For those of us used to regularly attending the County Courts prior to onset of the coronavirus pandemic the recent upsurge in cases being listed once again comes as a welcome relief.
Unsurprisingly attending Court in more recent times is a vastly different experience to that which we remember pre-pandemic. For starters we have seen far fewer cases listed in individual courthouses than would ordinarily have been the case. Parties must notify the Court in advance as to issues in the case and the number of attendees via a HR1 Form (which must be submitted 14 days prior to the listing date) and all must ensure they comply with the maximum capacity notices which are clearly displayed outside each room within the Courthouse.
The days of handing in colour photographs, caselaw extracts or other forms of evidence to the Court for the Judge’s attention now seem to be well and truly over. Instead such evidence should be sent in an electronic format where possible and large hearing bundles should be sent to the Court at least three days in advance and, where possible, witnesses should ensure they bring their own Bible or other holy book when swearing on oath. The objective here is to ensure the safety of Court staff, security, the Judiciary and Court users in minimizing the level of physical contact as much as possible.
It is important to ensure your client and witnesses are aware of these restrictions in advance. Attending Court can be an anxious and intimidating prospect for some and avoiding any additional uncertainty on the day will be beneficial for all concerned.
Of further note is the increasingly frequent use of Sightlink for Remote Hearings and Reviews. This process allows solicitors, counsel and clients the ability to connect to a particular Courtroom via a video conferencing solution. The Court Office will advise participants of which SightLink is to be used for their specific case and the scheduled time the case has been listed for in advance.
If using for the first time we would recommend that users test their Sightlink prior to their allotted time so as to ensure any technical issues in connecting (be it hardware or internet connection) can be ironed out in advance. The Court Service and Law Society offer useful technical advice on how to connect via an array of different devices and we would recommend that you consult the following document in advance:- https://www.lawsoc-ni.org/for-the-urgent-attention-of-all-court-practitioners-1st-june-2020
Whilst the procedure for attending Court or remote participation is in many ways drastically different to what we may have been used to there are clear benefits to this ‘new normal’ and we at Murphy O’Rawe will stay closely tuned to any further developments in the months ahead.