The Secretary for Justice is asking all court participants to comply with the Chief Justice of New Zealand’s instructions that only those people who’re required to attend court do so, during COVID-19 Alert Level 4.
"These steps from the Chief Justice have been taken to protect the safety of those who need to be in court for priority justice services during Alert Level 4 and to give effect to this alert level," says Andrew Kibblewhite, Secretary for Justice.
The measures mean no member of the public can enter a courthouse unless their presence is required for the business of the court, for example: defendants, prosecutors, lawyers, officers of the court and accredited media. If you are attending court for priority civil matters, including priority Family Court proceedings, there will be signs on the court doors advising who to contact.
Any supporter of a defendant who wishes to come to court requires the advance permission of the presiding judge. This request cannot be made in person and can only be done through contacting 0800 COURTS (0800 268 767).
People who are unwell and required to attend court are also being asked to not come to court and to also call 0800 COURTS (0800 268 767) to advise of this.
The priority proceedings were decided by Heads of Bench and are listed on the Courts of New Zealand website and the District Courts website.
In the District Court, proceedings that are deemed not essential will be administratively adjourned until the next available date. Youth Court proceedings that are not essential will be adjourned on the papers for four weeks.
"We are working with the Judiciary to ensure the identified priority proceedings, for example when a defendant is in custody, are dealt with. Where possible, these are being heard via audio-visual link," Mr Kibblewhite says.
"While the courts have faced challenges before, this is the first time they have had to make such wide adjustments on this national scale. I ask all court participants to be patient and work with the Ministry and Judiciary as we work to continue to deliver essential justice services for New Zealanders," he says.
"The Ministry is also working closely with other government departments to constantly assess our services and the current situation. We are also thoroughly cleaning court buildings regularly and ask all court users to keep following the Ministry of Health guidance," says Mr Kibblewhite.
The move to Alert Level 4 will have an impact on all court jurisdictions and on how court hearings are run. In the District Court, which is New Zealand’s busiest and biggest court, many court participants, lawyers and judicial staff may not be able to attend in person as a result of the measures implemented, or the need to self-isolate.
Based on the priorities identified by the Chief District Court Judge, Principal Family Court Judge and Principal Youth Court Judge, the Ministry estimates about 12,500 events will go ahead over the next month.
Typically, 72,000 events take place each month in the District and Youth Courts. A court case has multiple events.
All counter services in courts are closed and filing of court papers is to be done electronically or via post. Filing fees are also being waived under section 24 of the Epidemic Preparedness Act. Justice of the Peace services have also been suspended. Bailiffs will only serve urgent documents if all other options are unavailable.
Only staff who are considered critical to maintaining the justice system will be working out of the courts or the Ministry’s National Office in Wellington. All other staff have been asked to remain home to work as required unless their manager requires them in the office for these critical services.
"We have worked closely with the Judiciary to prepare for this because upholding the rule of law is just as vital at times like this. I want to thank them, the profession and our people for their work to ensure justice can be administered during this period," Mr Kibblewhite says.
For more information, please visit the Ministry of Justice website. Regular updates will also continue to be made through the Courts of New Zealand and District Court of New Zealand Twitter accounts.
Media contact: Hannah Mills - Senior Media Advisor 021 636 416 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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