All court sittings in Northern Ireland are to be gradually reduced from Monday after legal practitioners were informed by the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, that "these are exceptional and unprecedented times".
Meanwhile, during yesterday’s sitting of Londonderry Magistrate’s Court, District Judge Nigel Broderick wore sterilised rubber gloves throughout the sitting.
In his email to Northern Ireland’s barristers and solicitors, Sir Declan said the changes would generally see cases being undertaken remotely either by email, telephone, video or Skype.
The Lord Chief Justice said he issued the email after taking advice from the Public Health Agency.
“Where the requirements of fairness and justice require a court based hearing, and it is safe to conduct one, then a court based hearing should take place.
“However the judge may limit the number of persons present in court at any one time. A party or legal representative should notify the court office of the means by which they will engage with the court,” the email stated.
“Judges will work with operational and listing staff to identify priorities, taking account of the resources and the practical arrangements that can be implemented safely. These are exceptional and unprecedented times.
“Further consideration may have to be given in the coming weeks to rationalising the court venues”, it added.
Elsewhere, District Judge Broderick told the court in Derry, in which 21 people were present, that the concept behind the guidelines was that while the courts were not closing entirely, people could instead communicate by email, phone or letter.
“I know every day the circumstances change so I would advise people to check online,” he said.