The Labour Court will be relying on a combination of physical and virtual hearings for the foreseeable future because of the Covid-19 virus. 

Speaking as the Court's 2019 Annual Report was published today, chairman Kevin Foley said the Court's capacity to convene hearings in a physical courtroom had been "severely curtailed" during the current public health crisis. 

For that reason, the court had rapidly created the capacity to hear cases "fairly" in a technology-based virtual courtroom. 

"The critical issue for the Court in making arrangements for the hearing of disputes in the current situation has been to ensure fairness and correctness of procedure so that all users can make their case to the Court and respond to any case made against them.

"We are satisfied that the virtual Court-rooms we have created meet that standard," Mr Foley said. 

He forecast that for the medium term, hearings will be delivered using a combination of physical and virtual courtrooms. 

Mr Foley confirmed that when a limited number of courtrooms in the Court's Lansdowne House building in Dublin return to operational use next month, priority will be afforded to appeals and referrals judged by the Court, most often in consultation with the parties, not to be suitable for hearing in a virtual courtroom. 

"The Court is anxious to restore a capacity, however limited, to hear appeals in a physical courtroom as soon as possible, and to that end we are working extremely hard to deliver best practice compliance with Return to Work Safely protocols," Mr Foley said. 

He thanked all stakeholders who had helped to create the virtual courtrooms which came into operation on 2 June. 

During 2019, the Labour Court received 1,182 appeals and referrals - up slightly on 2018.

Referrals in relation to industrial disputes rose by a fifth - from 399 in 2018 to 479 last year. 

However, the number of employment rights appeals fell by 8.7% from 770 in 2018 to 703 in 2019.

The Court said it expects similar volumes of referrals/appeals in 2020, and has noted no significant decrease during the current crisis.

Last year, 60% of referrals to the court were based on employment rights, with the remainder relating to industrial relations issues. 

According to CSO figures, there were 9 industrial disputes last year involving 42,656 workers. 

The Labour Court Chairman said this relatively low level of trade dispute activity confirmed the effectiveness of Ireland's voluntarist workplace dispute resolution framework.