A record €3 billion was secured for the justice sector in last week’s budget 2021. This will fund key changes across the entire Justice sector including dealing with Covid. It will build on the July stimulus package for these purposes. The Minister is also in advanced discussions with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to secure additional funding for the remainder of 2020, including on further Covid related expenditure.
The €3 billion includes €27 million for Covid-related measures, including €13 million for PPE for An Garda Síochána. An additional €5.7 million has been made available in 2021 for the Courts Service including for additional premises in Dublin and regional locations to enable court sittings to take place in a socially distanced and safe environment. Some €8 million was also secured for year 1 of the Courts Service modernisation programme which will support increased use of technology and remote hearings. This funding will be allocated based on priority needs assessed by the Courts Service.
I am informed the Courts Service established a Covid response management team to ensure implementation of the Covid return to work safely protocols issued in May 2020. A Courts Service Covid-19 safety management programme was also developed. Actions which are included in that programme include template risk assessment processes, training, standard signage operating guidelines and other supporting protocols. Safety measures to be considered as part of risk assessment of venues include review of access, egress and requirements for screens. No substantial building works have been required to date in any courthouse, including Tralee, apart from the implementation of screens for courtrooms and public counters.
The Courts Service has examined the facilities in Tralee and has found that under the current 2 m social distancing requirements, the jury courtroom in Tralee cannot accommodate the required numbers of persons to run a Circuit Criminal Court trial. Venues where Circuit Criminal Court trials cannot be run, such as Tralee, will nonetheless be used to transact civil and family law business as well as criminal business for the District Court in the interim.
Several options for the provision of improved courthouse accommodation for Tralee remain under consideration to enable the Courts Service to meet its obligations to deliver a full range of court services in state-of-the-art facilities, for the benefit of the people of Kerry.