What is happening with our legal system during COVID-19?

by | Apr 1, 2020 | Family Law

The Courts and Tribunals are changing their processes in response to COVID-19. This is a particularly difficult task as our legal system, a common law system, remains essential to protect our rights, maintain the rule of law, improve social order and of course, resolve disputes.

The Courts and Tribunals are implementing specific measures to protect their staff as well as all persons who would usually attend Court or a Tribunal. In most instances, Courts and Tribunals are dispensing the need for persons to physically attend a Court room.

Before attending Court, it is important you contact your solicitor to understand what new arrangements may have been put in place for your matter. You may be able to attend remotely via video or telephone link or your solicitor may be able to make submissions on your behalf via email.

The arrangements in place may differ between NSW Courts and the Federal Courts. We have included a short summary below for your reference but these arrangements are subject to change. We recommend you regularly check your applicable Court or Tribunal’s website (links to which we provide below) so you have up-to-date information.

NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT)

NCAT has removed the need for parties to physically attend the Tribunal. No face-to-face hearings will be conducted without prior approval.

On and from 30 March 2020, the Tribunal is conducting all stages of its hearings by phone, audio visual link or on the papers. Priority is being given to urgent cases and cases which do not fall into this category may be listed later in the year.

Please see NCAT’s website page on coronavirus here.

NSW Local Court

Physical appearances will not be required when the defendant or party is legally represented, as legal practitioners will attend without their clients. If a party is not legally represented, they may email the Court and seek an adjournment. Practitioners will be allowed to appear via telephone for small claims hearings, review lists, directions lists and motions list.

The Local Court confirmed that in the current climate mitigating the risk of infection is to take priority over the continuation of proceedings. The NSW Local Court’s COVID-19 operational arrangements can be found here.

NSW District Court

The District Court of NSW is making every effort to limit personal appearances in Court rooms where possible. Physical appearance will not be required and legal practitioners will be expected to appear by use of the virtual court room and new jury trials are temporarily suspended.

On and from 1 April 2020, the District Court will temporarily suspend new Judge alone trials, sentence hearings, Local Court appeals, arraignments and readiness hearings, where the defendant is not in custody. This temporary suspension will be reviewed on 1 May 2020.

The District Court will continue to hear to the extent and for as long as possible, consistent with health advice, all criminal matters where the defendant is in custody.

You can check current measures in place on the NSW District Court’s website here.

NSW Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of NSW and Registry continue to operate but under modified measures.

Cases will be heard by virtual courtroom appearance by phone or video and mediations may run via teleconference. Depending on whether your case is criminal or civil, different options will apply to ensure your case progresses.

If you have a current matter that is affected by the new measures put in place and require more information about your requirements, please contact a member of the Cheney Suthers team.

Family Court of Australia / Federal Circuit Court of Australia

The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia have made changes to Court operations to ensure that all urgent and priority matters are dealt with safely while ensuring appropriate social distancing is adhered to.

Interim and Final Hearings that can be done by phone or audio-visual link will be. Due to the nature of family law work, including child safety and family violence aspects, urgent and priority trials and contested hearings will remain listed and will be conducted in the safest manner possible.

Systems are being changed so that all documents can be filed electronically and the Court is rolling out Microsoft Teams so that the matters which are appropriate can be heard via video conferencing. You can hear Chief Justice Alstergren’s radio interview regarding parenting arrangements and COVID-19 here.

We recommend all separated parents read Chief Justice Alstergren’s Media Release regarding parenting orders and COVID-19 on 26 March 2020.

Disclaimer: Cheney Suthers Lawyers website does not provide legal advice. All information is of general nature only and is not intended to be relied upon as, nor to be a substitute for, specific legal professional advice. Cheney Suthers Lawyers accepts no responsibility for the loss or damage caused to any person action on or refraining from actions as a result of any information contained on this website. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation. All material on this Website is subject to Copyright.

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