Justice sector leaders discuss COVID-19 contingency plans

Chief Justice updates profession on what is being discussed

Justice sector leaders discuss COVID-19 contingency plans

Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann has released an update to the legal profession about the planning undertaken by justice sector leaders in case of a virus outbreak in New Zealand.

She said that heads of all court benches, as well as senior officials of the Ministry of Justice, have met to discuss how courts business will continue in the event of a local or widespread outbreak of COVID-19.

“Matters discussed included arrangements for keeping court participants safe during court attendances, planning for the delivery of essential court business and services, options for remote hearings, relaxed or modified filing deadlines, communication strategies and the like,” she said.

She also said that the ministry is planning for a range of scenarios. She said that a set of essential services, consideration of health and safety arrangements, and a communications strategy will be agreed on by judges, the ministry, and representatives of the profession.

As of 12 March, the courts and the ministry are following the guidance of the Ministry of Health, which has not recommended changes to arrangements for large gatherings beyond advising people follow good hygiene practices and refrain from attending gatherings if they are unwell; have been to China, Iran, Italy, or the Republic of Korea in the last two weeks; or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks.

“We urge all court participants to follow Health advice to wash hands thoroughly and regularly, practice cough and sneeze etiquette and not come to court if unwell. Participants may also wish to consider ‘social distancing’ (avoiding handshakes, hongi and kissing). Courts will have hand sanitiser readily available,” she said.

She said that the judiciary and ministry are currently addressing how all courts can communicate most effectively with the profession about court sittings, as well as any necessary special arrangements.

“I hope to come back to you with that information shortly,” she said. “In the meantime, we ask you to keep in touch with clients and witnesses about their health prior to any court appearances.”

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