CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) Court Business Continuity Arrangements

CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) Courts and Tribunals Business Continuity Arrangements

Updated 27th March 2020

Message from the Lord Chief Justice’s Office - 27th March

The guidance and forms have been updated to reflect the Lord Chief Justice’s announcement on 24 March 2020 that, with effect from Thursday 26 March, all court business is consolidated in the Royal Courts of Justice, Laganside Courts, Craigavon, Dungannon and Londonderry Courthouses and only urgent matters will be addressed by way of a court hearing until further notice.

Of note is the new guidance that has been published for unrepresented parties and/or litigants in person (25 March 2020).  The guidance for family proceedings has been updated to include arrangements for Interim Care Orders (25 March 2020).  There have been some changes to the guidance for criminal proceedings in the Magistrates’ and Youth Courts, notably information of the scheduled hearing times in Laganside Courts.

Members of the public and legal representatives are reminded that they should NOT attend court. 

The Guidance sets out the processes to be followed but please note that no correspondence is required to request an adjournment.  Urgent matters will generally be undertaken remotely.

All guidance is available on the Judiciary NI website: https://judiciaryni.uk/coronavirus-covid-19

Tribunals Update 26th March 2020

During this unprecedented public health emergency,  the Tribunals Hearing Centre is adjusting practices and taking steps to minimise any risk to tribunal users, our staff and judicial office holders alike.  In the short term, no oral hearings will be listed and any changes to individual hearings will be communicated directly to those affected, usually by email and/or phone.

Arrangements are already in place to use telephone and other technology to continue to deal with urgent cases remotely.

As staffing levels are reduced significantly it would be helpful if all correspondence to the office could be delivered, as far as is practicable, electronically in order for the secretariat to deal with correspondence as efficiently as possible at the current time.  For all matters in relation to the Review Tribunal, please e-mail  reviewtribunal@courtsni.gov.uk For matters relating to all other tribunals please e-mail tribunalsunit@courtsni.gov.uk

Your co-operation and patience is appreciated in the exceptional circumstances.

This information page will be updated with any further developments.

Updated 25th March 2020

“The Lord Chief Justice announced yesterday that with effect from tomorrow (Thursday 26 March 2020) all court business will be consolidated in the following courthouses:  the Royal Courts of Justice, Laganside Courts, Craigavon, Dungannon and Londonderry.  Until further notice only urgent matters will be heard and these are likely to be undertaken remotely using live link, telephone, Sightlink, Zoom or BTMeetme etc.  Further detail is available at https://judiciaryni.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/.

Members of the public should NOT attend court.  While their name may appear on the court list, the default position is that their case will be adjourned without them needing to attend. 

Issued 24th March 2020

This page provides advice and guidance for all courts and tribunals users during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. It will be updated as and when new scientific advice is available that impacts on the services we provide.

Following consultation with members of the legal profession, the Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland has issued further directions on court attendances which can be found at the link above.

The Lord Chief Justice has announced that with effect from Thursday 26 March 2020 all court business is to be consolidated in:

  • The Royal Courts of Justice
  • Laganside Courts
  • Craigavon Courthouse
  • Dungannon Courthouse
  • Londonderry Courthouse

Only urgent matters will be addressed by way of a court hearing until further notice.

The form of the hearing will be determined by the relevant judge.  Application for an urgent hearing must be accompanied by the relevant form https://judiciaryni.uk/coronavirus-covid-19.

All other matters will be determined by a judge without a hearing.

Urgent Matters

Examples of urgent matters, which typically involve the immediate liberty, health, safety and wellbeing of individuals include:

Criminal proceedings

  • First remands in the Magistrates’ Courts (charge sheets);
  • Custody remands
  • Bail applications
  • PACE applications

Sentencing where delay may mean time on remand exceeds any likely/realistic custody period under the sentence

Family proceedings

  • Non-Molestation Orders
  • Applications under the Children (NI) Order 1995 such as Care Orders, Prohibited Steps Orders, Emergency Protection Orders and Secure Accommodation Orders
  • Declaratory judgments in patients’ cases
  • Child abduction

Civil proceedings

  • Habeas Corpus applications
  • Urgent injunctions
  • Urgent judicial reviews
  • Non-Molestation Orders
  • Applications under the Children (NI) Order 1995 such as Care Orders, Prohibited Steps Orders, Emergency Protection Orders and Secure Accommodation Orders
  • Declaratory judgments in patients’ cases
  • Child abduction

ALL OTHER MATTERS

All other matters will be adjourned by a judge without a hearing and in most cases the adjournment period will be one of eight weeks.

The exception is that where parties have agreed a way forward in their case they should complete the relevant form, sharing it with the other party to enable it to be completed.  Forms and further directions on completion for all court tiers can be found on https://judiciaryni.uk/coronavirus-covid-19 .

All forms, correspondence and emails MUST include the ICOS number, the relevant Courthouse (and the court number if a Laganside Courts case).

Please note that no form, correspondence or email is required where an adjournment is the preferred course of action.

In relation to magistrates’ court business it is planned that with effect from 26 March 2020 business will be amalgamated in the following courthouses:-

  •  Laganside, Belfast – also dealing with Ballymena, Antrim, Ards, Downpatrick
  •  Craigavon – also dealing with Lisburn, Armagh, Newry, Banbridge
  •  Dungannon – also dealing with Omagh, Enniskillen, Strabane
  •  Londonderry – also dealing with Magherafelt, Limavady, Coleraine.

The parties should check ICOS to confirm the date to which a case has been adjourned. Court staff will advise non-represented parties (defendants) to the proceedings of the revised date for hearing where a judge determines that it should be listed for hearing. Where a case has been adjourned no formal notification will issue.

The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) and the Office of the Lord Chief Justice (OLCJ) continue to work together on business continuity plans in response to what is a very fluid situation.

These are exceptional and unprecedented times. This updated Guidance applies until further notice. All changes to court business will be published on the Judiciary NI website (http://judiciaryni.uk/).

High Court and Crown Court Bail Applications (Arrangements Until 27 April 2020)

Legal representatives should provide through their motion or separate skeleton arguments the full basis for their application. This should be served by legal representatives on the Court Office who will notify the PPS of the application and when a response is due.

The PPS will have 24 hours to provide a written response to the court office, which they should copy to the applicant’s legal representatives before the hearing. The PPS response should suggest potential bail conditions and the parties if possible should liaise to seek agreement. A judge may deal with the case on the papers or direct a hearing.

Where a judge decides to refuse an application on the papers, the attendance of the defendant through video link is required to set out reasons for refusal. Where a hearing is required, the parties will be notified accordingly and arrangements made as to the nature of that hearing.

Generally, hearings will be listed on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the High Court. However should the need arise, additional/emergency courts will be arranged as appropriate. Legal aid requirements, including certification, will apply as usual.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q: How can check if I am required to be present in court?      

A: Individuals should contact their legal representatives to confirm whether they need to attend. This applies to cases that may be ongoing.  

Q: I have been called to Jury Service. How do the new arrangements for court cases during the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak impact me?

A: There will be no new jury trials commencing until further notice. Jury panel information

Q: I am due to appear as a witness but am exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or am in a household where someone I live with is exhibiting the symptoms. What do I do?

A: In line with the advice above, please do not attend a court or tribunal if you or a member of your household are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Please notify the legal representatives you have been liaising with and the relevant court office about your illness

Q: Are there plans to hold court hearings digitally?

A: The Office of the Lord Chief Justice and the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service is working to increase the amount of court business that can be dealt with by way of video link, skype or telephone conference. Both organisations continue to work together on business continuity plans in response to what is a very fluid situation.

Q: If I have to attend a court proceeding or tribunal, what measures are in place to protect court users from the spread of Coronavirus COVID-19?

A: In line with the revised guidance the requirement for members of the public, legal representatives, defendants and others to attend at court hearings has been scaled back.

In the very rare circumstances that someone may need to attend a court hearing  NICTS continues to follow the medical advice given to the Northern Ireland Executive by the Chief Medical Officer. As circumstances change, we will act in accordance with the latest advice.

We know how important it is for all court users – public and professional – to have confidence that they are using a building that is clean and safe. Our buildings are cleaned every day and we respond swiftly to complaints about hygiene. If you see something of concern, please let a member of staff know so they can put things right.

NICTS has changed our security policy to allow people to bring hand sanitiser into our buildings – our security officers will ask you to use it to prove it’s not harmful. Court security officers may also ask you to move items inside your own bag or ask if they can do this themselves. You can ask them not to touch your belongings and move them yourself, if you prefer. Court security officers often use a handheld scanner to search people coming to court but neither this nor the officer will touch you. Where a tribunal takes place at a venue other than a courthouse, please follow the instructions of security personnel at the venue and also follow the Public Health Agency’s guidance.

Once inside a court or tribunal venue, NICTS urges all court users to follow the Public Health Agency’s advice to wash their hands with soap and water before, during and after proceedings and to also follow the latest advice to maintain social distancing of two metres between other people which is available in all courts and tribunals. If you are going to sneeze, please catch it in a handkerchief, kill it and bin it and clean your hands. Given the importance of handwashing at the moment, our cleaners are paying extra attention to checking bathrooms and handwashing facilities.

Q: Is this the only channel for information about court and tribunals operations during the outbreak?

A:  Information on the operational running of courts and tribunals will be communicated on the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service website, the Judiciary NI website and  NI Judicary Twitter feed (@Judiciary NI).

 

 

 

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