CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) PANDEMIC - Court Business Continuity Arrangements

Date published: 01 July 2020

CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) PANDEMIC - Court Business Continuity Arrangements - updated 5 August 2020

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

This page provides advice and guidance for court and tribunal users during the continuing coronavirus (Covid-19) situation and will be updated as and when new advice is available. 

Reminder: We are continuing to ask that court and tribunal users wear a face covering in all public and communal parts of our buildings. This is in line with Government advice and Public Health Agency guidance.

Covid-19 – Court Venue Safety

Maintaining the safety of all court users and staff in our buildings in line with public health advice is a priority for Northern Ireland Courts & Tribunals Service (NICTS).  Further information on the measures taken is available at the keeping court and tribunal buildings safe secure and clean section

In addition there is a program of specific risk assessment being carried out for all of our venues which are documented and, as available at our publications section

Covid-19 – Business Delivery

NICTS continues to move forward towards full business recovery following the initial peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.  The following provides details of the latest business recovery arrangements developed in conjunction with the Lord Chief Justice, Coroners and Tribunal Presidents, taking into account the NI Executive Recovery Plan and advice from the Public Health Agency.

The Courts and Tribunals are continuing the move from dealing with urgent or agreed matters to proactive case management and business delivery by judges, coroners and tribunal members.  This is being supported by the opening of additional court venues and a revised court schedule across all business tiers.

It remains the position that where a court hearing is scheduled or required it will be undertaken remotely unless otherwise directed by the judge, coroner or tribunal member.  

For remote hearings NICTS is using Sightlink and Cisco Webex which are cloud based video conferencing solutions to enable parties to remotely attend hearings.  Guidance on connecting and using Sightlink and Cisco Webex can be found here.

Sightlink A Consolidated Guide for the Public (updated 12 October 2020)

Webex Virtual Hearings -  A Guide for External Participants

Please note Court and Tribunal staff will advise non-represented parties (defendants & personal litigants) of revised dates for hearing where a judge determines that a case should be listed for hearing.  Where a case has been adjourned no formal notification will issue. If a case is listed for hearing unrepresented parties or defendants should complete and submit HR1 to the relevant court office (further details can be found in the attached link below).

Covid-19 – Guidance for Courts: Message from Lord Chief Justice's Office

Please click here to see  the latest notices and directions from the Lord Chief Justice's Office in relation to the coronavirus pandemic:  https://judiciaryni.uk/coronavirus-covid-19

Court Venues

All of our courthouses have now re-opened in line with Public Health Agency advice with the exception of the Hearing Centres in Magherafelt, Limavady and Strabane.

Full details of the business being delivered at each venue on the Judiciary NI/coronavirus covid 19 section of the website

Crown Court Jury Trials - Update September 2020

Crown Court jury panels have been called as follows:

  • Laganside Courts – ongoing from 19 August 2020
  • Newry – from 21 September 2020
  • Antrim – from 21 September 2020
  • Dungannon – from 23 September 2020
  • Londonderry (sitting at Coleraine) – from 28 September 2020
  • Craigavon – from 29 September 2020

Crown Court trials will be delivered at the above venues thereafter.

 

Correspondence with Court Office during Covid-19

Members of the public and legal representatives are reminded that they should NOT attend a court building unless specifically directed by the court.

As staffing levels continue to be  reduced significantly, it would be helpful if all correspondence to the offices could be delivered, as far as is practicable, electronically to the email addresses here: Court Office contact details

Court Office Opening Hours during Covid-19

Court venues as detailed above are open from 9.30am to 4.00pm Monday to Friday.

Signing Bail during Covid-19: recognizance of a surety

Sureties are currently unable to sign bail at any of the custodial establishments due to Covid19 restrictions. If a surety is required to attend a court office to sign, lodge a sum of money or documents, they must attend during the court opening hours only. The detained person is advised that the bail perfection process will be delayed until the surety /sureties attend to complete this process. 

Payment of Fines during Covid-19

Members of the public are encouraged to use the online fine payment facilities during Covid19. At present, we only accept MasterCard and Visa credit and debit cards for online payments.

You may also pay your fine by telephone using a credit or debit card by telephoning the Customer Service Centre on 0300 200 7812 during the hours of 9.30am to 4.00pm Monday to Friday or by posting a cheque or postal order payable to Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, quoting your case reference number and name, to:

Customer Service Centre, P.O. Box 256, Londonderry.

Grants Of Probate during Covid-19

Please note that normal turnaround times for issuing Grants of Probate or Administration will not apply given reduced staffing resources. Applications will take a longer time period to process. All applications for a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration must be accompanied by a completed signed checklist, available in the Forms section of the Judiciary NI website confirming that the application has been checked for compliance with the relevant legislation, Practice Guidance Notes and Practice Directions. Applications will not be processed unless a completed checklist is submitted.

Applicants must alert the Probate Office to reasons for any requirement for priority handling. Those applications which are identified as urgent will continue to be passed to the Master to determine if they should be afforded priority.

Statements Of Truth

During the current Public Health Emergency, and subject to regular review by the Probate Master, the Probate Master and the administrative staff of the Probate Office shall accept applications for Grants of Representation supported by ‘Statements of Truth’ rather than affidavits, where it has not been possible to have evidence taken by affidavit. Statements of Truth shall begin simply with the following wording “I/We Name and Address make the following Statement”. There will then follow the substance of the Statement which will conclude prior to signature with the following wording “I/We believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true and understand that criminal proceedings for fraud may be brought against me/us if I/We are found to have been deliberately untruthful or dishonest in the making of this Statement.”

In respect of any application which proves to be disputed, it shall be for the Master to be satisfied as to the quality of the evidence and such disputed matters may well simply have to be adjourned until affidavit evidence becomes available.

The use of Statements of Truth where affidavit evidence is unavailable shall apply to all non-contentious probate business including ex parte applications and summonses. Applicants and Practitioners should note that the Master will exercise discretion as to whether to accept Statements of Truth. The Master is unlikely to do so in matters where there is significant evidential dispute or where they feel affidavit evidence is essential.

Wills

Where a Statement of Truth is filed rather than an affidavit, a copy of the will bearing the applicants initials will be accepted. Applicants and practitioners should note that when lodging applications for a grant of probate, they should lodge a certificate certifying that the initialled copy of the will is a true copy of the original will.

COVID-19 – Guidance for Enforcement of Judgments Office (EJO)

Updates on services provided by the EJO during Covid19 can be found at  the EJO section

COVID-19 – Guidance for Tribunals

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 (face to face) 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 for remote hearings using both telephone or video.

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.

Further updates in relation to Tribunal services can be found  on the Tribunals webpage.

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: Updated information will be made available on the Jury Panel webpage.

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 Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service is working to increase the amount of court and tribunal business that can be dealt with by way of video link, skype or telephone conference. We are working with the Lord Chief Justice and Tribunal Presidents on business continuity plans in response to what is a very fluid situation. Further details can be found on the Judiciary-ni webpage

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.

Further details on what we are doing to keep our court and tribunal buildings safe, secure and clean can be found here: Keeping court and tribunal buildings safe, secure and clean

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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