Protocols: What courts are doing during COVID-19

Updated: 3 April 5.00 pm

The Prime Minister has announced the alert level for COVID-19 in New Zealand is to rise to Level 4 - Eliminate on Wednesday 25 March at 11:59 pm.  This effectively shuts down all but the provision of essential services. I acknowledge the concern amongst the public, court staff and legal practitioners regarding any requirement to travel to court for hearings or to attend to filing of documents. I also understand that the restrictions imposed by the level 4 alert make it difficult for parties and legal practitioners to conduct court proceedings.

However, courts are an essential service.  New Zealand courts must continue to uphold the rule of law and to ensure that fair trial rights, the right to natural justice and rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act are upheld.

Only priority proceedings to be heard

The heads of bench have decided that only proceedings affecting the liberty of the individual or their personal safety and wellbeing, or proceedings that are time-critical, should be heard while we are at alert level 4.  

Please refer to the protocols for each court below for more assistance as to the nature of the proceedings which might meet these criteria.

Remote participation to be used predominantly

To the maximum extent possible, and to avoid the need for people to attend court in person, the courts will use remote participation to hear these matters. Remote participation may involve AVL (audio-visual link) where that is possible, telephone or email.

Court attendance may sometimes be required, safety is paramount

However, in the District Court, Family Court, High Court and Court of Appeal, in-person attendances may be required in some cases. Where court attendance is unavoidable, the safety of the public, court staff and members of the legal profession is paramount.  Measures have been taken to achieve physical distance and to improve courthouse hygiene. The Ministry of Justice has posted designated hygiene officers to each court to ensure that the increased hygiene standards are maintained.

Public access to criminal courts tightened for safety reasons

As of 27 March, public access to criminal courts has been tightened for safety reasons. 

On 26 March in contravention of the nationwide lockdown in place under COVID-19 Alert Level 4, a number of people attempted to enter courthouses as supporters of defendants.    

To preserve public safety and give effect to the COVID-19 Alert Level 4, District Courts and the High Court have excluded members of the public whose attendance is not required for the business of the court that day

Under s 197 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011, a court may exclude members of the public when necessary to avoid endangering the safety of any person present, to avoid undue disruptions to the conduct of proceedings, or to avoid prejudicing the maintenance of the law.

In the present state of emergency, it has been necessary to exercise this power.

The only people who may enter the District Court or High Court for criminal proceedings are those whose presence is required for the business of the court.

The court will remain open to accredited members of the media to ensure that the principles of open justice continue to be observed.

The following people are also permitted to enter the court: defendants, prosecutors, lawyers and officers of the court. All people attending court may be required to show identification.

Supporters of those whose appearance is required will be denied entry to courthouses unless they get permission in advance from the presiding Judge.

These requests cannot be made in person at the courthouse because all public counters are closed to the public, as are court precincts.

Instead, permission can be requested by telephoning the Ministry of Justice Contact Centre 0800 COURTS (0800 268 787).

If permission is given to attend as a supporter, a court security officer will allow that person entry to the courthouse.

For more detail see below.

Filing by email

Each court is requiring filing of court documents by email during the level 4 alert. Courts will not receive in-person filing of documents, though arrangements may need to be made to receive some without-notice applications in the Family Court. Courts will continue to receive filing by post for those who cannot access facilities to file by email, but due to hygiene requirements, processing of documents received by post may be significantly delayed.  Again, please refer to the protocol for each court for more information as to what is required to file documents.

Filing fees may be waived

Courts will waive filing fees for documents filed during the level 4 alert to the extent they can do so under s 24 of the Epidemic Preparedness Act or pursuant to other relevant court rule or regulation. 

Thank you

I appreciate the commitment that the people who work to support the operation of the courts have shown over the last two weeks. Our frontline court staff and members of the legal profession have continued to serve the interests of justice. Their constructive approach to the necessary changes we have implemented, and will continue to implement, keeps the courts operating  and ensures that justice is administered.

Regular updates will continue to be made to this website and to the Courts of New Zealand Twitter account @CourtsofNZ.

 

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Contents

Supreme Court
Court of Appeal
High Court
District Court (incl Youth Court, Family Court)
Jury trials in the High and District Courts
Employment Court
Māori Land Court
Waitangi Tribunal
Environment Court
Coroners Court

Supreme Court

25 March 2020

Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann issued an update: New Zealand's COVID-19 alert level level 4

 

Court of Appeal

3 April 2020

President Stephen Kós issued an update: New Zealand's COVID-19 alert level 4

 

High Court

2 April 2020

Chief High Court Judge Geoffrey Venning issued updates as at 2 April and a Practice Note

 

District Court (incl Youth Court, Family Court)

1 April 2020

The Chief District Court Judge updated protocols confirming that all defendants in custody are to appear before a Judge during alert level 4

23 and 24 March 2020

The Principal Judges of the Youth Court and Family Court issued updates

 

Jury trials in the High and District Courts

18 March 2020

Chief Justice Winkelmann decided on 18 March 2020 to suspend all new jury trials for two months.  This will be kept under review and may be revised in light of any new advice received.

The Ministry of Justice are working to contact all affected court participants, including jurors.  If you were going to attend a trial within the next two months and are not sure about what this decision means for you, please call 0800 COURTS (0800 268 787) for more information.

Public access to criminal proceedings in courts tightened for safety reasons

26 March 2020

To preserve public safety and give effect to the COVID-19 Alert Level 4, District Courts and the High Court are excluding from courthouses members of the public whose attendance is not required for the business of the court that day.  This takes effect immediately. 

In contravention of the nationwide lockdown that is in place under COVID-19 Alert Level 4, a number of people have attempted to enter courthouses as supporters of defendants.

Under s 197 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011, a court may exclude members of the public when necessary to avoid endangering the safety of any person present, to avoid undue disruptions to the conduct of proceedings, or to avoid prejudicing the maintenance of the law.

In the present state of emergency, it has been necessary to exercise this power.

Supporters not to enter courthouse without permission

With effect immediately, the only members of the public who can enter the District Court or High Court for criminal proceedings are those whose presence is required for the business of the court.

The court will remain open to accredited members of the media to ensure that the principles of open justice continue to be observed. The following people are also permitted to enter the court: defendants, prosecutors, lawyers and officers of the court. All people attending court may be required to show identification.

As a result of these measures, supporters of people appearing in person will be denied entry to courthouses unless they get advance permission from the presiding Judge.

These requests cannot be made in person at the courthouse because all public counters are closed to the public, as are court precincts.

Instead, permission can be requested by telephoning the Ministry of Justice Contact Centre 0800 COURTS (0800 268 787).

If permission is given to attend as a supporter, a court security officer will advise the person that they may enter. For the health and wellbeing of everyone in the courthouse, supporters will be denied entry if they are feeling unwell or have flu-like symptoms.

If any supporter disobeys safety orders from court staff, or creates a disruption, they will be asked to leave.

The priority of the courts during the pandemic emergency is to keep all staff and court users safe while providing fair and effective justice.

Attendance for priority Family Court or civil hearings

26 March 2020

For those people who need to attend a court for priority Family Court proceedings, or other priority civil proceedings, there will be signs on the court doors advising how they can contact court staff for assistance.

 

Employment Court

3 April 2020

Chief Judge Christina Inglis issued an update : New Zealand's COVID-19 alert level 4

 

Māori Land Court

25 March 2020

Chief Judge Wilson Isaac issued an update : New Zealand's COVID-19 alert level 4

 

Waitangi Tribunal

25 March 2020

Chairperson Judge Wilson Isaac issued an update : New Zealand's COVID-19 alert level 4

 

Environment Court

3 April 2020

Principal Environment Judge Laurie Newhook issued Directions and Advisory Notes subsequent to the Protocol dated 25 March 2020

 

Coroners Court

25 March 2020

Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall issued an update : New Zealand's COVID-19 alert level 4