Everyone attending the High Court for hearings involving oral evidence has been asked to wear a facemask unless they have a medical or other welfare reason for not doing so.
New practice directions issued by the President of the court, Ms Justice Mary Irvine, also stipulate that negotiations involving the parties in a case cannot take place on court premises.
Negotiations “must be held at a different venue, preferably in the weeks or days in advance of the hearing.
“Any negotiations as may take be required on the day of the hearing must take place beyond the precincts of the courthouse.”
The new practice directions come a fortnight after the newly appointed head of the court issued a request, by way of a video hosted on the Courts Service website, that those parties who felt in a position to do so, should settle their cases.
“A substantial number of claims only settle on the day they are listed for hearing,” she said in the video.
“In practical terms this means that if cases cannot be listed for hearing [because of Covid-19], they will neither be fought nor settled but will remain in limbo.”
In two new sets of practice directions for cases involving oral evidence and personal injury cases, Ms Justice Irvine said that people attending the court must comply with public health advice, in particular, in relation to frequent hand washing and respiratory etiquette.
Everyone on a court premises should stay the required two metres apart, and anyone feeling the symptoms associated with Covid-19 should not attend court.
“Each courtroom has been assessed for capacity having regard to Covid-19 restrictions. The number of persons who can be accommodated in any courtroom will appear on the door and that number may never be exceeded.”
Any additional people concerned with the case should wait beyond the precincts of the courthouse until required, and solicitors should ensure that they only summon to court those witnesses likely to be heard on any given day, the judge said.
Once a case is over, everyone concerned must leave the building promptly. Those involved in the next case will not be allowed to enter the building until it is cleared of everyone involved in the previous case.
The judge has asked parties to agree as much as possible prior to the beginning of the case. She also said that for track and trace purposes, solicitors are to draft lists of all those professionals, witnesses and parties who attend for hearings. This information will be given to the court registrar at the end of the hearing, and kept for 14 days before being destroyed.