In a statement released Monday, Chief Justice Frank Clarke announced the first remote hearing of the Supreme Court, acknowledging it as the first of many in the coming weeks and months.
Remote court sittings were held in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.
These remote hearings are a direct response to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the necessity to deliver continued court services. The novel scheme for online remote court hearings was announced in a statement released by Chief Justice Frank Clarke and the Court Presidents on 31st March 2020.
Since then, both systems testing and remote mock court sittings with barristers, solicitors and courts staff completed with enough success to allow the court to commence remote hearings. A draft guidance circulated to participants on the mock hearings will be revised and shortly issued.
Remote court sittings will suit most cases in the Supreme Court, many in the Court of Appeal and some types of High Court proceedings but only “a limited number of cases in the District and Circuit Court”. The Chief Justice recognised the difficult caseload of the District Court because of urgent criminal trials and family hearings in challenging conditions.
While recognising the importance of remote court hearings, he also referenced the new Practice Direction issued on 16 April last which introduced a move towards significant electronic lodgement and filing of documents.
Statement of case
The Chief Justice also referred to the possible circulation of either or both of a “statement of case” and a “clarification request” by the court in advance of the oral hearing. The statement of case would “set out the court’s understanding of the facts, the relevant findings of the courts which have dealt with the case, the issues which arise on the appeal and the positions of the parties on those issues.”
If a statement of case was issued 10 to 14 days before a hearing, clarifications on unclear matters would be sought in advance, reducing the need for interventions from the court for purely clarification purposes. This procedure was already being considered before the Covid-19 pandemic but it is being expedited now as a result of current circumstances.
It was noted that adoption of this practice would also mean it would be a “short while before most substantive appeals can go ahead under this new process. Some initial appeals have been identified and the parties concerned will shortly be contacted about the possibility of cases commencing to be heard under the new procedures in the weeks commencing May 11th.”
Remote court hearings will continue, and other directions reviewed to be implemented in the coming weeks.
The full statement of Chief Justice, Frank Clarke, is available here
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