Working Group, and the e-Courts Strategy Group.

“This will inform the decisions we make for the future,” she said.


“It’s very important that we get the 'lived experience' back, in terms of stakeholder engagement. 

“We have accelerated our modernisation programme,” she said.

“In terms of modernisation, we have bypassed a lot of the consultation and gone straight to innovation and experiment.

“If things don’t work, we bin them and try something else.”

An over-reliance in the courts system on paper has hindered innovation, Denning said.

“The fact that our IT systems can’t accept documents has really stymied our ability and that’s something we absolutely need to change,” she said.

“We’ve had huge learnings over the last few months and I also want to deliver some quick wins, such a new jury management system and improved wifi,” she said.

Online appointment system

An instant online appointment system in court offices is also on the cards, as well as cashless payments. 

“I was hired to make the system better, quicker, easier and more user-friendly,” she continued.

There was huge appreciation for the work done by her staff in keeping the courts running during the pandemic, the chief executive said.

Speaking at the Law Society litigation seminar yesterday (29 October), Denning said it was clear from the outset that courts were an essential service, there to support the most vulnerable people in society.

A huge effort has been made by Courts Service staff to deliver services in a safe manner, Denning said.

Reporting app

Courts staff now have a reporting app where any safety issues can be flagged instantly.

Denning said that an appointment system for urgent business at public offices had kept footfall to a minimum while paperwork was still being processed at usual levels by back-office staff.

She said that 7,000 prisoner movements had been avoided this year through the use of video links to prison, which had also avoided the need for the isolation of inmates.

Denning continued that measures introduced to keep jurors safe also worked well in witness cases.

“There is no space for negotiation on our premises anymore,” she said, given the limitations of court buildings.

Settlement negotiations

However, an innovative new system of practitioners conducting settlement negotiations in nearby hotel facilities had worked very smoothly. 

“We were at the same number of cases as if we were in a traditional session,” she said.

Level five restrictions have now put a stop to settlement sessions, however.

Incoming High Court paperwork stands at 85% of 2019 levels, with Court of Appeal work at 70%, with a total of 324 remote sessions held.

No backlog 

The Supreme Court has dealt with a huge number of cases remotely, and has no backlog, Denning said.

A total of 1,300 remote sessions have been conducted by the courts, though multi-party litigation remains a challenge in requiring a 25-person courtroom.

A new 25-person courtroom in Phoenix House in Dublin 7 will begin hearings this week, Denning said.

“On the criminal side, we have an increase in throughput, with some offices at 120% capacity over this time last year.

Angela Denning said she was grateful for the co-operation and feedback from practitioners’ working groups and the judiciary.

Eyes and ears

“I’m also very grateful for the media and the support they have given us on remote courts.

“They have been the eyes and the ears of the public in courtrooms and that has allowed us to continue to keep that work going,” she said.

Angela Denning revealed that an increasing number of Garda and expert witnesses are now asking to give their evidence remotely, as they don’t wish to risk coming into court.

Adjournment orders by consent through email have also worked well, she said, and could be built into case management systems in the future.

Difficult and tiring

“Remote hearings are difficult and tiring. I understand why judges need hard copy, even though electronic files have been uploaded,” she said.

Since judges need time to read papers in advance of a hearing, there will be stricter deadlines about file lodgement, she said.

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