The chief executive of the Courts Service has said the use of 'remote courts' and video technology has allowed two of the country's highest courts to remain up to date with many proceedings over the last number of months.

Angela Denning told RTÉ's News at One that when closures began, the Courts Service reduced hearings to emergency applications only.

She said the increased use of videolink to prisons prevented prisoners being moved to courthouses.

This was combined with the use of video meeting room technology to establish 'remote courts' and these dealt with straightforward applications.

Ms Denning said "that has helped us keep entirely up to date in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Cour" in cases where witnesses were not required.
 
The first jury trial began this week in Dublin and some personal injury cases around the country have also gone ahead.

For the jury trial to take place this week, she explained that the Courts of Criminal Justice has used multiple court rooms for one trial and the jury members are spread out around the courtroom in designated seating. 

Other witnesses are in another courtroom using video technology to link into the trial.

She said it has been a huge learning curve for the Courts Service and as it goes forward it will continue to impose capacity limits in courtrooms and staggered lists for hearings to reduce the numbers present.

Ms Denning said that plans are in place to return to court sittings from October, with a range of new safety protocols in place to allow increased criminal trials and family law work get underway.


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She said that it has identified court rooms and courthouses where it can safely accommate juries.

In courts where jury trials are not feasible under public health guidelines, civil and family work will continue.

She said the Courts Service may need to rent space in Dublin to accommodate some trials.

Ms Denning was speaking as the Courts Service published its annual report for 2019, which showed there was a 30% increase in applications for interim barring orders.

Ms Denning said this was "surprising" but was reflected last year in the busyness of public offices and family law facilities.

Among these barring order applications was an increase in applications from elderly parents who are living with adult children.

The report also showed a 40% drop in new bankruptcies, which reflected a more buoyant economy and improved debt repayments in 2019.

There was also a fall in possession cases by banks and institutions, which Ms Denning said would indicate that people had managed to re-finance.

There was also a 10% increase in the number of domestic violence applications in 2019.

CEO of Women's Aid Sarah Benson said: "We are seeing progress in the system but it is a system that still needs hard work to ensure a more victim-centered approach."

Speaking to RTÉ's Drivetime, she said there is an "opening up of the conversation around domestic violence", she said, but the proportion of barring orders which have been granted, compared with the number of applications made, is a cause of concern, she said.

Ms Benson said she hoped that more victims of rape would report the crime to gardaí after seeing heavier sentences imposed on perpetrators.

The annual Court Service report found that 63% of convicted rapists this year received a sentence of more than ten years.

Ms Benson said further examination of each case is needed to understand the nature of such cases.