We at Crowley Millar are keenly aware of the challenges that our clients face due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Given the extension of the Government measures until 5th May, the President of the High Court has directed that the arrangements for the conduct of Court business in the High Court should remain restricted to six types of urgent business;
- Injunctions and the enforcement of same
- Urgent Wardship matters
- Urgent Judicial Review applications
- Applications for Bail by video link
- Habeas Corpus
All motions and cases in all lists are adjourned generally with liberty to re-enter and you must contact the Central Office at [email protected] in advance of attending Court. The Judiciary remain available to hear urgent applications only and where a case does not slot into one of the above categories, but is considered urgent by one of the parties and a good case can be made out to the Central Office for it to be heard, the Court may hear it. Where a party does not consent to an adjournment, the party raising the objection must show cause for urgency in writing to the relevant Registrar.
Where parties consent to Orders, the Orders are being issued by the relevant Registrar by email. This applies to settlements dealt with by Consent Orders. Also, judgements on cases already heard are being delivered by email and it is clear from the number of judgements issuing that the Judiciary are working hard to clear any backlog.
We will have to wait and see what happens to all cases listed after 5th May. As of now, it looks like they will be adjourned but we will have to await further directions on that next week when Courts Service will give a further update.
The Chief Justice indicated in his statement on 31st March 2020 that arrangements would be in place in the new term commencing on 20th April 2020 for the Courts to pilot the remote hearing of cases where they are suitable and where they can be conducted in a manner which is fair and where the parties and their representatives can comply with all Government guidance and direction for the time being in force.
This commenced with a Supreme Court hearing on Monday 20th April and will continue with the Court of Appeal hearing their first case remotely on 1st May with a gradual roll out to other jurisdictions to follow to ensure continuity of business. The Dublin Circuit Court has now listed suitable cases for hearing remotely from the middle of May.
The Central Office is open and operational but only by appointment, to be made via email and with the strictly enforced criteria that it is for urgent business only. The issue of proceedings where the statutory time limit to issue will expire before Tuesday 5th May 2020 is currently being considered urgent business by the Central Office.
The next issue that arises is service of proceedings. There is no reason why Defendants or Solicitors acting on behalf of Defendants cannot accept service of proceedings in the current circumstances by email and undertake to enter an appearance within 14 days of the Court Offices reopening for normal business, subject to the Plaintiff solicitor furnishing a letter consenting to same.
This was the line adopted by the Court in the case of Poole v O’Sullivan  IR 484. The time limit on the action had expired on a Saturday and the Plaintiff issued the proceedings on the following Monday. The Court held that since the Plaintiff was unable to set the proceedings in motion that the period in the Statute of Limitations Act should be interpreted as ending “on the next day upon which the offices of the Court are open and it becomes possible to do the act required”. A refusal by a Defendant to engage in such an arrangement in the current circumstances could, in and of itself, be used to counter any issues later raised in respect or service.
Since the commencement of the new term on 20th April, some Doctors have started to furnish medical appointments for the examination of Plaintiffs. Others, such as psychiatrists are engaging with Plaintiffs on some of the many video conferencing platforms to prepare reports. Difficulties do arise where a Plaintiff may be vulnerable by reason of age or medical condition and medical appointments in those cases will have to remain on hold until the current risks associated with Covid-19 have truly abated.
ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION (ADR)
Alternative forms of dispute resolution such as mediation should be considered in light of the current difficulty in accessing the Courts. Mediation can be an effective form of ADR not least because it results in settlements without increased costs and time delays associated with litigation and should be considered by parties considering litigation. The exchange of mediation documents already occurs by email so the only real change for parties is that the actual negotiations themselves take place remotely.
In the current circumstances, remote mediation provides a convenient space for parties to resolve disputes in an effective and realistic manner and thus preserve healthy business relationships notwithstanding their current difficulties.
We will continue to monitor developments as they unfold and keep you informed. Should you have any specific queries, please get in touch with your regular Crowley Millar partner and we will assist you in all queries.