There are only two laws on the statute books for 2020 – the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 and the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020.
The recitals to the former Act make for sobering reading:
WHEREAS an emergency has arisen of such character that it is necessary for compelling reasons of public interest and for the common good that extraordinary measures should be taken to deal with the immediate, exceptional and manifest risk to human life and public health posed by the spread of the disease known as Covid-19;
AND WHEREAS the State is and its citizens are, in significant respects, highly exposed to the effect of the spread of the disease known as Covid-19; and having regard to the constitutional duty of the State to respect and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the rights of citizens to life and to bodily integrity, it is necessary to introduce a range of extraordinary measures and safeguards to prevent, minimise, limit or slow the risk of persons being infected with the disease known as Covid-19;
AND WHEREAS as a consequence it is necessary for the State to take the measures in this Act to address the emergency and to defend and vindicate the rights of citizens to life and to bodily integrity…
The latter Act changed the operation of a number of acts to mitigate where possible the effect of the spread of Covid 19 and to mitigate the adverse economic consequences resulting from the spread of that disease and to mitigate the adverse economic consequences resulting.
No changes were made to any family law statutes and the changes to family law arising from the Covid-19 emergency have come about as a result of the following:
1 The temporary restrictions on free movement of persons [and exceptions thereto] imposed by SI No 121 of 2020 and extended by s 2 of SI No 128/2020 until 5 May 2020 and further extended by SI No 155 of 2020, also known as the Health (Preservation and Protection and Other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 (Continuation of Part 2) Order 2020, until 19 June 2020. These temporary, but very significant restrictions affect family law and lawyers generally across all areas of practice.
2 The response of the Irish Courts Service and Judiciary to the Covid- 19 emergency, including statements and practice directions issued by the Presidents of the High Court, Circuit Court and District Court relevant to family law with a link to each statement/practice direction.
Based on the most recent statement of the Chief Justice and Presidents of the Courts on 8 May 2020 there is a gradual plan to reopen some courts. This will be based on the use of virtual remote court hearings and the organisation of more physical hearings in the coming weeks. Prior to any significant increase in the output of the courts taking place, the necessary safety measures must be in place.
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About the author:
Keith Walsh is a solicitor, practising mainly in the area of family law, member of Family Lawyers Association Covid 19 Response Steering Group, member and former chair of the Child and Family Law Committee of the Law Society, member of the Circuit Court Rules Committee, author of Divorce and Judicial Separation Proceedings in the Circuit Court: A Guide to Order 59, Bloomsbury Professional, 2019.