New courts arrangements made as COVID-19 alert level rises

New Zealand will be on 'Alert Level 4 – Eliminate" starting Wednesday

New courts arrangements made as COVID-19 alert level rises

Dame Helen Winkelmann has released guidelines for new arrangements for New Zealand courts as the country’s alert level for the COVID-19 pandemic has been raised by the government.

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a two-staged roll-out of the new levels, with “COVID-19 Alert Level 3 – Restrict” taking effect immediately. The level will be increased to “Level 4 – Eliminate” in the “next 48 hours,” or by 11:59pm on Wednesday.

The move to increase the alert level, which will shut down all but the provision of essential services in New Zealand, came after the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand jumped to 102 on Monday.

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“Courts are an essential service. However, for the remainder of this week I expect they will operate only in the priority areas I identified on 22 March, namely proceedings that affect liberty of the individual, personal safety and wellbeing, matters in which resolution is time critical,” the chief justice said.

She noted that communications from the High Court, District Court, Family Court, and Youth Court detail priority proceedings that will be going ahead this week. Matters within priority categories will be heard via remote participation – through audio-video link, telephone, or email – as much as possible.

Some cases in the District Court may require in-person attendance where the law does not permit remote attendance or where remote attendance cannot be arranged. This is the reason the District Court will require the assistance of duty solicitors for the remainder of the week, she said.

“I know that practitioners are concerned about attendance at court. We have already outlined measures taken to achieve physical distance and improve courthouse hygiene,” she said.

The chief justice said that each court will have a clearly designated hygiene officer who will ensure increased hygiene standards are maintained.

“The move to Alert Level 4 will be extremely disruptive to everyday life and work practices. I know you all have all been planning for this eventuality, but the near future will be difficult. Everyone will have to alter family and work arrangements,” Winkelmann said. “For this reason, I expect that all courts will delay proceedings that fall outside the priority categories, and that those proceedings will be adjourned without requiring that counsel attend court.”

She said that practitioners may assume that for the rest of the week, appearances will not be required in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Employment Court, Māori Land Court, Waitangi Tribunal, Coroners Court, and the Environment Court except for one proceeding, which is ENV-2020-AKL-025. She directed counsel who believe any proceeding before any of these courts to be priority proceedings to contact the relevant registry.

The chief justice also reminded the profession of the Court of New Zealand’s official COVID-19 update page here, which contains individual arrangements for each court and which she said will be regularly updated.

“I expect to keep on communicating with you in the weeks ahead. For now, I wish you all well as you and your families make preparations for these very difficult circumstances,” she said.

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