Over one million remote links in Northern Ireland courts since pandemic began
More than a million audio or video connections have been made for remote and hybrid hearings in the Northern Ireland courts between the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 and the end of December 2021.
The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) said 56 courtrooms are now digitally enabled for remote and hybrid hearings. Some 16 court venues on the NICTS estate are currently operational, with only the two smallest hearing centres, Limavady and Magherafelt, remaining closed.
Justice minister Naomi Long visited NICTS’s headquarters at Laganside House and the Laganside Courts complex this week to meet with staff who have delivered services throughout the pandemic.
“Almost two years on from the arrival of the coronavirus, it is appropriate to acknowledge the role that everyone in the justice system has played to keep services functioning whilst following the public safety guidance,” she said.
“This is especially true of staff who have worked tirelessly alongside the judiciary and the legal profession to respond to the pandemic at pace. The vast majority of staff have been administrating justice and serving the people of Northern Ireland from their workplaces five days a week throughout the pandemic, whilst others have continued to provide services from home or through blended working to help facilitate social distancing in the workplace.
“Their responsiveness, commitment and adaptability has ensured that courts and tribunals have continued, whilst utilising new technology to deliver a range of business, including remote hearings.”
During the visit to Laganside House, the minister met Coroners Service, Fine Collection and Enforcements staff, as well as members of the ICT and estates teams who have played a key role in helping colleagues maintain courts and tribunals business.
She also viewed a Magistrates Court sitting using a remote link while visiting Laganside Courts and met Courts Operations staff.
She said: “We should recognise the huge effort that NICTS staff and the judiciary have put in to recovering courts and tribunals business during the various phases of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Across many areas courts have increased the number of hours and sittings to a level which is now higher than in the same period prior to the pandemic. That has been achieved in the most challenging of circumstances, thanks to the resilience and dedication of staff, as well as the judiciary and tribunal panel members.
”Challenges will remain as society adjusts to the relaxation of Covid restrictions and as courts and tribunals address case backlogs amid a changing public health landscape. However we are fortunate to have courts and tribunals staff and a judiciary who are dedicated to improving access to justice.”