Do I Need To Attend My Local Court Case During The Coronavirus Pandemic?

by Patrick O’Sullivan

The Chief Magistrate of the NSW Local Court, Judge Graeme Henson, has made announcements about changes the court will implement from Monday, 30 March 2020 in response to the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic.

These changes are aimed at managing the thousands of people who attend the Local Court every year but balance the restrictions implemented by Federal and State Governments to protect the health of the public.

If you are one of these who need to attend the Court any time soon, no doubt you are confused and uncertain what to do and how to do it, so we have compiled this FAQ to help you.

But rest assured, if you are still unsure about how the changes affect you, Sydney Criminal Lawyers are there to support you to get through these uncertain times.

If you have a criminal law or traffic case, call  Sydney Criminal Lawyers anytime on (02) 9261 8881 to receive expert advice from an experienced defence lawyer.

Emphasis on emails

Most of the new processes involve contacting or making written submissions to the Local Court by email, so that physical contact is kept to a minimum.

How will my case proceed?

As a general rule, your next court date will be adjourned for at least 8 weeks. The only exception to this rule is where you are legally represented, you are pleading guilty to a minor charge and your matter is ready to proceed to sentencing – which is explained below.

Do I need to personally attend court?

If you are legally represented, you generally do not need to attend court. The exceptions to this rule are outlined under the heading ‘

Your lawyer will make all necessary arrangements for appearing in your matter. Appearances are now being made by Audio-Visual Link (AVL) where required.

Do not attend court if you have travelled and returned from overseas in the past 14 days.

Do not attend if you have had contact with a diagnosed, suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days

Do not attend if you are feeling unwell and have any of the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath

Send an email to the relevant Local Court to explain and they will understand and make arrangements for your matter to be adjourned.

If you are unwell, Sydney Criminal Lawyers can appear on your behalf. All of our lawyers are set up to use the courts via audio visual link.

What if I have missed my court date already?

The Court will be cautious in dealing with matters in the absence of a defendant, so if you do not appear in your matter and no one sends an email the Court will adjourn your matter by default for at least 1 month and notify you of the new date. However, on this new date if they still have not had any communication from you, the matter will be finalised at sentence.

What if my matter was listed to go to a defended hearing?

A Defended Hearing is where you plead not guilty and your case proceeds to a hearing to determine whether you are guilty or not guilty.

Witnesses normally attend court on that day, testify and are cross-examined, before the Magistrate determines guilty or innocence.

The Court is no longer hearing nor listing any Defended Hearings.

If your matter was going to a Defended Hearing it will instead be adjourned.

If you are bail-refused and your Defended Hearing is adjourned, a fresh bail application can be made on your behalf on the basis of the lengthy delay.

If you are legally represented, your lawyer will make all necessary arrangements.

What if I am pleading guilty and am to be sentenced?

A Sentencing Hearing is where a person pleads guilty or is found guilty of a criminal or traffic offence, and the Magistrate decides the appropriate penalty.

If you are represented by a lawyer, your lawyer will be required to prepare written submissions on your behalf and submit them to the court. You are not required to attend court for this process.

The court will then determine whether your case will proceed on the submissions, or whether AVL is to be arranged for you and your lawyer to appear.

However, your personal attendance will be required if the Magistrate considers either a conditional release order or community correction order is an appropriate sentence. This means that you should attend court if you or your lawyer is intending to ask the Magistrate to deal with your matter without a conviction by way of a conditional release order.

For cases in which imprisonment is likely, the Court will defer sentencing proceedings for at least 8 weeks.

Note for lawyers: written submissions are to be no longer than 3 A4 pages. Where an authority is referred to, the reference is sufficient with attention drawn to the relevant parts.)

What about hearings for section 32 or 20BQ mental health applications?

A section 32 or section 20BQ is an application to the court to dismiss a matter because the offender was mentally ill, relying on the advice of a psychiatrist or psychologist.

The Court realises that preparation for these applications is more difficult during the shutdown, with medical appointments harder to attend.

Your lawyer will contact the Court in advance to give an update as to whether your matter is ready to proceed to a s32/s20BQ application hearing, but it is likely the hearing will be adjourned for at least 8 weeks.

What if I need to apply for or vary bail?

Bail is a promise to attend the next court date, often backed up by conduct conditions – such as reporting to a police station on specified dates – and/or the deposit of a security such as a sum of money.

Those in custody can make a bail application or apply for their existing conditions to be varied.

If you are in custody and to appear in the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, your matter will be relocated to the Downing Centre Court – which is across the road from our head office.

If you are in custody and to appear in a country court, your matter will be relocated to your nearest ‘Hub’ court, at Wagga Wagga, Dubbo, Tamworth, Lismore, Port Macquarie, Newcastle, or Wollongong.

An application for review of bail is to be lodged in writing or by email, with 3 days’ notice given to the prosecution. When giving notice, you should also give the reasons why bail should be granted or varied and what conditions of bail you seek. If you do not give 3 days’ notice, your bail application will be refused unless the change is by consent.

What if I have an urgent application?

Urgent applications should be made by email to the Court. In your application you should outline clearly what your application is and why it is urgent. A Magistrate will review your application and consider whether it is urgent. If it is considered urgent then arrangements will be made by reply email to deal with the application.

Any other court matter?

If you have a problem that does not fall neatly into one of these questions, contact the team at Sydney Criminal Lawyers on 9261 8881 who will help you through these uncertain times.

Author

Patrick O’Sullivan

Patrick O’Sullivan is an experienced criminal defence lawyer at Sydney Criminal Lawyers, with a special interest in social justice and human rights-related issues.

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