Remote hearings for civil proceedings now on solid footing in the Irish Courts and will be in force for the new legal term
21 August 2020
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Helen McEntee TD, has signed commencement orders for the Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 which will enable the courts to hold civil and criminal hearings remotely and make greater use of live video links to take evidence. The Act, which was signed into law by the President on 6th August 2020, will reform and modernise civil and criminal legal proceedings within the Irish courts.
The Act provides for a range of important reforms to respond to new challenges and legal issues arising in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Commenting on the significance of this new development, the Minister said:
“This legislation reflects an important aspect of the courts’ dynamic response to the new challenges and many legal issues arising in the context of the current pandemic. The enabling provisions relating to criminal proceedings will help to support the courts resumption of criminal trials, especially during the pandemic. In the longer term, the reforms will result in greater efficiency and flexibility by expanding the use of modern technology in the Civil and Criminal Courts. Overall this represents a substantial and very positive modernisation and reform of the law.”
Most of the provisions will come into effect on 21st August 2020, with Section 5 (subsections 1, 2, and 4) (repeals), Section 23 (certain applications to court in criminal proceedings to be heard using live video link), Section 24 (certain applications to court in relevant proceedings to be heard using live video link) and Section 25 (evidence through live video link) due to come into effect on 14th September 2020.
Section 11 of the Act enables a court to direct that any category of type of civil proceeding be conducted remotely.
With these new changes comes an ability to lodge documents by electronic means (by e-filing) and the ability to lodge ‘statements of truth’ as an alternative to the swearing of affidavits in civil proceedings. This will be of particular assistance while the current restrictions continue and have the potential to yield significant benefits to the Courts Service and users of court services.
The Act also introduces a significant number of changes in relation to criminal practice and procedure. These are urgently needed to assist the courts with the efficient conduct of criminal trials, particularly during the current COVID-19 pandemic where physical attendance may be difficult or impossible for public health reasons.
The new Act covers a wide range of issues relating to both the civil and criminal legal systems, such as:
- The reform of the law concerning coroners in the context of the current pandemic;
- The introduction of a statutory basis for our courts to conduct remote hearings in civil proceedings;
- The admissibility of business records as evidence in civil proceedings;
- The lodgement of documents with the courts by electronic means, or e-filing;
- The lodgement of ‘statements of truth’ with the courts by electronic means as an alternative to the swearing of affidavits;
- Provision for the wider use of video links between persons in custody and the courts;
- Enhancing and widening the existing provisions on giving evidence through video link;
- Providing for appeals (to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court) in criminal proceedings to take place via remote hearing;
- Providing for the remote meetings of State bodies, unincorporated bodies and bodies designated by government ministers; and
- Provisions making it easier to alter the operating hours and sitting locations of the District Court.
If you would like any further information or advice, the Healthcare team at Carson McDowell would be happy to help.
*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.