The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a range of restrictions being placed upon the conduct of Local Court cases, and the situation until now in the District Court has been that no new jury trials have been set down, or allowed to commence, until further notice.
The measures are designed to reduce the prospects of transmission through physical proximity, and thereby protect those who are employed by the courts and attend them.
Announcement of 30 March 2020
Today, the Chief Judge of the District Court of New South Wales, the Honourable Justice Derek Price AM, announced that from 1 April 2020, all judge-alone trials will also be suspended, as well as sentencing hearings, appeals from the Local Court, arraignments – which is where a defendant formally enters his or her plea of guilty or not guilty in the District Court – and readiness hearings – which is where the parties indicate whether they are ready to proceed to trial – where the defendant is not in custody.
His Honour advised that the Court will continue, until further notice, to hear all criminal cases where the defendant is in custody, with the exception of new jury trials.
From 1 April 2020, all applications to vary a defendant’s bail will be dealt with by a judge ‘in chambers’ – which means in the absence of the parties. Personal attendances are prohibited and the court anticipates providing further clarification shortly about the process involved, which many anticipate will involve the parties emailing written submissions to the Court.
Lawyers encouraged to be proactive about resolving cases
His Honour has encouraged practitioners to notify the court by email of:
- Any sentencing hearings that require priority due to the fact that clients who are on remand – which means in custody awaiting the finalisation of their cases – are unlikely to be sentenced to more time than they have already served, and
- Local Court appeals where clients have been sentenced to full-time imprisonment.
Where all parties are ready to proceed in these cases, an early date may be given for the matter to proceed by way of a Virtual Courtroom.
The Court has provided a fact sheet for practitioners regarding the use of a Virtual Courtroom.
It is anticipated that further updates will be given as the situation evolves.