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Court hearing delays causing stress and financial headaches

24th November 2020

Chair of the Bar Council Maura McNally SC says she has been “inundated” with complaints about halted trials.

The Bar Council chair has written to High Court President Ms Justice Mary Irvine to say that access to justice under Level-5 restrictions has proven very difficult for barristers and their clients.

Bar Council members have queried why civil cases requiring witness testimony have stopped altogether in Dublin under Level-5 restrictions, despite safety protocols, but continue in the rest of Ireland.

Witness cases originally listed from March -to- June are now listed for the autumn, following call-overs.

‘Upset and dismay’

“This has led to upset and dismay, and financial and emotional hardship for litigants, who still await the hearing of their claims,” writes McNally.

She also complains of a dichotomy regarding the experience of colleagues at the criminal bar and colleagues at the civil bar.

Criminal barristers have provided positive feedback on proactive support from the Judiciary and Courts Service for the resumption of trials up [until the current restrictions], with strict public-health measures in place.

“From our feedback, such ongoing criminal court protocol has become the envy of the civil bar engaged in witness actions,” McNally writes.

But the “decimation” of civil-court hearings, at which witnesses are required to attend in person, is hard to reconcile, she continues.

Clamour

No comprehensive response has been given for the reasoning behind certain decisions by the judiciary and Courts Service, she writes, despite Bar Council members “clamouring for an in-depth explanation for the cessation of civil-court lists”. 

Legal services and the courts have been designated an essential service under the current restrictions. 

In her letter, dated 12 November, Maura McNally acknowledges the enormous work by the Judiciary and the Courts Service in ensuring that court facilities are fully compliant with public-health measures, despite obstacles and challenges.

McNally writes that since access to the courts by litigants is regarded as essential, the Bar Council wants to assist in continuing trials (both criminal and civil) to avoid the system grinding to a halt.

However, Maura McNally writes that, despite promises of extended court operations, both physical and remote, this has not happened within certain geographical and court jurisdictions.