The impact of the first lock-down in March is beginning to have an effect on the court services with a reduced number of criminal cases coming before district courts in the county.
he lock-down slowed the delivery of summonses in Kerry and has now led to approximately 5,000 outstanding summonses to be delivered by An Garda Siochána to those who must attend court. This in turn has led to a low number of cases coming before the district courts in Kerry this month and in the coming months.
Last week in Kenmare District Court no criminal cases were heard, with three summonses before the court – two of which were for finalisation. These cases were struck out after it was confirmed that the required payment had been made in both cases. In the other case the accused had not been notified. Family law cases continued at the court and have formed much of the district courts work in recent months.
The lack of cases according to legal expert, Padraig O’Connell, will continue for some months, as the outstanding summonses must be delivered.
On average, he says, approximately 200 are now delivered a week but with a back-log of 5,000 in Kerry it will take some time to contact all those who must attend court.
An Garda Siochána are prioritising summonses for the more rural courts, which have seen the biggest drop-off in cases, while main town courts like Tralee and Killarney District Courts, are still hearing cases from some time ago.
Mr O’Connell, said while it is understood, that the delay in summonses is related to COVID-19, it is still important to ensure that all summonses are ‘statute compliant’ including ensuring that too much time has not elapsed.
The time period depends on the crime but for summary offence it must be within six months of the offence being committed.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said adding that this in time could become an issue before the courts.
Mr O’Connell also stated that the lock-down has also led to a drop in crime and therefore this too will affect the number of cases before the courts. He said there has been an appreciative drop in public order incidents and assault incidents, leading to a drop in such court cases.
When summonses are delivered and accused are aware of their court date it will still take some time before case are heard given the need for disclosure, the release of garda documents to solicitors to allow them prepare a defence for their client.
“It will be well in next summer before cases start to be heard,” Mr O’Connell said.