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More coroners to be appointed to deal with pandemic backlog

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The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee. Photo: Julien Behal

The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee. Photo: Julien Behal

The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee. Photo: Julien Behal

Additional coroners are to be appointed to help deal with Covid-19-related deaths and a backlog in other inquests that have arisen due to social distancing restrictions.

The Government has approved a bill brought forward by Justice Minister Helen McEntee which will allow for the appointment of extra coroners on a temporary basis for up to six months.

At an incorporeal Cabinet meeting on Monday, the go-ahead was also given for longer term reforms to increase the use of video conferencing and other forms of technology in the courts.

Although initially targeted at tackling backlogs in criminal and civil cases, the changes will be permanent.

The bill also aims to provide clarity around unincorporated bodies, such as sports clubs, conducting business remotely.

It will mean that AGMs and votes shall not be affected by the fact that meetings were held remotely.

The changes are contained in the Civil and Criminal (Miscellaneous) Bill 2020.

Under the legislation, coroners will be able to request the appointment of an additional coroner in their district or authorisation for a deputy coroner to act concurrently.

There have been more than 1,700 Covid-19-related deaths in Ireland, while many inquests into other deaths have had to be postponed.

The bill will allow for greater use of video technology in the courts where physical attendance may be difficult.

Subject to certain safeguards, videolink provisions will be expanded to include all accused persons, not just those in custody, and to allow for the holding of videolink hearings by default in certain circumstances.

The bill allows new types of applications to be heard via videolink, including arraignments, returns for trial, sentencing and certain aspects of surrender proceedings. It does not affect a person's right to be in court during their trial.

The bill will allow for the making of rules of court to provide for the electronic filing of documents in civil matters and for a "statement of truth" to be made and transmitted electronically as a substitute to an affidavit or statutory declaration.

The changes were requested by the Courts Service.

Irish Independent