What if I have to go to court during the Covid-19 lock down?
(the following is relevant only to the NSW lockdown in place for all of NSW, during August 2021, and which may be extended beyond August)
Courts in Far North New South Wales, and across the entire state have changed the way they are operating during the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure that the wheels of justice can keep turning, without risking the spread of the virus in public places.
One of the biggest changes to the local courts in the area from Coffs Harbour to Tweed Heads is that many matters are being dealt with electronically – via telephone and email or video link when the technology is available.
If you have a matter for mention listed before the local court, then you need to contact your lawyer, or the court itself to understand what’s happening. Individual cases will have different circumstances, although, in most instances you will not need to appear at local court in person. However, you will still be required to participate in the process by providing written documentation, or via telephone or video-link.
Most local court matters and mentions are being dealt with electronically
A mention is a procedural court date to determine the status of the case which may involve adjourning the matter for another mention and making orders pending that future date, or setting it down for a fresh hearing date.
The participants in the proceedings – including the defendant, defence lawyer, prosecution and witnesses – are not required to attend court on the currently listed court date.
Parties are required to prepare and send an email to the court by 3pm on the day before the listed court date advising of the status of the case and the orders that are sought.
How do I contact the court?
Contacting your local court can be done in writing or by phone. The email address and telephone number for local courts are listed here. And you should also provide your most up to date contact information including a phone number and email address to facilitate communication with the court.
Entering a plea
There are a number of standard forms to help defendants with this process, but it is recommended that you seek legal advice before filling in these forms and submitting them.
If you have pleaded guilty to a charge, these matters may be dealt with, without you having to appear in court in person – it depends on the charge(s) and a few other circumstances, as to whether the court will deal with the matter in your absence or will adjourn it to another date, or you will be expected to attend in person. We suggest that you either get legal advice or call the court registry.
Not guilty plea
If you have pleaded not guilty, then these matters (because they usually require witnesses and sometimes also ‘support’ people for the defendant when needed) are generally not proceeding at this time, therefore participants are generally not required to attend court. If you find yourself in these circumstances then you or your legal representative need to contact the court prior to the scheduled date of your hearing. Current hearing schedules remain in place, although these matters will likely be postponed and you need to work with the court to set a new date.
However, if parties wish for such a matter to proceed (and do not require the attendance of any witnesses) an application to proceed with consent of all parties may be made to the court.
Sentencing proceedings will continue to occur (only where possible) – if you are due to be sentenced in a matter, we suggest you contact the court registry or get some legal advice before the court date.
The traffic Offenders’ Programme in New South Wales
If you have been directed to complete the Traffic Offender Intervention Program (TOIP) for driving offences you need to be aware that it is not being delivered face-to-face during this time, although it can be completed online.
While courts aim to minimise the number of people attending at this time, if you do need to go to court, then you must wear a mask at all times inside the building and scan in with QR codes.
Delays are inevitable.
The uncertainty around the pandemic and the end of lockdowns and restrictions on movement has created some delays within the local courts. This cannot be helped at this time and it is being experienced by courts all over Australia. The good news is that in its most recent budget, the NSW State Government approved more funding and additional magistrates to assist the local courts deal with backlogs.
If you have any questions, you can contact us.
This post is informative only. It is not legal advice. If you have a specific legal matter you’d like to discuss, or you’re not sure what this means for your case, please contact us.