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Full court sittings set to resume tomorrow

It was announced yesterday that sittings would only be two hours long, but on foot of new advice that is set to change.
May 21st 2020, 11:18 AM 27,430 17

THE COURTS SERVICE has said that there is no need to limit hearings to two hours and that from tomorrow hearings will be held for longer periods. 

The news comes after the Courts Service received advice on the subject of the length of sittings.

An initial decision to limit the length of hearings was made after public health advice was given to TDs about whether they could conduct committees (which began this week).

That advice said that TDs could spend no longer than two hours in the Dáil chamber – even if each person is at least two metres apart -  in order to comply with public health advice. If they spend more than 2 hours together indoors, they would be considered close contacts.

On foot of this, the Courts Service said that it had sought “urgent further advices” on the matter, and had decided to restrict court sittings to two hours long. 

Today, the Courts Service indicated it would be changing its approach back to normal sitting times from tomorrow, based on new advice.

CEO of the Courts Service, Angela Denning, wrote to staff outlining current advice. She wrote that the public health advice received by the Courts Service had clarified questions about the two-hour rule – confirming that “from an infection control perspective, there is no need to limit court sessions to 2 hours”. 

Paraphrasing the guidance from Prof Martin Cormican from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, she said that a two-hour rule “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”. 

However, a record of anyone who is in a courtroom for more than two hours is to be maintained in case contact tracing is required. 

The Court Service has also assessed the number of people who can be safely accommodated in each courtroom. 

Politicians had raised concerns about the two-hour advice being unclear. Last night, some clarity was brought to the matter when the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn said that the two-hour guidance isn’t the same as saying that businesses around the country are being discouraged from having people in the same room for more than two hours. 

He told yesterday’s Department of Health briefing that it’s “not surprising there’s confusion” on the matter because it’s “quite technical”. 

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Essentially, it all comes down to the fact that if a person spent two hours or more in a room with someone who subsequently was confirmed to have the virus, it could be the case they would be considered a close contact and they would have to isolate for 14 days. 

Yesterday, Dr Glynn said that his message to employers would be to limit contact between employees to minimise the risk of them catching and spreading Covid-19. He said that by keeping any meetings to less than two hours this would minimise the risk of the virus spreading.

“Everything we’re doing is a balance of risk and benefit,” he said. “It’s the same for all sectors of society.”

- Additional reporting Sean Murray's coronavirus newsletter cuts through the misinformation and noise with the clear facts you need to make informed choices. Sign up here

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Aoife Barry


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