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Over 380 barristers offer to do coronavirus contact tracing

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Stock photo: PA

Stock photo: PA

Stock photo: PA

More than 380 barristers – around one in six of the practicing bar – have volunteered to do contact tracing for the HSE.

The move is expected to free up public health staff to do other duties in the battle against the coronavirus.

It comes amid an unprecedented near shutdown of the courts, where activity has largely been limited to urgent matters and ongoing trials.

Some 385 barristers have signed up for the initiative to date.

In an email, Bar Council chairman Micheál P O’Higgins issued a call for members of the bar to volunteer following discussions with the HSE over the weekend.

Details are still to be worked out, but barristers are expected to be involved in specialist contact tracing, engaging with institutions such as airlines and nursing homes to track down people who have been in contact with people who have tested positive for Covid-19.

Should the near shutdown of the courts be prolonged by the coronavirus crisis, vast swathes of the profession are likely to be without work in the coming months. The Bar of Ireland has already had to lay off a number of staff and place others on reduced working hours due to decreased demand for support services.

However, the blow to criminal barristers has been softened somewhat by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which has said it will pay brief fees for trials which were to go ahead before June 10, but have now been postponed.

Ordinarily, these fees are only triggered after a hearing takes place.

The arrangement will apply for criminal matters which had been scheduled to go ahead in the Circuit Court and courts above it.

County prosecutors will also get paid.

Under the parity principle, brief fee payments are also set to be made to defence counsel under the criminal legal aid scheme.

Mr O’Higgins told members that the bar was “very grateful” to the DPP and the Department of Justice for their efforts to support the profession.

Online Editors


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