On Wednesday 20th May last the judiciary announced the courts were going to restrict physical court sittings to a maximum of two hours each day, pending further advice. This position was adopted in response to advice from Professor Martin Cormican of University Hospital Galway.
However, the Chief Executive of the Courts Service, Angela Denning, said the service have been advised there was no need to limit court sessions to two hours and it is understood the courts have resumed sittings for longer than that period as of this week. Professor Cormican subsequently advised the Courts Service that limiting sittings to two hours “is likely to make essentially no material difference to the current risk of acquiring COVID-19 provided good workplace controls on presenting to work when ill and good hygiene are in place”.
Although the 2-hour time limit has been discarded, tight restrictions remain in relation to those attending court and those who do attend will have their name and contact details recorded for contact tracing purposes under new measures introduced. These latest measures are necessary to allow full physical court sittings to resume. Professor Cormican has commented that, as a “pragmatic rule of thumb”, people “may be considered appropriate for tracing, testing and self-isolation if they have been in a room with a person who tests positive for more than two hours within a day”.
In response to this, the Courts Service and the Chief Justice Frank Clare said they would put in place a procedure for recording the identity and contact details of all those who attend court. Due to the fact that the public have access to the courtroom without ordinarily being identified, and in normal circumstances a court would have no means of knowing who was in attendance, other than those representing either party who would announce their appearance, it is submitted these measures are needed.
These measures are clearly impacted by the General Data Protection Regulation and other relevant legislation and the Courts Service is currently seeks advice to ensure that details are treated in accordance with privacy rights. It is submitted this new procedure is currently active and will remain in place for the foreseeable future.