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'Virtual' courts to be trialled within weeks

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'Virtual' courtrooms are to be trialled from April 20 in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

High Court civil matters, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court hearings are expected to feature in the pilot.

The move is a seismic one in terms of the operation of the courts in Ireland and means judges and legal counsel will not have to be in a physical courtroom together for a hearing.

The announcement, made by the presidents of the five courts, comes just days after an English High Court trial was conducted using video conferencing service Zoom and streamed on YouTube for the first time.

Virtual courts are part of an as-yet-unpublished blueprint for the modernisation of the Irish courts over the next decade, details of which were revealed by the Irish Independent in January.

But the impact of the pandemic has prompted a dramatic acceleration of this part of the plan.

The decision comes as courtroom activity has been hugely curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Largely speaking, only urgent matters, ongoing criminal trials and sentencing hearings have been proceeding.

Meanwhile, Ms Justice Mary Rose Gearty of the High Court has warned lawyers not to bring bail applications solely on the basis of a feared outbreak of Covid-19 in prisons. She said there was currently no recorded case in the prison system and she wasn't going to make any rulings in advance of a diagnosis.

Irish Independent