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Courts Service 'disappointed and appalled' at large crowd that turned out at Four Courts

It said the people endangered themselves, gardaí, court staff and court users to infection.

Image: Graham Hughes/Photocall Ireland!

THE COURTS SERVICE said that it is “disappointed and appalled” that people chose to attend a court case today at the Four Courts in large numbers.

It said that the people did so “despite not being required to be there – and thus endangered themselves, Gardaí, court staff, and court users to infection”.

The statement reads:

We are disappointed and appalled that people chose, or organised, today to attend in large numbers, despite not being required to be there – and thus endangered themselves, Gardaí, court staff, and court users to infection.

The statement comes after a group of up to 100 people gathered in the Round Hall of the Four Courts this afternoon ahead of a High Court hearing. 

The large group was also pictured congregating outside the Four Courts with many waving the Irish flag. 

The High Court hearing related to a legal challenge being taken against emergency Covid-19 measures passed by the Oireachtas

The supporters of those taking today’s legal challenge were not permitted to enter court due to social distancing guidelines introduced by the Chief Justice and the Presidents of the Courts arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

An application to let some or all of those persons into the courtroom was dismissed by Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy.

The judge said the case was being heard in public and was being reported on by the media. The applicants expressed their dissatisfaction over the court’s decision.

When asked whether there had been any arrests in relation to this incident, An Garda Síochána said “We had no reports of any arrests for this location today.”

‘Be sensible’

Gareth Noble, a partner of human rights law firm KOD Lyons, specialises in child law and disability and was due to have a hearing in the Four Courts today. However, this case was not heard due to the gathering, he said.

He told TheJournal.ie that his team were advised not to proceed today with an intended application on behalf of a child with special needs. The application sought to enforce his rights under the Disability Act for a completed assessment of need to help inform the services and supports arising from his disability.

“The matter was listed by the courts service as an urgent application today,” said Noble. “As a result of a gathering inside the round hall of the Four Courts who displayed zero regard for public health advice and social distancing we were prevented from safely entering the court.”

“Our clients’ rights to access the justice system today were compromised by that gathering. I am grateful to the courts service in facilitating us in bringing the application again this week,” said Noble.

The Courts Service said that every day the numbers in court are managed before any sitting starts.

It said that “at this time of great public peril and threat to national health, we implore the public to be sensible and not gather in numbers in court houses”.

“Regulations allow attendance where necessary at court sittings – specifically to fulfil a legal obligation to attend court – as being a permissible reason to travel outside the 2 km current norm.”

Safe spaces need to be maintained for those who are summonsed to attend court or who need to work there. But the public should be reassured that courts remain open to deal with urgent, emergency, and custody matters.

Under regulations signed by the Minister for Health to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, members of the public should not leave their homes except for specific reasons including buying food or exercising within 2km of their home.

Individuals are allowed to leave their home to attend court if it to fulfill a legal obligation but the regulations do not allow for those attending court to sit in the public gallery.

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Barristers and solicitors are also allowed to leave their homes also permitted to leave their homes as these professions are deemed to be essential.

Journalists also permitted to leave their homes and therefore have the ability to report on court proceedings. 

The Courts Service has introduced a number of measures in recent to reduce crowding in court buildings, such as staggering start times and  increasing the use of video technology

The Courts Service has also published guidance in the past week informing members of the public that they should only attend its offices “for urgent business only by appointment”. 

In its statement today, it said that access to Justice is being maintained and that all persons attending court buildings are alerted of the need to maintain social distancing by public notices.

The Courts Service said that it has “been to the fore in accommodating the need to limit gatherings which might affect the nation’s health and response to Covid 19, while respecting regulations and expert advice in dealing with necessary cases”.

Meanwhile, Gardaí today said they had observed a “high compliance” by members of the public since the restrictions had been brought in. 

- Additional reporting Aoife Barry

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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