COVID-19: Practical guidance on remote hearings in Northern Ireland
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has had an unimaginable impact on day to day life. Our local government has implemented unprecedented measures as all industries adapt to events that change on a daily basis. These measures have had a significant impact on the functionality of the Northern Irish court system.
On 29 May 2020, the Lord Chief Justice published an Interim Practice Direction in relation to Remote Hearings which should greatly assist parties and practitioners in preparing for and delivering virtual applications and submissions before the court.
This note covers the headline points as set out in the Interim Practice Direction:
- The planning and conduct of every remote hearing will replicate the conventional form of hearing in the court or court division in question along with any modifications deemed appropriate by the court.
- The duties owed to the court by every party, legal representative and other participants will apply fully in the planning and conduct of every remote hearing.
- Every remote location attended by the participants in a remote hearing forms part and is an extension of the court.
- Any relevant and subsisting Practice Direction applies fully to every remote hearing, subject to any modifications as may be specified in the interim Practice Direction.
- The court does not have the capacity or resources to make printed versions of any document sent electronically and no such document will be printed for the judge / judges or for any other purpose, with the exception of any document specifically authorised by the interim Practice Direction.
- Hearing bundles and authorities bundles must continue to be delivered.
- Every proposed remote hearing participant will preferably test the technical mechanism where feasible in advance of the scheduled remote hearing date and will advise the court of any technical problems, particularly if it is their first time.
- The location for the conduct of every remote hearing will be selected with a view to ensuring the recognition and promotion of the integrity of the court. For legal representatives suitable locations include a solicitor’s office, a private study or a private room in The Bar Library.
Other key technical directions include:
- Earphones or headphones with a microphone may be worn in order to enhance the quality of communication.
- Microphones must be muted when another person is speaking.
- At the outset of every remote hearing the presiding judge will normally summarise orally the basic protocols to be observed.
- The conventional sequence of oral presentations to the court will apply unless otherwise directed in advance or by the presiding judge. Where a party or legal representative wishes to make an intervention, permission should be sought by raising one’s hand.
- Each participant is at liberty to use the mechanisms of “gallery view” and “speaker view” or comparable mechanisms.
- All participants will address the court seated, unless otherwise directed by the court.
- Permission to confer privately may be requested of the presiding judge by a participant at any stage.
- The only permanent recording of the proceedings will be that made by the court. No-one is permitted to make any video or audio or other recording or image whatsoever of any part of the proceedings - this absolute prohibition includes a ‘screenshot’ or ‘screengrab’ and all like or related mechanisms.
- Any violation of the absolute prohibition is likely to be considered a contempt of the court in question with possible resulting imprisonment or other penalty and/or a criminal offence under The Coronavirus Act 2020.
- The formal commencement date of this Practice Direction is 29 May 2020. It will apply to every remote hearing going forward.
- The content and operation of the Interim Practice Direction will be reviewed from time to time and no later than 5 September 2020
The Courts in Northern Ireland continue to adapt quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic as the circumstances and lockdown measures continue to change. While the Northern Irish courts' remote short term capabilities continue to expand, the long term infrastructure looks like virtual hearings will be here to stay.
For more information on this topic please contact Stuart Nevin, Senior Associate or any member of A&L Goodbody's Litigation and Dispute Resolution team.
Date published: 17 June 2020