Ireland’s Best Law Firms 2023: Lawyers support the continued use of distance courts, but not in all case types

An overwhelming majority of lawyers support the continued use of remote courts, introduced as an emergency measure during the Covid-19 pandemic.

lmost 89pc of the respondents to the Sunday independent The “Best Law Firms 2023” survey found that online courts should remain in their own experience.

The main benefits cited in the survey conducted by Statista were increased efficiency, less time wasted going to court, and lower costs for clients.

However, there were reservations about the support voiced, with some lawyers saying remote hearings are appropriate for certain types of cases and not others.

The Courts Service first formulated plans for deploying virtual court technology in 2019, at which time it planned to roll it out as part of a 10-year strategy.

However, the pandemic-related lockdown in Ireland in March the following year almost immediately led to the introduction of remote hearings in civil cases to keep the higher courts open, while the use of video links to prisons was greatly expanded in the criminal courts.

Last year there were 38,176 video calls to courts across the country, more than half of which were video links between prisons and courts, reducing the need for prisoners to be physically present in court for brief trial hearings.

Though backlogs have inevitably built up in most courts, remote hearings in 2020 and a mix of in-person and distance hearings over the past year have allowed the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals to stay on track.

Remote hearings have been maintained in the High Court’s commercial, judicial review, non-jury, common law motions, district court and bankruptcy lists since the end of restrictions.

However, judges have also allowed physical or hybrid hearings in these lists.

Cross-examination cases were generally conducted in person rather than online.

According to the Courts Service, 104 courtrooms with video technology were in operation last year – a number that is expected to rise to 160 by 2026.

When asked why they supported the continued use of long-distance courts after the pandemic, the most common responses from lawyers were “convenience,” “efficiency,” and “time savings.”

“It’s very important for practitioners outside of Dublin to be able to work on files on court days instead of wasting a lot of time traveling,” said a lawyer.

“There is simply no reason to demand one-on-one attention as the work can clearly be done much more efficiently remotely. Not to mention the environmental impact of all the travel.”

Another practitioner said, “You save costs and witnesses don’t stand around all day waiting to be called to testify.”

One lawyer said: “Courts should do as much as possible with remote technology as it would create a more efficient court system.”

Other attorneys said remote hearings could be used to clear backlogs.

“It will reduce wasted time in court and hopefully speed up the overall process,” said one practitioner.

Another attorney said, “It saves time and resources for everyone involved, especially with routine or consent appearances.”

While the vast majority of respondents supported continued use, some practitioners qualified their support.

One said it should be used “in limited circumstances”.

“Procedural matters such as phone calls, directions and lists for making appointments can be dealt with without having to leave the office for a whole day,” the practitioner said.

Another said it was “suitable for some types of applications, but not all”.

The survey, in which 1,026 lawyers took part, was conducted by Statista between March and May of this year.

The manner in which attorneys have embraced remote hearings is at odds with the views of a significant cohort of attorneys.

A survey conducted by EY for the Bar of Ireland earlier this year found that 53 per cent of respondents felt the use of remote hearings had impacted their ability to develop their practice.

EY found that larger law firms were encroaching more into areas of traditional legal expertise, including advocacy and court representation.

The practice of distance negotiations and the increasing digitization of legal practice have accelerated this trend and a reversal is unlikely.

Newly qualified lawyers have also complained that the use of remote hearings limits their opportunities to gain experience in court. Ireland’s Best Law Firms 2023: Lawyers support the continued use of distance courts, but not in all case types

Fry Electronics Team

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