03 June 2020

How New South Wales (Australia) courts are resuming their activity

Australia Judicial System is trying to reopen their courts. New South Wales Supreme Court has resumed face-to-face civil hearings on 1 June 2020 and will be resumed criminal jury trials from 29 June 2020.

"For the first time in living memory, personal appearances were essentially banned in our courtrooms two months ago to help minimise the spread of the virus," Chief Justice Bathurst said.

Some civil hearings with a limited number of parties, witnesses and legal representatives may return to the courtroom. Those involving multiple parties and witnesses will follow in the second stage, with instruction hearings, lists of judges and clerks, and mediations attached to the court to return in the final stage. It is anticipated that, thanks to improved technology, some of the lists will continue to be processed online.

Also, criminal jury will resume at the end of this month and it will require at least two courtrooms each to accommodate social distancing requirements.

New South Wales Supreme Court have been trying to keep their courts almost fully operational during the last months. "The move to virtual courtrooms, seemingly overnight, created unprecedented disruption to our usual processes," Bathurst said. "Remarkably, the Court has continued to operate essentially at its normal capacity, with Judges hearing close to 20 matters per day, including contested interlocutory applications. Judges and Registrars, dealing with case-management, are hearing over 500 matters per week”.

During the lockdown, the equity judges have been holding, on average, 12 interlocutory and final contested hearings per day and have been administering more than 200 cases per week.

The Court of Appeal and the Court of Criminal Appeal have heard all appeals scheduled for March, April and May, and no appeal has been dismissed due to the closure.  In the same period, the Court of Appeal has delivered 68 judgements and the Court of Criminal Appeal 70 judgements. Also 13 criminal trials were delayed due to COVID-19.

New South Wales Supreme Court explains that it will take all steps and precautions with the aim to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus and it announced the following measures:

• Staggered courtroom start and finish times, commencing at 9am and sitting up to 5pm

• New jury selection procedures

• Temperature checks for court users

• Visual guidance in courtrooms to follow physical distancing requirements

• Hand sanitiser stations

• Increased cleaning and disinfecting, focusing on high traffic areas.

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