Government must publish plan for Courts Service to operate

Seán Sherlock TD
07 May 2020

Highlighting the serious threat of COVID-19 to the operation of justice, Labour’s spokesperson, Seán Sherlock TD, has called on the Government to urgently bring forward a plan to support the reopening of the Courts Service in a way that respects public health guidelines.

Deputy Sherlock said:

“There is no mention in the Government’ COVID-19 plan to re-open the Courts Service, despite the obvious constitutional importance of maintaining the independent administration of justice.

“This raises several vital issues about people’s ability to access justice. Many people are anxiously waiting to know when their cases might be heard, including the victims of serious crime and also people who are seriously ill. While a limited number of urgent matters are being dealt with, the vast majority of cases have been adjourned or cancelled, including criminal trials of murder, rape, child sexual assault and burglaries.

“While the Government is rightly respecting the independence of the Courts Service and judiciary, this should not prevent the Government from stepping forward with an offer of support to restore the justice system.

“The Government should, as a matter of urgency, make clear how much extra resources will be available to facilitate the Courts Service to resume its activities. For example, will there be extra resources to use larger venues such as community centres? Will there be additional funding for IT to facilitate some use of video conferencing and electronic documentation as part of proceedings?

“The Government must also support the Courts Service to publish guidelines for how it intends to allow trial by jury to resume in a way that adheres to public health guidelines, such as on social distancing. There also needs to be clarity on how the Courts Service will deal with the backlog of cases.

“Labour is calling on the Government to publish a plan and to announce a package of supports to restore the operation of the Courts Service as a matter of urgency.”

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