Although the lockdown in Greater Sydney and some areas of regional NSW continues, there have been some positive developments for the legal profession this week.
Today’s announcement from the Chief Judge regarding the District Court’s plan for the resumption of jury trials in criminal matters in Greater Sydney, Newcastle, Gosford and Wollongong from 25 October 2021 should be welcomed by practitioners. As the Chief Judge said in his statement the steps that will be taken to enable the return of jury trials will be implemented in a way that is in the interests of the health and wellbeing of all court participants. Judge alone trials may also be able to proceed with practitioners in the court room where circumstances warrant.
In the light of increasing vaccination rates and indications from the State Government that restrictions will be eased throughout the State over time, the Association anticipates further announcements from various jurisdictions regarding plans for in person hearings. While the District Court’s plan does not insist on legal practitioners being vaccinated, those who are will no doubt assist and I encourage members to look after their own health and safety too. We are in regular contact with Heads of Jurisdiction regarding COVID-19 related arrangements and members will be kept informed of developments.
The New South Wales Bar Association welcomes the acknowledgement provided by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Chief Justice of the Federal Court of the difficulties currently being experienced by legal practitioners as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdown restrictions. As those statements indicate, the challenges posed by remote practice place particular pressures upon those practitioners who have young children at home and have home schooling obligations.
I would like to acknowledge and praise the profession for their endurance and versality in adapting to and persevering with the online environment in circumstances that for some have been quite onerous, with many competing demands during this lengthy lockdown. As advised via In Brief, both the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court the Hon T F Bathurst AC and the Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia the Hon James Allsop AO made separate statements available here and here regarding the willingness of their respective Courts to accommodate where possible the needs of practitioners in the current environment. Practitioners should feel free to raise difficulties with the Court, as stated by their Honours.
It is gratifying to see formal recognition from the Courts of the difficulties being experienced by the profession in this regard, and the Courts’ willingness to take a flexible approach to take these issues into account in arranging court timetables.
As always the Association is here to assist members experiencing personal or professional difficulties and I again remind you all that barristers who are in need of confidential assistance and support are encouraged to contact BarCare and the Barristers Benevolent Fund is also available for those who may be experiencing financial hardship.
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