Justice Minister Naomi Long has paid tribute to the dedication and resilience of Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) staff and the judiciary during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a visit to NICTS’s headquarters at Laganside House and the Laganside Courts complex, the Minister met with staff who have played a critical role in delivering services throughout the pandemic.
Naomi Long said: “Almost two years on from the arrival of the Coronavirus, it is appropriate to acknowledge the role that everyone in the justice system has played to keep services functioning whilst following the public safety guidance.
“This is especially true of staff who have worked tirelessly alongside the judiciary and the legal profession to respond to the pandemic at pace. The vast majority of staff have been administrating justice and serving the people of Northern Ireland from their workplaces five days a week throughout the pandemic, whilst others have continued to provide services from home or through blended working to help facilitate social distancing in the workplace.
“Their responsiveness, commitment and adaptability has ensured that courts and tribunals have continued, whilst utilising new technology to deliver a range of business, including remote hearings.”
During the visit to Laganside House, the Minister met Coroners Service, Fine Collection and Enforcements staff, as well as members of the ICT and Estates teams who have played a key role in helping colleagues maintain courts and tribunals business.
She also viewed a Magistrates Court sitting using a remote link while visiting Laganside Courts and met Courts Operations staff.
Minister Long commented: “We should recognise the huge effort that NICTS staff and the judiciary have put in to recovering courts and tribunals business during the various phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Across many areas courts have increased the number of hours and sittings to a level which is now higher than in the same period prior to the pandemic.
“That has been achieved in the most challenging of circumstances, thanks to the resilience and dedication of staff, as well as the judiciary and tribunal panel members.
”Challenges will remain as society adjusts to the relaxation of COVID restrictions and as courts and tribunals address case backlogs amid a changing public health landscape.
“However we are fortunate to have courts and tribunals staff and a judiciary who are dedicated to improving access to justice.”
Notes to editors:
- Pictured with Justice Minister Naomi Long are; L-R Andrew Heaney, NICTS Fine Collection Service Transformation and Legacy Unit and Mark Goodfellow, NICTS Chief Operating Officer.
- NICTS is an agency of the Department of Justice which supports the delivery of all courts and the vast majority of tribunals and employs over 800 staff.
- 16 court venues on the NICTS estate are currently operational, with only the two smallest hearing centres – Limavady and Magherafelt – remaining closed.
- The number of jury courtrooms was increased to 15 in October 2021 to help deal with the backlog of cases.
- 56 courtrooms have been digitally enabled for remote and hybrid hearings and WiFi has been available in public spaces across the Estate.
- Over 1 million audio or video connections were made between March 2020 and December 2021 for remote and hybrid hearings.
- A Nightingale courts and tribunals venue operated between January and September 2021 at the ICC Belfast.
- Banbridge Courthouse was brought back into use in June 2021 and additional accommodation has been provided for NICTS staff in Richmond Chambers in Derry~Londonderry and Marlborough House in Craigavon.
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