Up-to-date information on court operations
COVID-19 court updates for the legal profession
NSW Local Court
The Chief Magistrate has clarified arrangements in relation to in-court appearances, so to avoid issues of overcrowding, noting “the design and architecture of some court premises do not lend themselves to accommodating large volumes of people.” A physical appearance by a defendant or a legal representative is not required in circumstances where at first return of a matter an adjournment is sought for the purpose of obtaining legal representation or legal advice. This can be communicated to the court by email or in writing. On the second date a physical appearance will not be required if the court is advised by email or in writing of the plea to be entered. If it is to be a plea of not guilty the court will make the appropriate orders for service of a brief in those matters which require the preparation and service of a brief. On each of these occasions communication by email or in writing will be taken to be a physical appearance. Get the latest information here.
NSW Supreme Court
Some face-to-face civil hearings and criminal jury trials (which require at least two courtrooms each to accommodate social distancing requirements) have resumed. The court will continue to monitor and assess matters before the court and some matters may remain in the virtual courtroom environment. The Supreme Court has issued an Updated Protocol for Court operations during COVID-19. See here.
NSW District Court
As of June 1, jury trials have resumed on a limited basis in the Sydney, Parramatta and Newcastle District Courts. Changes have also been made to allow in-person appearances in criminal hearings - including sentences, contested bail hearings, pre-trial argument and judge-alone trials - as well as in contested civil hearings. However, in proceedings where lawyers attend in-person, the Court asks lawyers to consider whether some of the participants in the proceedings could participate by remote means. This may include some witnesses and members of a legal team. In the courtroom there must be strict adherence to social distancing. In order to avoid congestion in court premises and courtrooms, there will be no change to the Court’s policy that all lists in the Court’s criminal jurisdiction, including arraignments and readiness hearings, are to be conducted by use of a virtual courtroom. The Court’s policy remains that there are to be no personal appearances in these lists. Similarly in the civil jurisdiction, the Court’s policy remains that there are to be no personal appearances in all lists. Other information about changes to District Court operations is available here.
The High Court will continue to deliver judgments and deal with special leave applications including hearings as necessary at individual registries and will hear any urgent matters that may arise using video conferencing technologies. Updates will be posted here.
The Federal Court has modified its practices to minimise in-person attendance on Court premises, with the priority being the health and safety of the community, parties, practitioners, judges and staff, and the families of all of these groups. Opportunities for a limited return to in-person attendance in Court will increase for matters that are essential to be heard in person. Limits on the number of people within the Court precinct are in place and all of the Court’s buildings have been assessed and prepared to ensure appropriate physical distancing can be maintained. Updates and information on remote hearings is available here.
Family Court and Federal Circuit Court
As of June 15, The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia are increasing face-to-face hearings in a staggered way over the coming months. Priority will be given to urgent trials and urgent hearings of applications that the judge considers cannot be dealt with via Microsoft Teams or over the telephone. Practitioners and parties will not be able to go to other floors in the court registry save for the entrance and the floor their courtroom is located on. Practitioners and parties are to leave the courtroom immediately after their hearing has concluded, and then make their way promptly to the registry exit. Follow the latest updates here.
NSW Land and Environment Court
The Court released its new COVID-19 policy on July 8. As government restrictions continue to ease, the Court will implement a staged return to face-to-face hearings, conciliation conferences and mediations. The first stage will allow in-court and on-site hearings, conciliation conferences and mediations that can comply with current social distancing and public gathering requirements and are requested by the parties. Physical attendance at the Court Registry should not be necessary in most instances if the requirements for filing documents and applications with the Court are observed. Read the full details of the policy here.
Industrial Relations Commission
The Commission is working through options to enable in-person appearances in the Commission while social distancing requirements remain in place. The administration of justice and the health of all participants in the justice system remain the Commission's priorities. For arbitrations, the Commission has been using Virtual Courtroom (VCR) from the Parramatta Hearing Rooms in this period. Given social distancing limitations are likely to remain in place for some time and the impact these have on the ability to undertake in-person hearings, the Commission continues to encourage, and may require, parties to use VCR for arbitrations. For registry services, the registry counter has been reopen since June 9. As of July 1, email filing will only be accepted for dispute notifications and where specific directions have been made by the Commission; filing by email of other applications and evidence will not be available from that date. Parties who are unable to attend the Registry may file by post. Updates are available here.
As of June 1, physical attendance at the Lidcombe Forensic Medicine and Coroners Court Complex (FMCCC) has been permitted. Court proceedings may continue to be heard using technology to enable remote appearance by any witness, legal representative, party or family member, where it can be arranged. Everyone entering the FMCCC foyer will be asked three screening questions regarding their COVID-19 risk and asked to have their temperature taken.
Entry will be denied to anyone refusing to answer the screening questions or have their temperature taken, as well as to anyone with a temperature of 38 degrees or above or to anyone answering positively to one of the screening questions.
There will be strict limits on the number of people allowed in each court, depending on the size of the court and there will be strict limits on the number of chairs at the Bar Tables and the distance between them. These procedures will continue to be reviewed and modified if needed. The State Coroner will review the procedures at the end of July 2020.
NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT)
Currently, all NCAT hearings will be held online or by phone and this arrangement will continue until at least the end of August 2020. Priority will be given to urgent cases. Please avoid attending an NCAT Registry. Updates are available here.
The Children’s Court continues to monitor the advice of health authorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It continues to be in the general public interest to reduce the number of people who would ordinarily physically attend court on any given day as much as possible. With these considerations in mind the Children’s Court will transition to the following arrangements over the coming weeks with an expectation that all agencies will be in a position to comply with these arrangements by 3 August 2020. In the Criminal jurisdiction, Defendants and their lawyers are to attend court in person for sentences and hearings unless a direction is obtained to appear by some other means. Lawyers and police prosecutors are generally expected to appear in person for all other listings but appearance by video conference will be permitted in appropriate circumstances. In the care jurisdiction, parties who have provided full instructions to a lawyer will continue to be excused from attending in person for directions hearings unless the Court otherwise directs. Parties and their lawyers are expected to attend in person for hearings except where hearings are conducted by submissions only or where a judgment is being delivered. Any person who is required to come to court should only bring a maximum of two support persons. Read the complete changes here.