Last year the NSW Bar continued to work effectively through the original COVID-19 lockdown and further outbreaks such as that on the Northern Beaches over the Christmas New Year period. The resilience and flexibility displayed then will stand the profession and court users in good stead during the current restrictions and lockdown. I encourage members to take appropriate precautions regarding their own health and safety over this period. BarCare is available for those experiencing difficulties in this regard.
In view of the escalating COVID crisis in Sydney and further Government Health restrictions put in place today and as published earlier in In Brief, members are advised that residents of, or people whose usual place of work is in, the four affected Local Government Areas (City of Sydney, Woollahra, Waverley and Randwick) must stay at home unless it is for an essential reason from 11.59pm tonight. This will obviously apply to the majority of our members who have chambers in and work in the city. The restrictions regarding essential travel contained in today’s Rules for Greater Sydney contain an exemption for those undertaking legal obligations. Hence, subject to any specific directions from courts and tribunals to the contrary, members are permitted to travel to and from court where required to attend court proceedings.
Practitioners who have high-risk health conditions can make necessary applications to be excused from face to face attendance where personal attendance is otherwise required or can apply for adjournment of proceedings. I also remind members that the Association has published a Protocol for In-Person Hearings while Social Distancing and a Protocol for Remote Hearings, which can be found on the Association’s website here.
The Association has been closely monitoring the unfolding situation and is in continuing contact with Heads of Jurisdiction.
At this stage the most recent advice for various courts and tribunals are as follows.
Supreme Court of NSW
The Chief Justice has advised today that, because of the restrictions, it will be necessary for the Court to cancel all live hearings, with the exception of jury trials which are part heard. All appeals and civil hearings listed for next week will be heard virtually unless impractical to do so, in which case they will be adjourned.
This is to continue until 12 July. At the present time no adjustment will be made to the Court calendar in respect of jury trials listed to commence on and from 12 July. They will of course be reviewed if the lockdown is extended. The Supreme Court public counter will be closed from Monday 28 June to Friday 2 July. The online registry will remain open.
The Court regrets the inconvenience and will continue to endeavour to dispose of as many cases as it can within the current limitations. Members are advised to refer to the Supreme Court website (NSW Supreme Court homepage ) for additional information.
Land and Environment Court
Yesterday the Land and Environment Court issued COVID-19 restrictions providing that masks will be compulsory throughout the court buildings in the Greater Sydney area. Masks must be worn in all areas. Everyone in a courtroom must wear a mask, unless:
a. The person concerned is an active participant in the proceedings namely the presiding judge, a practitioner who is responsible for presenting the case in court or a witness giving evidence;
b. One of the exemptions stated in the Public Health Order applies; or
c. At the discretion of the presiding judge.
The 4 Square Metre Rule will be strictly in operation in these courts. The full Land and Environment Court announcement is available here.
District Court of NSW
The Chief Judge has advised that for the period Monday 28 June to Friday 2 July 2021, the following arrangements will apply to the sittings of the District Court at the Downing Centre and John Maddison Tower only:
• No new jury trials will commence in the Downing Centre next week. Current jury trials will continue;
• Where parties consent to a Judge Alone Trial (JAT), a JAT trial can commence in the Downing Centre next week;
• Legal argument and short matters will be heard in the Downing Centre next week;
• New civil hearings can commence in the John Maddison Tower next week; and
• Current civil trials in the John Maddison Tower are to continue.
Lawyers are encouraged to use where possible virtual courtroom technology.
Matters before the JUDICIAL REGISTRAR will continue to be managed in the Online Court or, where not eligible for that service, by telephone directions. To appear by telephone, parties must dial in at or prior to the appointed time for listing: DIAL: 1800 062 923 PIN: 7762 8770 9768
Matters before the CIVIL LIST JUDGE will be conducted by telephone. At or prior to the appointed time, parties are to dial in using the following number and pin: DIAL: 1800 672 949 PIN: 7271 2353 2532
The current operations of the District Court in all other venues will continue as normal and this notice applies only to the Downing Centre and John Maddison Tower.
Local Court of NSW
Yesterday the Chief Magistrate issued Memorandum no 18 , which provides for the wearing of masks in courts in the Greater Sydney, Central Coast and Illawarra regions. Masks are required in these courts, subject to any applicable exceptions which are to be managed by the Presiding Magistrate. In the event of travel restrictions or the increased risk of infection, nothing in the memorandum prevents an application by a party or legal representative for consideration of an appearance by audio or audio visual link.
The Chief Magistrate has also advised today that the Local Court's AVL (Audio Visual Link) facilities are limited and additional demand that this places on the Courts mean that a general approval to appear via AVL is not possible.
In normal circumstances the Local Court requires the appropriate applications, however given the short notice and short time of the next public health order, the court (particularly those within the 4 nominated LGAs) will consider requests for adjournment and AVL appearances via email. Parties are also reminded that they are able to complete written notices of pleading rather than attend court, in addition if the court appearance if likely to be for a further adjournment solicitors are encourage to make those appearances via email, rather than for AVL.
It is unlikely the court will be in a position to accommodate practitioners and their clients appearing via AVL in defended hearings or sentence matters (where a Sentence Assessment Report) is required.
Please note the current restrictions do not prevent attendances at court and does allow for people to fulfil their legal obligations.
The President of NCAT has today issued the following message:
There will be no in-person hearings from Monday 28 June to Friday 2 July at Sydney CBD, Liverpool, Penrith and Parramatta Registries.
Matters will proceed by audio visual link (AVL) or telephone if possible. If you have not already been contacted by the registry about your in-person matter on those days please contact the registry on 1300 006 228.
There will be no in-person registry counter service in Sydney CBD, Liverpool, Penrith and Parramatta on those days. Please make contact by phone or email.
Earlier this week the Children’s Court, NCAT and the Industrial Relations Commission published updated advices regarding COVID procedures. These arrangements are included in the Association’s Consolidated Guide “COVID - 19: Information for Attending Court”. I would encourage members to regularly check the Guide which is being kept updated as announcements are being made and members will be kept informed of developments. Members should also refer to the latest court resources directly as developments are changing quickly at present. Do not make any assumptions regarding your case without first doing so. Links to the various court and tribunal pages are provided in the body of the guide. as the situation and responses are fluid, members should check the court websites before making firm arrangements or contact the relevant Court or Tribunal direct if in doubt.
More generally, I should emphasise that the Association’s priority is the safety of members, court staff and judicial officers and the community at large. I urge members to comply with stay at home orders unless travel is required to attend court, and ensure compliance with masking requirements and the 4 square metre social distancing measures inside court buildings in affected areas and more generally.
The need to attend hearings will also be dependent on the availability of AVL arrangements in those courts. I should also note that, although the Association’s office and library will be closed over the coming week, the Association’s staff are all working remotely throughout the period of restrictions.
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