Since the introduction of temporary measures within the criminal justice system to tackle the spread of Covid-19, one issue of immediate concern to defence practitioners was the continued operation of High Court bail applications. Such applications are ordinarily moved on the grounding affidavit of the applicant for bail, a procedure that instantly presented as a major roadblock to lodging High Court bails in the current climate. Government advice has dictated that practitioners avoid prison visits where possible and most firms are conducting all prison consultations via videolink at the moment. Naturally, practitioners were concerned that an inability to attend with our clients in the prison would lead to unnecessary and lengthy delays when it came to listing High Court bail applications. Courts Services have responded swiftly and pragmatically to this issue and at the beginning of the restrictions, the President of the High Court confirmed that the Central Office will accept affidavits completed in the name of the applicants’ solicitor for the currency of the crisis. This has had a very positive outcome in terms of reducing any delays which had existed prior to the Covid-19 outbreak.
The High Court Central office has adopted strong social distancing policies in order to avoid long queues and a crowded waiting room which can be the norm. A system whereby practitioners are being asked to email in to secure an appointment for the lodging of papers has now been introduced. Appointments are only being allocated at present for the most urgent of matters, a category into which High Court bail clearly falls. It is to their credit that the Court Service seem to be allocating appointments at relatively short notice for urgent matters. Within the Central Office, safety screens have been erected for the protection of staff and visitors.
Ordinarily, High Court bail applications take place in Cloverhill Courthouse but for the duration of the pandemic, they have been transferred to the Criminal Courts of Justice on Parkgate Street. The primary reason for this is to utilise the videolink facilities available within the CCJ. To facilitate safe practices and HSE guidelines all applications are now being heard by way of videolink and during the hearing of a case, only persons directly connected to the case can remain in the room. Everyone else is asked to remain outside the courtroom and adhere to the appropriate social distancing rules.
It is still the case that applicants on remand in Dublin prisons such as Cloverhill Prison and the Dochas Centre are being heard on a Tuesday, whereas remand prisoners located outside of Dublin in prisons such as Midlands and Limerick are having their applications heard on Thursdays.
Lists are particularly lengthy at the moment and applications can take that bit longer due to teething problems with the videolink technology so in order to alleviate this, there are now spill over sittings on Wednesdays and Fridays. There are also two courts sitting at any one time to hear the applications which ensures that the lists are running relatively smoothly in the circumstances.
One concern which had been flagged by practitioners is that of the inability to take brief, updated instructions from clients on the day of bail applications, if they are not to be produced in person. As any criminal practitioner will know, no matter how much preparation goes into a bail application, it is commonplace that last minute instructions may be necessary. It was therefore imperative that this could be facilitated from the CCJ. Provision has now been made in terms of phone consultations which link directly from your mobile to the videolink area in the relevant prison. While helpful, this system is far from ideal and does not always work out satisfactorily. To ensure that we are as prepared as possible, in KOD Lyons we are implementing a system of videolink consultations with our clients the preceding week before their application is being heard in order to obtain comprehensive instruction.
Here at KOD Lyons we are experts in High Court bail applications and in addition to moving applications for our own clients, we also undertake High Court bail applications on an agency basis for practitioners based around the country who are unable to travel to Dublin.