Pre- and post-Covid, the challenges facing The Courts Service of Ireland when it comes to efficiently and safely operating trials are many. While the global pandemic has accelerated some of these challenges, the transportation of prisoners for trials, time spent travelling extensive distances to attend short hearings and facilitating interaction between legal representatives and their clients are ongoing costly issues that needed to be urgently addressed.
Through a partnership with Fitting Image AV Sales Ltd, The Courts Service of Ireland has undertaken a rapid transformation that has seen cutting edge technology facilitate safe, secure and cost-effective trials in multiple locations across Ireland. This has allowed the Courts to continue operations during the pandemic.
Speaking about the issues facing the Criminal Courts, and the solutions provided by Fitting Image, Angela Denning, CEO of the Courts Service, said:
“We have been challenged across the country to try and facilitate criminal trials, in suitable and safe locations amidst our responsibilities to keep courts operational and staff, the Judiciary, jurors and court users safe.”
The cost of transferring prisoners in particular is hefty; according to a study conducted by the Irish Prison Service (IPS) in 2018, prisoner taxi fares to Court cost over €500,000 in taxpayer money. As the Criminal Court is located in Dublin, prisoners have to travel extensive distances just to appear for their hearing, no matter how brief.
Using the phone as a substitute for in-person trials has proven logistically challenging and is an unsuitable alternative in many cases. The benefit of virtual Courts is that it more accurately simulates usual court proceedings and allows for more interaction between parties. Using virtual Courts will accommodate most types of hearings, however, we must remember that they will not be suitable for all.
Additional costs to the Criminal Court include facilitating jurors and covering their meals and accommodation. This has been particularly challenging during Covid, as social distancing protocols and regular tests have eaten into the already tight budget. Virtual jurors have been an effective solution to having all jurors appear physically in Court. Audio Visual fit-outs, such as the ones Fitting Image provide, are perfect to overcome this issue. The system must work perfectly, however, and no technical glitches can afford to arise during proceedings. This is why we have a 24-hour helpline and service our systems regularly.
Although virtual Court hearings make sense, it has taken Covid-19 to fulfil this desire due to circumstance. Like many functions of society, we now know it is possible to use virtual systems to replace in-person meetings. This is one of the few benefits of the pandemic. Looking into the future, we hope to continue to develop our Audio Visual services with the Irish Courts System and integrate more technology to save costs and improve everyday function.