Here are the latest updates from Australia's courts and legal bodies as the pandemic continues
With the COVID-19 Delta variant sweeping across the country, more than half of Australia’s population is currently under lockdown. Here’s how the Australian courts have adapted to the restrictions.
Public counters are closed, and face-to-face services are permitted only in urgent circumstances following an initial assessment by telephone, according to the website of the attorney-general’s department.
Face-to-face services in the Federal Court’s Victoria, ACT, and NSW registries have been suspended until 24 September, 20 September, and 1 October, respectively. The registries will only offer services online and via phone.
The Family Court is conducting urgent applications and other hearings, including those on the National COVID-19 List, remotely via telephone or Microsoft Teams in areas affected by the pandemic. In the event that in-person appearances are necessary, the court will require the bare minimum of attendants at the registry and in the courtroom.
“The courts continue to provide access to justice in a timely and responsive way whilst balancing this against the public health directions and necessary restrictions to protect our staff and our community,” Chief Justice Will Alstergren said in a 20 August update. “Families can be reassured to know that they are not alone and if they cannot resolve their disputes independently, they should seek help from the many support services that are available, or contact the courts which are open and here to assist.”
Face-to-face services have been suspended until 13 September for the Wollongong and Newcastle registries and until 1 October for the Sydney and Parramatta registries.
Fair Work Commission
The Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne, and Sydney counters are operating remotely. All staff conciliations and mediations are being held by phone conference; moreover, hearings and conferences are being conducted by phone or videoconference where possible. Those cases not suitable to be held remotely have been temporarily postponed.
New South Wales
Matters in the Supreme Court are being conducted by audio-visual link (AVL) until 30 September. Although current criminal trials will continue, new trials are suspended.
The court has also updated its fact sheet for virtual courtroom participants in line with recent upgrades to its system.
The public counter remains closed, and documents may be filed through the online registry or email, and the public counter will remain closed.
New jury trials and in-person appearances in the regional District Court have been suspended until 10 September.
The court will continue to settle matters via AVL, telephone or in writing for the duration of the “stay at home” public health order. Any person required to physically appear at court must adhere to current health and safety guidelines, and proceedings are being adjourned as necessary.
Practitioners are encouraged to appear by AVL until the expiration of the public health order.
In the Parramatta Children’s Court, only two courts are sitting each day, and the Crime, Parole, and Care and Protection lists are still being conducted. However, only one court is sitting in the Surry Hills Children’s Court each day. The Crime and Care and Protection lists will continue to be conducted.
Youth Koori Court matters are being heard on every alternate Wednesday morning in Parramatta (effective 4 August) and every alternate Friday morning in Surry Hills (effective 13 August). Special fixtures hearings are being considered on a case-by-case basis.
Land and Environment Court
The court registry continues to operate as a drop-off/pick up service until further notice.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria and Chair of Courts Council, Anne Ferguson, said in a 23 August statement that the courts and VCAT will continue to hear matters remotely where possible. Some matters may be adjourned temporarily, and other urgent matters which cannot be held remotely will be conducted in person.
“With the goodwill and co-operation of all who come to and work in the courts and VCAT, physically and virtually, as many matters as possible are able to be progressed for the benefit of the community during these concerning times,” Ferguson said.
Physical attendance at the court is being limited to urgent and priority matters that cannot be heard remotely. No new jury trials will commence until the lockdown concludes.
No jury trials will be held in Melbourne until further notice. However, circuit work will continue to be conducted on schedule from 6 September, subject to further advice on restrictions.
In-person hearings will be held only in urgent or priority cases when a reasonable alternative cannot be implemented. Such exceptions must be approved by the chief judge.
The court is currently conducting the majority of cases remotely. All documents must be filed electronically with the relevant registry.
Across all courts, in-person appearances are discouraged.
Supreme Court and District Court
The courts continue to hear matters in areas under lockdown subject to medical advice. Where possible, telephone and AVL are being utilised, and applications are being made on the papers.
While applications may be made for judge-alone trials, only jury trials that are already in process are being held. Sentence hearings are being conducted via AVL except in cases where prisoners are on bail.
Court of Appeal
Matters are being heard as usual, although callovers are suspended until further notice. Nonetheless, lawyers who have problems with conducting proceedings may coordinate with the registry to make more suitable arrangements.
Matters continue to be heard subject to the presiding judge’s direction.
All Western Australia courts and tribunals remain open to the public. Anyone attending must observe each court’s directions, including maintaining social distancing.
District Court and Environment, Resources and Development Court
All criminal, civil and ERD matters are proceeding as usual in person.
Parties and practitioners may attend court in person but are required to adhere to health and safety guidelines.
For criminal proceedings, defendants in custody will appear by AVL or telephone. Criminal trials that are unable to proceed will be adjourned. Parties and practitioners are directed to appear in person for civil proceedings unless granted leave to appear by phone or video link.
The court remains open, but health and safety measures must be followed.
Australian Capital Territory
The registry is closed for over-the-counter document filing and enquiries.
Supreme Court and Court of Appeal
Proceedings will be held by AVL where appropriate.
Magistrates Court and Childrens Court
Court lists continue as scheduled, although certain lists only proceed remotely. Parties may also apply for adjournment.
Matters are being heard by audio-visual link or telephone where facilities are available. If this is not possible, the matter will be adjourned temporarily.
The Darwin Local Court is operating as usual subject to some procedural changes. The Katherine Local Court is also open, with some matters conducted by AVL or telephone.