Recent guidance issued by the President of the Tribunals in Northern Ireland on the 24th February 2021 provides as follows:
The President has been informed by the Department that the Tribunals’ building will reopen on Tuesday 2 March 2021 for the following limited purposes: (a) for lodging hard copy paper bundles for hearings by prior arrangement with the Tribunals’ Secretariat; and (b) for staff and the Judiciary to carry out their administrative and judicial functions, which require access to hard copy files and records.
Members of the public and legal representatives should not attend the Tribunals’ building unless specifically required to do so.
Video conferencing equipment is currently being installed to allow for fully remote and/or hybrid final hearings (where cross examination of witnesses is required) to take place from the Tribunals’ building. The video conferencing system will require to undergo testing to ensure it is fit for purpose before it is commissioned for use in hearings as part of a pilot scheme. If this pilot is successful, further video conferencing equipment will be installed in other hearing rooms and the President has been informed that the commissioning of further equipment will take approximately six weeks from the successful completion of the pilot.
In addition, the Department has agreed to seek additional venues to allow fully in person hearings to take place, as soon as possible, where it is safe to do so.
Arrangements to facilitate public viewing (including by the press) can be made, if required, by contacting the Secretary to the Tribunals.
In light of the updated information provided, Review Case Management Preliminary Hearings will be arranged in all cases that have been listed for in person hearings up to the 16 April 2021/23 April 2021 approximately, to consider whether:-
- those hearings can proceed by electronic means; or
- those hearings should be postponed and relisted;
having due regard to the overriding objective, the views of the parties and the following:-
- whether the claim is contested; and
- if the claim is contested:-
(a) the complexity and the number of legal issues to be determined;
(b) whether it can be determined by legal submissions only;
(c) the number and nature of any factual disputes between the parties;
(d) the extent to which oral evidence will be required;
(e) the number of witnesses who will be called;
(f) the circumstances of parties and witnesses, including whether reasonable adjustments/special arrangements are necessary to ensure their effective participation;
(g) the volume of documents to which the Tribunal will be referred; and
(h) the date when the claim was presented.