Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Department of Justice and Equality
372. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the consideration given to amending the process for affirming oaths while Covid-19 restrictions are in place to allow this be done remotely; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11260/20]
I am aware that concerns have been raised about the requirement for affidavits to be signed and witnessed in person in the context of the current Covid-19 public health emergency. I also appreciate that the current pandemic is an anxious and challenging time for many people and organisations.
There are statutory provisions that refer to the taking of affidavits, including section 5 of the Commissioners for Oaths Act 1889 and section 72 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1994. Furthermore, rules and procedures for the taking of affidavits are set out in Order 40 Rule 5 of the Superior Courts Rules, Order 25 Rule 1 of the Circuit Court Rules and Order 50 Rule 2 of the District Court Rules. Legislative changes would be required before changes in those procedures and rules could be brought about and only following careful consideration.
The Government approved drafting of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020 in January last. It contains proposals to amend a number of courts-related Acts, including proposals for electronic submission and lodgement of documents and for a statement of truth mechanism.
The Bill is being drafted at present. In addition, my Department is currently examining statutory reforms in order to respond to the new challenges and address various issues connected to the legal process arising in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic.
The Interpretation Act 2005 defines the word “oath” to allow a person to affirm instead of swearing an oath. Any person who objects to taking an oath on the ground that they have no religious belief or that the taking of an oath is contrary to their religious belief may make an affirmation instead of taking an oath.
Providers of legal services, like many businesses and organisations throughout the country that need to engage directly with the public must do so in compliance with public health guidelines. The Health and Safety Authority, the Health Service Executive (HSE), the Department of Health, and the Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation have published extensive information on working safely during the current health emergency. The Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation have also established a helpline to support and advise businesses in adapting to the current challenges.
I appreciate that these are difficult times for everyone and I would like to acknowledge the commitment, flexibility and innovation demonstrated by all involved in safely delivering continuity of access to justice during the current public health emergency.