A number of criminal barristers have expressed concerns at how the criminal courts are operating during the Covid-19 public health emergency.

On social media several barristers reported large crowds of people at the Central Criminal Court in particular this morning, and a lack of social distancing or hand sanitiser.

Senior Counsel, Bernard Condon said on Twitter that the arrangements were unacceptable.

He said in an effort to keep numbers down in the courtroom, more than 50 people were standing outside in a narrower space for more than an hour. 

He said the lack of hand sanitiser was also dangerous.

And he called on those who were deciding that the courts should sit, to do better and provide safe conditions.

Barrister Morgan Shelley described more than 80 people in the atrium of the Criminal courts.

He said there 40 people in Court 6 - where the presiding judge in the Central Criminal Court sits, and 30 more outside courts 6 and 7.

He said there was no hand sanitiser in or near the courtrooms on the upper floors.

And he said the courtroom doors were closed so everyone had to touch the handles.

It was impossible he said to keep two metres away from others.  And he said the court business being done, could mostly have been done by email.

He claimed there was no notice that cases would be staggered so everyone had to cram into the courtroom to be told orally. 

And he said there people there from all over the country.  He described it as a mess.

Barrister, Tony McGillycuddy, said the courts service needed to address these concerns urgently.

He said arrangements in the civil courts had improved vastly. 

But he said there were difficulties in the criminal courts which did not appear to have been addressed adequately. 

A number of criminal trials are also coming to a conclusion in the CCJ. Jurors have been deliberating in the main courtrooms instead of their smaller jury rooms and have been sitting apart from each other. 

Separately the district court has heard that 12 prisoners at the Dochas Centre women's unit in Mountjoy prisoners are in isolation because of the Covid-19 crisis.

Solicitor Tracy Horan told Judge Brian Smyth about the situation at the women's unit, while asking him to take into account the pandemic when dealing with her client who is facing theft charges.

The Courts Service has acknowledged there was a "glitch in the situation" this morning in the criminal courts.

In a statement it said Mondays are the busiest day in the Central Criminal Court and last Monday the process worked well - three cases at a time were taken into the courtroom with the judge's assistant calling the cases from outside the door.

The same number of cases were listed today as last Monday. 

But the statement said, an unexpected emergency application interrupted the plan and led to an unforeseen gathering of people near the court.

The Courts Service said that as a result of what happened today, they had taken a number of measures to ensure it would not reoccur.  The statement said they would be in touch with the relevant organisations regarding how to reduce the numbers of legal representatives that need to be present in court.

The service said they were appreciative of everyone's co operation as they worked to maintain their "high successes in social distancing to date, and in improving areas where they had not yet achieved the optimum result".

The statement continued that the corridors in the CCJ are wide and spacious, and some direct management along with the measures taken to date would improve the situation from tomorrow morning.

From tomorrow the Courts Service intends to further stagger lists and let people know in advance when they are expected to be there.  And they will have staff on duty to organise those waiting into safe and social spacing patterns.

The Courts Service says there has already been a dramatic lessening of the numbers required to attend courts. Most cases have been adjourned and do not require participants to attend in court.