Going to Court during the Coronavirus Pandemic

We are presently in a global pandemic. Governments around the world have announced measures and policies to deal with and limit the spear of the COVID-19 virus. The Australian government, like most other countries, has taken significant steps which has included banning entry to Australia by non-residents, self-isolation measures for people who have returned from overseas or may have been exposed and proposals to introduce new laws and offences to implement and enforce these measures.

The virus has impacted most sections of our society. Sport is being played in empty stadiums, movie cinemas have temporarily closed their doors, people have lost work and some small businesses have shut down. The NSW Courts are no different.

A number of measures have been introduced in relation to criminal matters which include:

1. The suspension of all jury trials, unless a jury has already been empanelled;
2. Allowing defence lawyers to appear electronically in mentions and adjournments in the Local Court, by sending letters or emails to the Local Court registry;
3. Deferring all Local Court defended hearings between 23 March 2020 and 1 May 2020, unless the defendant is in custody;
4. Allowing witnesses to give evidence by way of Audio Visual Link, without the need for a formal application; and
5. Conducting some District Court callover lists by Audio Visual Link or telephone.

If you have been charged with a criminal offence and have a court date looming, you may be able to have your matter dealt with in your absence, either by retaining a lawyer or contacting the Registry of the relevant Local Court. In some circumstances, people who are on bail will not need to attend court, provided they have a legal representative appearing for them.

NSW Police have also changed their policies. New matters where a person is not subject to bail conditions will be listed 10 to 12 weeks after the charge is laid, rather than the usual 3 to 6 weeks. Stationary Random Breath Testing sites have also been suspended, however Police will still be pulling drivers over to conduct random testing.

The RMS will not file any further proceedings until after 1 July 2020 and any traffic infringements or tickets that a person elects to have been dealt with in court will not be allocated a court date until after 1 October 2020.

While some leeway has been seen in court, particularly in relation to bail and reporting requirements for defendants, it is important to seek legal advice if you have a matter pending before the courts. A person who fails to attend court for a matter may have the matter finalised in their absence. In some cases, Magistrates may issue warrants for the arrest of that person.

As always, Armstrong Legal is here to provide ongoing support and advice. We can be contacted on 1300 038 223.

Author: Angela Cooney

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