Covid 19 Causes The Courts To Close – What Happens Next?

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Covid 19 Causes The Courts To Close – What Happens Next?

BACKGROUND

Over the past few weeks, the COVID-19 crisis has spread across the globe and has now hit Australia at its heart as the country has officially gone into lock-down. Gyms, restaurants and many other locations have now closed. On the other hand, essential places such as schools and supermarkets remain open in order to assist Australian’s through this pandemic. The public is well informed what is and is not accessible however the Premier has been silent about the role of the Courts throughout the coming months.

THE MAGISTRATES MEMORANDUM

Given the quick spread of COVID-19, the Chief Magistrate announced on 16 March 2020 the following changes in Local Court proceedings:

  1. Wherever possible all appearances by persons in custody, whether from a Correctional centre or a police station are to be by AVL. Magistrates will not issue Orders requiring the physical presence of a person in custody before the Court;
  2. List matters that are currently pending before the Court but which are not listed for hearing or sentence can be dealt with electronically. Where a person is legally represented an appearance will be deemed to be a physical appearance where the legal representative communicates the fact of their representation and the nature of their request to the court;
  3. Defendants who are unrepresented and wish to enter a plea of guilty can notify the court of that fact by email or by written plea;

According to the Local Court website, the Courts will vacate any hearing until the first week of May 2020.

ARE THERE ANY MATTERS THAT ARE EXCLUDED?

The Local Court has made it clear that hearings where the defendant is not in custody will be vacated. Furthermore, any matter where the defendant is in custody will remain and they will appear via AVL.

However, matters which must proceed includes the following:

  • Section 32 Application: To learn more about section 32 applications please contact us for a free consultation.
  • Annulment Application: In simple terms an annulment application is an application made to the Court to have a conviction made against you in your absence revoked pursuant to section 4 of the Crimes (Appeal and Review) Act 2001; and
  • Part-heard matters.

JURY TRIALS IN THE DISTRICT AND SUPREME COURT OF

Similar to the above-mentioned, Chief Justice, the Hon TF Bathurst AC announced that any trials in the Supreme and District Court which commence from 16 March 2020 are to be suspended given the uncontrollable outbreak of COVID 19.

WHEN CAN I EXPECT A TRIAL DATE

According to Chief Judge Justice Price, all criminal trials will be vacated to a date after October 2020.

WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL RISKS OF A BACKLOG?

The potential risk of a backlog is almost inevitable. Given the risks of contracting the virus it is common sense to vacate all criminal hearings except those who are in custody.

The rise of a backlog will defeat the objective of the Local Court Practice Notes, specifically rule 5.2 which states the following:

  • summary criminal trials are heard within the Local Court’s published time standards;
  • the unnecessary attendance at court of prosecution witnesses who are not required for cross-examination is avoided; and
  • the legislative purpose in s 260 CPA in respect of Table matters is applied.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

As of today, the Chief Magistrate’s Memorandum due to the pandemic has announced the procedures moving forward which will take effect from 30 March 2020. Significant changes have been made which include the following:

  • Police are required to list non-bail matters such as future Court Attendance Notices 3 months into the future;
  • Where a defendant is legally represented, an appearance can be made by way of email and a physical appearance is not required. which includes a matter where the section 5 threshold is likely to be crossed an imprisonment is likely.
  • Any adjournment that is sought will not be for less than 8 weeks.
  • Similar to the above-mentioned, where a prison sentence of imprisonment or an Intensive Correction Order (ICO) is likely to be imposed, there will be an adjournment for 8 weeks and the defendant is not required to attend on the day of sentence!

The backlog will only get worse and the Courts are struggling to get through effectively and efficiently without sabotaging the interests of justice.

CONTACT US NOW

If you have any concerns and are unsure how to proceed with your criminal matter, contact us today for a free consultation with one of our criminal law specialists.

 

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