The government has moved to fix a gap in powers of the superintendent of public health which if not fixed could cause chaos in the courts including allowing persons charged with crimes to walk free because of a technicality.

The issue was first raised by this website in a 15 March post, the day after the government published regulations that said the superintendent of public health ordered the courts shut down for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. The order for the courts to shut down is firmly within the existing powers of the superintendent. However, the superintendent also ordered the suspension of time limits provided in the law for people or the government to respond or act on court orders.

Such power to suspend legal time limits does not exist anywhere in the law and experts told this website the order to suspend legal time limits was likely illegal. As such the order would be null allowing parties in court cases to face consequences for allowing, through no fault of their own, legal deadlines to expire.

This website suggested on Sunday that such powers would need to be provided for in the law and parliament could be asked to rush changes through to ensure legal certainty. In fact, Health Minister Chris Fearne yesterday proposed the first reading of a law that gives the superintendent the power to issue the order she issued last week to suspend time lines required for court proceedings.

After agreement with the parliamentary opposition, the change to the law is expected to be rushed through all remaining stages in parliament today.

The government stated in the bill to be discussed in parliament that it intends “to clarify and avoid doubt about the extent of authority given to the superintendent of public health” specifying that the law will now give the superintendent to order the suspension of court timelines.

The bill also provides for an increase in penalties for disobeying orders from the superintendent establishing a €10,000 fine for people that tested positive for coronavirus that ignore public health instructions to isolate themselves.