Environment Court: COVID-19 Past Alert Level 4 Protocol


3 April 2020: Information to parties, lawyers, witnesses and other participants
25 March 2020: Directions to parties, lawyers, witnesses and other participants


Information to parties, lawyers, witnesses and other participants

Principal Environment Judge Laurie Newhook
3 April 2020

1.  New Zealand remains at COVID-19 Level 4 and is likely to remain so for an unknown period of time.

2.  The Environment Court is not categorised by the Chief Justice and Heads of Bench as a Category 1 essential service court.

3.  All cases listed for hearing up to the end of April 2020 have already been adjourned and timetables for preparation for those hearings suspended.  The direction has now been extended to cover all hearings scheduled up to the end of May, inclusive of the timetables leading up to them.

4.  The Principal Environment Judge has worked with the Judges in prioritising cases in the manner described in the Protocol.  The Judges are moving in some cases to recommence case management in a way that does not trigger a hearing before the end of May 2020.

5.  A rare exception might be time-critical urgent cases such as applications for interim enforcement orders and applications for stays of abatement notices involving serious issues of safety, where the Presiding Judge will work with the parties to establish fair electronic remote means of conferencing and even hearing the case.  Alternatively, it might be agreed that it be heard “on the (electronic) papers”.

6.  There may be other cases of slightly lesser priority in which Judges will work with parties about means to progress case management, including preparation for ultimate hearing; examples include cases involving infrastructure that might be considered urgent in the public interest.

7.  Other cases of less urgency may be the subject of directions to advance them and possibly telephone or audio-visual link conferences.

8.  As recorded in the Protocol, lowest priority cases might remain fully adjourned during the period of Alert Level 4, subject possibly to directions being issued requiring parties and participants to take such steps as are reasonably possible during the lockdown.

9.  Mediations and expert conferencing are likewise adjourned where they had been scheduled to occur before the end of May 2020.

10.  Three groups of cases have been chosen for pilot mediation activity by remote means.  Presiding Judges, the Commissioners appointed to facilitate and the Principal Environment Judge, have been preparing draft directions to parties in such cases.  Where the cases involve many topics and many parties, they have been broken down by topic to enable progress by smaller more manageable groups of participants.  The Commissioners will be working with the parties concerning methodologies and electronic platforms.

11.  Parties and participants are reminded of paragraphs 10, 11, 12 and 13 of the Environment Court Protocol 25 March, which continue to apply except where inconsistent with this Advice. The contact details for Deputy Registrars are below.


Directions to parties, lawyers, witnesses and other participants

Principal Environment Judge Laurie Newhook
25 March 2020

1.  New Zealand is at COVID-19 alert level 4 as of 11:59 pm 25 March 2020.  This effectively shuts down all but the provision of essential services.

2.  The Environment Court is not categorised by the Chief Justice and Heads of Bench as a Category 1 essential service court.

3.  All cases listed for hearing in the week of 23 March 2020 in the Environment Court have been adjourned, except for ENV-2020-AKL-025, Environmental Protection Agency which is being processed on the papers.

4.  While a Level 4 alert is in place, the Environment Court will not physically sit in courtrooms or elsewhere.  Alternative dispute resolution such as mediation and expert conferencing will not be the subject of physical gatherings.  This will be subject to further direction from time to time, as this unprecedented situation continues to change.  Some remote activity on cases will continue, depending on the urgency of the case.

5.  The Principal Environment Court Judge will prioritise cases over which Environment Judges are presiding:

a)  Cases that are most urgent, involving important issues in the public interest, may be the subject of remote activity and conferencing by Judges and Commissioners.  This will primarily be done by telephone, as the use of audio-visual link facilities has been prioritised for Category 1 courts and the availability of these facilities for the Environment Court cannot be guaranteed.

b)  Cases of less urgency may be the subject of directions to advance them, and possibly telephone or audio-visual link conferences, depending on their availability.

c)  Lowest priority cases may remain fully adjourned during this period, although directions may be issued that parties and participants can reasonably undertake to keep them moving.  This category comprises the majority of cases in the Environment Court.

6.  It is very unlikely that hearings will be held during the Alert Level 4 period, except in the most urgent circumstances in the public interest.  If held, they may be conducted by remote electronic means, subject to paragraph 7 below.  Requests by media to observe and report will be considered at the time by the presiding Judge who will have regard to all known circumstances, including the technology available to the Court.

7.  Judges and Commissioners are aware that anything capable of being done to advance cases must occur with all participants working from home.  Anything asked of participants will be within the letter and spirit of ss 5 and 6 of the Courts (Remote Participation) Act 2010.  Health and safety of all participants are paramount, as are fairness and access to justice.

8.  Parties may be asked from time to time by Judges to consent to material being processed and resolved “on the papers”.  In current circumstances, that means electronically.

9.  Arrangements have been put in place for means by which decisions, determinations, minutes and other documents can be signed, sealed and issued during this period, because members of the Court will be working on reserved decisions from home.

10.  The Principal Judge has issued a blanket waiver suspending the requirement to file paper originals and copies in court, subject to the same being done by parties after the limitations are lifted.

11.  Any difficulties with paying lodgement or other fees will be considered by the Registrar exercising his powers of waiver under s 281A RMA.

12.  Contact can be made with the Court by telephone or email to the case, hearing, or mediation manager handling any file, or if in doubt, to the Deputy Registrar in the relevant registry noted below.  Documents can be filed with those Deputy Registrars at their email addresses below.

13.  Under Alert Level 4, all filing of court documents is to be by email.  The Court 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.

14.  No documents will be received for filing in person at court registries.

Contact details for Deputy Registrars

Gemma Carlyon
027 446 7193

Rachell Staunton
027 256 9494

Michael Tinkler
027 280 8135