Preparing for COVID-19 in 2022
Welcome to 2022!
On 8 January 2021, just over a year ago, I began my first President’s Message for the year, suggesting chambers heed the latest public health order regarding mandatory facemasks and, if they had not done so already, to develop their own COVIDSafe Plan. The pandemic was entering its second year and the 7-day rolling average of daily confirmed cases was a fraction over 17. There were only 47 COVID-19 patients in hospitals nation-wide, with no reported deaths.
Today, deaths are in double figures daily and case numbers, hospitalisation and staff absences are soaring. Clearly, the justice system has and will also be adversely affected, noting this week the Local Court has had to defer defended hearings for two weeks due to staff shortages.
If we have learnt anything since the start of the pandemic, it is that maintaining a healthy workforce is the key to business continuity. Subjecting people to unnecessary risks of contracting the virus is a false economy. I therefore urge all members, chambers and staff, to maintain a prudent balance between safety and access to work. Maintain, where possible, working from home settings and ensure that all relevant safety measures are taken, including vaccination with booster shots and social distancing. Masks are thought to be particularly important, given the airborne and highly transmissible qualities of the Omicron variant.
In the coming weeks, the Association will continue to keep members up to date with relevant information in what looks certain to be a fluid situation. We are in constant contact with the courts and stakeholders and who are all working towards the same goal of providing access to a safe and effective justice system.
As noted yesterday, the Supreme Court has advised that urgent civil hearings during the court vacation should occur via AVL, unless the judge deems an in-person hearing to be essential. Applications to the Duty Judge should be in writing. Matters in front of the duty judge should be presumed to be via AVL, unless otherwise notified by the Duty Judge. A decision on hearings from Monday, 31 January (post vacation) will be made on Monday, 24 January 2022.
Further, in Supreme Court criminal matters, should there be any COVID related setbacks, applications should be made in writing to the trial judge. There will be no attendance by the media or public in person. Those practitioners and court participants permitted to attend in person must wear masks unless they are speaking, or have a lawful exemption under the NSW Government’s Face mask Rules. Otherwise, the Protocol for Criminal Proceedings issued on 23 November 2021 remains unchanged at this time.
Finally, like many other justice stakeholders, the Bar Association itself will remain closed for at least a further two weeks and staff will be working remotely from today, 10 January 2022. The Bar Library will not reopen until at least 24 January 2022.
Changes to practices and procedures in other jurisdictions, including the NSW Coroner’s Court, NCAT, the Children’s Court and the Industrial Relations Commission have been added to the Bar Association’s website, in the COVID Court Guide.
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