Coroners Court: Current COVID-19 Protocol
Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall
31 August 2020
1. Courts are an essential service. At Alert Level 2, and subject to the restrictions noted below, the Coroners Court will carry out all its usual work that can be safely supported. This requires the co-operation of all parties to ensure the courts function at the fullest extent they safely can in performance of their constitutional role.
2. Coroners conduct most of their work on the papers, without the need for a court hearing. Alert Level 2 will not impact on coroners receiving new cases, making directions on files and making written findings.
3. The restrictions are:
a. Inquests and other hearings will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Hearings may proceed with participants in the Court or with some participants joining by audio-visual link (AVL) or with all participants joining by AVL.
b. If counsel, or other persons required or proposing to attend a hearing (for example, interested parties) are at higher risk of severe illness, immune-compromised or with a relevant underlying health condition, they should not attend court. If this applies, the coroner should be advised so that alternative arrangements for the appearance can be made.
4. The Chief Justice has advised that, because of concerns about community transmission of COVID-19, all those attending courts in the Auckland region should wear masks in public spaces and courtrooms. Those attending court will be reminded of this at the security screening. Attendees will be offered a mask if they do not already have one.
5. Counsel, defendants, parties and witnesses may be required to remove masks when speaking in court or otherwise by judicial direction.
6. The wearing of masks is encouraged in courts elsewhere in the country.
7. So far as possible, counsel should take instructions and brief witnesses outside the courthouse, to minimise demand on interview rooms. Larger rooms will be made available for interviews, and counsel may request breaks to take instructions safely using those facilities.
8. Safe distancing will be observed in the courtroom, and the following hygiene practices can be expected:
a. Those working in the courtroom, including counsel and security staff, are required to maintain 1 metre social distancing, and alternate seats in public galleries will be taped off.
b. Cleaning products are available on site to enable staff and lawyers to keep their immediate areas clean (including AVL suites).
c. Hand sanitiser will be readily available within the courtroom.
d. The court will not normally permit documents to be handed up. Documents that parties wish to produce should be scanned and shared by email at the appropriate time.
9. Any concerns about health and safety practices in the Court should be raised with the court manager in the first instance.
10. Accredited news media will continue to have entry to the court in order to report court proceedings, and to ensure continued open and transparent justice. Remote access for accredited news media will continue to be facilitated in accordance with current protocols.
11. Counsel are expected to assist the court by:
a. Briefing clients and witnesses on public health messages:
i. Not to come to court if unwell.
ii. To advise counsel as early as possible if they are unable to attend court.
iii. Social distancing expectations in the courthouse and precincts.
iv. How exhibits will be handled in their case.
v. What they may expect by way of PPE (personal protective equipment) and hygiene supplies in the courthouse.
vi. The limits on attendance by support persons and members of the public.
b. Reducing the need for attendance in the courthouse by counsel, their clients and witnesses by reviewing each attendance in advance and:
i. Seeking remote participation for appropriate witnesses.
ii. Seeking excusals from appearances in administrative hearings.
iii. Limiting the number of witnesses via the use of agreed facts.
c. Raising any deficiencies with cleaning, the availability of cleaning supplies or physical distancing with the site manager immediately.
12. At Alert Level 2, it remains possible that a new cluster of COVID-19 community transmission may be confirmed within the location served by a courthouse. In that event the Court will rely on official advice. Steps may be taken to reduce in-person attendances at the Court to help protect those working or appearing there. The extent of any reduction will depend on the circumstances and official advice or notices.
13. If a location is required to return to Alert Level 3 or 4, the Court is now better equipped for remote participation.
14. Triage should be identified as a primary means to manage demand, and there should be clear expectations that counsel will co-operate and take a pro-active approach to ensure that unnecessary in-person appearances are minimised, and use is made of remote participation whenever appropriate.
15. Any queries about a case should be made to the Case Manager of the coroner assigned to the case.
16. If participants do not know which coroner is assigned to the case, they can contact their local Coronial Services Unit.
The information on this page reflects the current COVID-19 alert levels. For Coroners Court protocols during past alert levels, please refer to:
Protocol during Alert Level 3 (August 2020, Auckland region)
Protocol during Alert Level 1
Protocol during Alert Level 2 (May-June 2020)
Protocol during Alert Level 3 (April-May 2020)
Protocol during Alert Level 4