COVID-19 and NZ courts updates: 26 March

Latest updates from New Zealand’s courts and legal bodies

COVID-19 and NZ courts updates: 26 March

New Zealand’s alert level for the COVID-19 pandemic has been raised to level four, which essentially shuts down all but the provision of essential services across the country. Here are the latest updates from New Zealand’s courts and legal bodies.

Dame Helen Winkelmann has acknowledged the concern among the public, court staff, and legal practitioners regarding the requirement to travel to court for hearings or to attend to filing of documents. She also acknowledged that the restrictions imposed by the heightened alert level make it difficult for parties and legal practitioners to conduct court proceedings.

The chief justice reiterated, however, that courts are an essential service. “New Zealand courts must continue to uphold the rule of law and to ensure that fair trial rights, the right to natural justice and rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act are upheld,” she said.

  • Only priority proceedings will be heard. The heads of bench have decided that only proceedings that affect liberty or personal safety and well-being of the individual, or proceedings that are time-critical, should be heard while NZ is at its current alert level.
  • Courts will use remote participation to the maximum extent possible. This is to avoid the need for people to attend court in person.
  • While court attendance may be required at times, safety is paramount. “Where court attendance is unavoidable, the safety of the public, court staff and members of the legal profession is paramount,” the chief justice said.
  • Courts require filing of documents by email and will not receive in-person filing. Arrangements may need to be made to receive some without-notice applications in the Family Court. For those who have no access to email, courts will continue to receive filings by post, but delays may be experienced due to hygiene requirements.
  • Courts will also waive filing fees while on alert level 4.
  • The courts are excluding from courthouses members of the public whose attendance are not required for the business of the court that day. Supporters are not to enter courthouses without permission. Courts will remain open to accredited members of the media. Court of Appeal hearings have been cancelled for the week.
  • The different status of courts, including closures, can be found here.

Supreme Court
Hearings have been cancelled for the rest of the week.

Court of Appeal
Hearings have been cancelled for the rest of the week.

High Court
Except for urgent matters, High Court matters are cancelled for the week. All new jury trials have been suspended from 23 March.

District Court
The District will only sit during alert level 4 to deal with priority proceedings, which concern the liberty of the individual, the protection of the at-risk or vulnerable including children, the national and community safety, and the facilitation and promotion of public order. More information about Family, Criminal, Youth, and Civil courts protocols can be seen here and here.

Māori Land Court
All currently scheduled hearings and other events have been adjourned for the duration of alert level 4. Information on filings can be seen here.

Environment Court
The environment court is not classified by the chief justice and heads of bench as an essential service court. All hearings from this week, except for one, have been adjourned. The court will not sit and alternative dispute resolution will not be physically gathering while alert level 4 is active. More information can be found here.

Employment Court
The courts remain open but all hearings that can be appropriately dealt with remotely as assessed by judges will be done so via telephone or audio-visual link. Cases that can appropriately be dealt with by adjournment will be adjourned. More information about prioritisation and filings can be read here.

Waitangi Tribunal
All currently scheduled hearings and other events are adjourned during the duration of alert level 4. More information on applications for urgent action and filings can be found here.

Coroners Court
More than 90% of the work of the court is done in chambers, where there is no public hearing. This work will continue. All coronial hearings have been cancelled until further notice. More information on preparations for inquests and filings can be read here.


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