Courts move towards resumption of in-person hearings

21 May 2020

There were important developments this week with a number of courts in New South Wales announcing their plans to resume in-person hearings in the near future, although some of the technological solutions embraced in recent months may become part of the courts ongoing practices.

Supreme Court of NSW

The Chief Justice released a statement on 20 May 2020 announcing that “some face-to-face civil hearings” would resume on 1 June 2020, with criminal jury trials to follow from 29 June 2020.

A three stage process was foreshadowed, beginning with hearings with limited parties and/or witnesses in the first stage, followed by hearings with multiple parties and/or witnesses in the second stage. In the last stage, registrar’s lists and court annexed mediations would return.

To facilitate these changes whilst still complying with social distancing restrictions, the Supreme Court anticipates having staggered start and finish times, as well as temperature checks for visitors to the court building.

Critically, the Chief Justice noted in his statement that the transition to online arrangements during COVID 19 had been a success and “because of the improved technology, some of the lists will continue to be dealt with online.” This means that skills and experience in advocacy in virtual hearings will remain important into the foreseeable future.

Read the full statement

District Court of NSW

From 1 June 2020, it will no longer be the Court’s general policy that hearings proceed by use of a virtual courtroom. Rather, for contested civil matters where there are witnesses to be called to give evidence, whether a hearing proceeds virtually or in person will be subject to the discretion of a judge, having regard to the relevant social distancing restrictions. In particular, the Court is limiting the number of persons in the courtroom to 10 persons. If a hearing is to proceed online by the use of a virtual courtroom, the parties must notify the Manager, Civil Case Management and Listings by email at least seven days prior to the date fixed for hearing.

However, list matters before Judges, judicial registrars or assistant registrars will continue to be conducted using the online court.

It is intended that criminal jury trials will resume from 15 June 2020 at some, but not all, District Court venues. Further measures will be adopted in relation to maintaining social distancing for jurors and other court attendees, including empanelment by video link, and spreading jurors out across the courtroom.

District Court announcement for arrangements for civil and criminal matters

District Court announcement for jury trials

Local Court of NSW, Coroner’s Court

The Local Court has published a memorandum setting out the arrangements for the return to normal sitting arrangements in criminal matters. Civil matters are yet to resume in person.

Listings at the Coroner’s Court will resume on 1 June 2020.

Local Court of NSW Announcement

Other Courts

At this stage, a number of other courts and tribunals are yet to announce arrangements for the resumption of in-person appearances. This page will be updated as more news comes to hand, but at this stage:

  • The High Court Australia is continuing to conduct Special Leave Applications and Appeal Hearings by video link;
  • The Federal Court of Australia is continuing to conduct its hearings by Microsoft Teams in accordance with its earlier published practice note; and
  • The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal is continuing to conduct hearings online or by telephone.