High Court: Current COVID-19 Protocol

NB: The information on this page reflects the current COVID-19 alert level.  For High Court protocols during past alert levels, please refer to:

Protocol during Alert Level 3
Protocol during Alert Level 4

 


 

Chief High Court Judge Geoffrey Venning
13 May 2020

1.  Courts are an essential service.  At Alert Level 2, and subject to the restrictions noted below, the High Court will carry out all its usual scheduled work both from the home and circuit registries that can be safely supported.  This requires the co-operation of all parties to ensure the courts function to the fullest extent they safely can in performance of their constitutional role.

2.  The restrictions are:

(a)  Criminal jury trials will not be held before 3 August;

(b)  Substantive civil fixtures involving witnesses with a hearing date prior to 25 May will not be required to proceed;

(c)  If counsel, or other persons required or proposing to attend a hearing (for example, a party) 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 presiding judge should be advised so that alternative arrangements for the appearance can be made.

3.  The Court will modify its procedures in the following ways:

(a)  Judges will continue to review cases they are scheduled to hear (not involving witnesses) to determine how they can appropriately be heard, whether in person or by the Judge sitting in Court with counsel joining remotely by virtual hearing, AVL or telephone.  The hearing will be recorded;

(b)  Circuit work not involving witnesses will generally be conducted remotely by virtual hearing, AVL or telephone hearings;

(c)  List Judges will review files and deal with as many as they can on the papers or by a direct telephone conference with counsel/parties to avoid the need for unnecessary in-person attendances at Court;

(d)  Where appropriate, sentencing hearings will be dealt with by AVL to avoid the unnecessary movement of prisoners.  The number of support persons and victims attending in person may be limited by the judge;

(e)  Judges and counsel will consider whether defendants in criminal procedural matters ought to be excused from attendance or (where necessary) attend by AVL;

(f)  Documents may be filed at the Court, electronically or by post or courier.  Address details are contained in Addendum 1 below.  Filing Fees will be payable. The High Court Rules have been amended to provide for payment by alternative means at the Registrar’s discretion, including by credit card.

Health and safety

4.  Where counsel, parties and/or witnesses are required to attend Court the hearings will be held in courtrooms that enable physical distancing of at least one metre.

5.  Parties should wait outside the courtroom until their matter is scheduled and vacate the courtroom once their hearing has concluded.

6.  In list courts where physical appearances are required the Courts will operate on a case-by-case call basis.  Parties may be required to wait outside the courtroom until their case is called.

7.  Witnesses required to attend Court should not enter the courthouse until just prior to their scheduled attendance and should bring their own religious text if they wish to take an oath.

8.  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.

9.  The following hygiene practices can be expected:

(a)  Those working in the courtroom, including counsel and security staff, are required to maintain 1m physical 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)  Face masks and gloves may be worn.

(d)  Hand sanitiser will be readily available within the courtroom.

(e)  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.

10.  Any concerns about health and safety practices in the Court should be raised with the Court manager in the first instance.

11.  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.

12.  In the event of community transmission within a courthouse catchment area, public health advice will be taken and further directions given.  Steps may be taken to reduce in-person attendances at the Court to help protect those working or appearing there.

Expectations of counsel

13.  Counsel are expected to assist the court by:

(a)  Briefing clients and witnesses on public health measures including:

(i)  Not to come to court if unwell.
(ii)  To advise counsel as early as possible if they are unable to attend court.
(iii)  Physical distancing expectations in the courthouse and precincts.
(iv)  How exhibits will be handled in their case.
(v)  What they may expect by way of personal protective equipment (PPE) 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 in appropriate cases.
(ii)  Seeking excusals from appearances in administrative hearings.
(iii)  Limiting the number of witnesses via the use of agreed facts.

(c)  Counsel should consider and endeavour to agree whether it is appropriate for any witness to participate remotely and advise the Court of any such proposals well in advance of the hearing date.  The relevant provisions of the Evidence Act 2006 and the Courts (Remote Participation) Act 2010 will govern whether and how any witness may give evidence remotely;

(d)  Raising any deficiencies with cleaning, the availability of cleaning supplies or physical distancing with the site manager immediately.

Addendum 1: Addresses for filing electronically and by mail

All electronic filing is to be to the following addresses:

Auckland High Court:              aucklandhc@justice.govt.nz
Wellington High Court:           wellingtonhc@justice.govt.nz
Christchurch High Court:       christchurchhc@justice.govt.nz

If any party wishes to contact the court regarding an urgent matter, these emails are also the addresses to use.

All filing by mail is to be to these addresses:

Auckland High Court
PO Box 60, Auckland

Wellington High Court
PO Box 1091
or DX: SX11199, Wellington

Christchurch High Court
20 Lichfield Street, Christchurch
or DX: WX10021, Christchurch

Addendum 2: Health and safety

The Ministry of Justice has advised that it continues to take a number of steps to ensure the safety of those coming into courthouses during Alert Level 2, including:

(a)  A designated site officer to attend to hygiene, physical distancing and safe working practices.

(b)  Access will continue to be denied to those:

i.  who have a temperature of 38°C or above;
ii.  showing signs of illness such as coughing and sneezing;
iii.  reporting feeling unwell;
iv.  who have had close contact with a suspected, probable or confirmed case; or
v.  unwilling to disclose the purpose of their visit or their personal information.

(c)  Limiting entry to those with business at court, including a support person for defendants, and members of the public who are given permission to enter.

(d)  Maintaining an orderly queuing system at courthouse entrances, reminding people not to enter if they are symptomatic, offering wipes for items placed in screening trays.

(e)  Maintaining a contact register.

(f)  PPE (gloves and facemasks) are available for all court participants.  These supplies are located at the entrance point with security staff.

(g)  Persons in the custody of Police, Corrections or Oranga Tamariki will be provided with a face mask by those respective agencies for use if they wish.

(h)  Maintaining a cleaning regime based on the Ministry of Health recommendations, with a wide range of deeper cleaning measures in key areas throughout public and non-public areas and regular cleans – for example during lunch breaks – to ensure that areas where there is high traffic are clean and sanitised.

(i)  Monitoring the provision of cleaning supplies such as soap and towels and ensuring availability of key products such as hand sanitiser at appropriate points around the courthouse.

(j)  Keeping under constant review all cleaning practices and procedures, to enable additional measures to be added if required.

(k)  Reminding those attending Court of the need to take personal responsibility for their own health and wellbeing – including washing hands regularly, following hygiene practices and, if unwell, following Ministry of Health guidance.

Health and safety guidance is also available from the Ministry of Justice.