Our Courts and COVID19 – What You Should Know

By now we are sure that this “repeat offender” (COVID-19) doesn’t need any formal  introduction, so let’s jump straight into it.   

Here is a quick guide on what to expect with the Court processes during this pandemic or at the very least until further notices are provided. 

Several measures have been created in relation to criminal matters which include: 

  1. Allowing witnesses to give evidence by way of Audio-Visual Link, without the need for a formal application;  
  2. Conducting some District Court call-over lists by Audio-Visual Link or telephone. Starting on 1 April 2020, the District Court of NSW will suspend all Judge alone trials, sentencing hearings, appeals, arraignments and readiness hearings where the defendant is not in custody. All these matters will be re-listed on a future date and the parties notified of the new date. These measures will be reviewed on 1 May 2020. The District Court will continue to hear criminal matters where the defendant is in custody. Application to vary bail will be dealt with by a judge in chambers. 
  3. The suspension of all jury trials, unless a jury has already been empaneled. Jury trials have been temporarily suspended in the NSW Supreme Court and District Court. Jury trials that had already commenced when the Coronavirus restrictions were put in place will continue.; and 
  4. Allowing defence lawyers to appear electronically in mentions and adjournments in the Local Court, by sending letters or emails to the Local Court registry; 

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, courts in many locations are changing the way they operate and are keeping personal appearances to a minimum. New South Wales courts have adopted the practice of holding all court appearance by phone or video conference, except where there are exceptional circumstances such an urgent bail application or domestic violence order matter.

A person who fails to attend court for a matter may have the matter finalised ex-parte, which means in their absence. In some cases, Magistrates may issue warrants for the arrest of that person.  That is to stay, if a person is out on bail or has been ordered by the court to appear before the Magistrate for that matter,  and does not appear they are breaching a legal court order which gives the Magistrate reason to order a bench warrant. A bench warrant is a legal document issued by a judge that authorizes a person’s arrest. It is called a “bench” warrant because it is issued by the judge while sitting “on the bench” in the courtroom.

Defendants who are in custody and wish to apply for bail will have their bail applications heard over Audio Visual link. If bail is refused, the matter can proceed to be finalised over Audio Visual link once the parties are ready to do so.  

Therefore, it is wise to inform yourself before making any decisions that could affect your future dealings with the legal system. 

As always, the legal team at Sellanes Clark & Associates Sydney Law Firm, is here to provide ongoing support and advice. We can be contacted on +61 2 8233 6191 or log into our website at https://sellanesclark.com  

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