COVID-19 and Australian courts and legal bodies updates: 20 April

Here are the latest updates from Australia’s courts and legal bodies as the coronavirus pandemic continues

COVID-19 and Australian courts and legal bodies updates: 20 April

With remote working technology being rolled out across the nation, courts in all states and territories have updated their plans of action as below.

Federal Court of Australia
In person hearings are suspended except under exceptional circumstances and with prior approval from the Chief Justice. Otherwise, appeals before the Full Court are to be conducted via electronic means.

The full court may also grant leave to parties to provide short statements via video conferencing at a date to be set, and matters may be determined on the papers in some cases.

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Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court
Judges, registrars and family consultants are able to conduct hearings electronically via Microsoft Teams.

Urgent matters will be prioritized, and family consultants will do face-to-face interviews only in very exclusive circumstances. For open court proceedings, the public may either listen to or view them by emailing the Judge’s Chambers, case coordinator or regional appeals registry for a link or dial in no later than 8:30am AEST on the morning of the hearing in question.

Appeals to the Family Court may still be filed, but only via email. A Digital Court File system has also been implemented effective 14 April. For listed matters that cannot be settled by telephone or audio-visual link (AVL) technology, they may be vacated or adjourned.

New South Wales
District Court

The media may obtain a web link to view virtual court proceedings by requesting access via email.

Local Court

Listing adjustments have been set to dates in August and the fall.

For early appropriate guilty plea matters to be finalised summarily in the Local Court, defendants and their legal representation need not appear in person if their representatives have been given full instruction. The advice may be sent via email to the court and the director of public prosecutions.

Supreme Court

To limit the travel required for circuit sittings, both the Supreme and County Courts are looking to implement virtual hearings. Mediations will also proceed via electronic means.

Civil matters will proceed via Webex, Skype, or Zoom, whereas criminal proceedings will commence only via Webex or AVL technology. For civil proceedings, the Supreme Court may accept unsworn affidavits if it is indicated that the document cannot be sworn due to COVID-19 measures. Moreover, both the deponent and the lawyer must be prepared to affirm the document once circumstances allow. Documents may be filed electronically in response to subpoena.

The court has adjourned in-person applications for admission to the legal profession, and developed a process to admit new lawyers “on the papers.”

County Court

Criminal jury trials will not proceed until juries can convene; the court will concentrate on “indictable pleas and sentences, sentence appeals from the Magistrates’ Court, appropriate pre-trial hearings and the case management of vacated jury trials.”

Magistrates’ Court

Matters will no longer be adjourned to a nominal date of 15 June – instead, the court will send a notice with a new date set for later in the year. Bail will be extended without requiring a personal appearance from the defendant.

Supreme, District and Land Courts

The courts will not provide any direct counter services, and documents for filing are to be sent by post. The drop box in the Registry foyer may only be used to file urgent documents.

Magistrates Court

Hearings for Gympie district matters will take place in Maroochydore unless otherwise directed.

Western Australia
Supreme Court

The court has vacated all jury trials listed for commencement in April, May and June for listing in a status conference to be held in July. However, trials by judge alone for this period will commence as listed.

Hearings for applications for trial by judge alone will take place based on priority. If the application is heard, the trial will be listed for commencement as soon as practicable in either May or June.

South Australia

Supreme Court

Affidavits must be witnessed in person as much as practicable, but if it cannot be done for health or logistical reasons, a deponent must submit his/her unsworn affidavit to a solicitor, who will then present the document to the court with his/her own affidavit. The deponent will be obliged to file the sworn document once it is practicable to do so.

Magistrates’ Court

The court will not accept documents being handed up during a hearing – documents less than 10 pages long should be emailed to the Registry before the hearing, while documens longer than 10 pages should be filed to the Registry the day before.

All directions hearings are to proceed by email or phone. For the conference return date, conciliation conferences may also be held at a venue that is not a court precinct before the listed date, with parties providing their consent orders to the Registry via email. Alternatively, they may provide a phone number through which they can be reached at the hearing.

Mediations are being held by phone, but there is a plan to transition to video conferencing software.

Magistrates’ Court

With restrictions being placed on movement in northwest Tasmania, the court will still be sitting in Burnie and Devonport.

Australian Capital Territory
Supreme Court

With the exception of Court of Appeal books, documents should be filed via the court’s e-lodgment portal. If a document cannot be filed through the portal, it should be provided via email, post or drop box.

Court of Appeal books must be lodged via drop box – if the books are too large, the person filing the documents must contact a staff member to collect them. Affidavits, annexures and exhibits must be kept to below 50 pages as much as possible.

Civil hearings will go on as listed and mediations will proceed as normal. Mediation suites will have AV facilities for parties who cannot make the hearing. Criminal case conferences will continue, with the option for remote appearances.

All pre-trial criminal and civil applications will be heard by a judge or associate judge via phone or AVL unless otherwise ordered. Jury trials have been suspended until further notice, and parties will be notified if there is a proposal for matters to proceed via judge alone. In this case, documents must be submitted within seven days of the notice. If parties object to such a trial, the matter will be fixed for determination.

At in-person hearings, counsel may use mobile phones to communicate with solicitors and clients as long as the phones are muted. Proceedings will not be adjourned for isolated parties, and if an isolated practitioner cannot take part remotely, he/she must appoint a substitute. Witnesses may provide evidence remotely.

In the event that a litigant or witness is ill, the party may apply for adjournment via email.

Court of Appeal

Court sittings in May will continue, and parties may either appear in person or remotely via telephone. AVL appearances will be permitted only if the court is satisfied with the reliability of the connection. Mobile phones will be allowed only if there is no landline.

Magistrates’ Court

Effective 30 March, the court is transitioning to a reduced activity setup.

The Registry will not be accepting over-the-counter documents for civil matters. Urgent applications may be lodged via drop box for those who do not have email access; otherwise, documents should be filed via e-lodgment, email or post.

Court appeals will be heard via telephone or AVL unless otherwise ordered. A number of matters listed for commencement before 1 July are vacated, including final hearings. Parties will be given notice of new listing dates in due time. All enforcement matters are on hold until 1 July.

Court-mandated mediations up to and including 17 April will take place via telephone or AVL only; mediations listed for after 20 April and before 1 July are vacated. For remote appearances, parties or their representatives should get in touch with the Registry on or before 3:00pm on the business day before a list.

Childrens’ Court

Documents will not be received over the counter; they must be sent via email or post. In the case of urgent matters, hard copies may be filed via drop box.

Listing hearings and final hearings set for before 1 July are vacated, but case management conferences for care matters will carry on as listed via telephone.

Northern Territory
Local Court

Hearings scheduled until June 2020 will be vacated, and non-custodial hearings are re-listed for case management inquiry. Set conditions are orders will resume until further notice, and the situation will be re-evaluated after June 2020.

This measure also applies to matters being heard in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.

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