The Local Court has adapted its arrangements in response to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic and government guidelines to limit the impact of the virus.
From Monday, 30 March 2020, anyone who is not required to attend court should stay away from courthouses across the state.
The following measures will supersede previous arrangements -
- The decision not to hear or list any defended hearings until a review can be carried out at the end of April 2020 will remain in force. It is likely these arrangements will be extended.
- Police have been asked to list non-bail matters such as Field Court Attendance Notices or Future Court Attendance Notices three months into the future. It is not anticipated the court will deal with these matters other than by way of adjournment unless they are relatively straight forward and the parties are open to final determination on the first return date.
- Where a matter is listed and there is no appearance of a defendant it will be adjourned for no less than one month. The court will notify the affected party and inform them if they do not appear on the next occasion, or advise the court they wish the proceedings to be deferred, then the court will deal with the matter in their absence.
- If a matter before the court appears to be one where a custodial outcome is likely, it will be deferred for no less than eight weeks when the situation can be reviewed in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Where a defendant is legally represented the lawyer may appear by email. A physical appearance will not be required. It includes any matters where a sentence of imprisonment is likely. In such cases the legal representative will be asked to seek an adjournment for no less than eight weeks. Such a request will be acceptable if provided to the court in electronic form.
- All appearances by persons in custody are to be by Audio Visual Link (AVL). Corrective Services have been advised accordingly and requested not to bring any detained person before any court in person.
- Regrettably, it will not be feasible during the COVID-19 pandemic to hear defended hearings where the defendant is in custody. These matters will require relisting. At such time, the court will entertain an application for release recognising a lengthy period of custody in the Local Court may result in a period of incarceration that exceeds the ultimate penalty that otherwise would have applied if the defendant was found guilty at an earlier time. Matters in this category should be adjourned for no less than eight weeks for mention only. Where the defendant is legally represented, an appearance can be made by email.
- From Monday, 30 March, the number of courts dealing with persons in custody who are bail refused by police is to be centralised to a number of dedicated ‘hub’ courts in metropolitan and regional NSW. Persons refused bail by police will appear in court via AVL. In the Sydney Greater Metropolitan Area, defendants will appear by AVL at courthouses at Parramatta, Penrith, Campbelltown, Liverpool or Central depending on the police station facilitating the appearance.
- In relation to matters where bail is granted, they will be adjourned to the Local Court where they would normally have appeared. If appropriate, brief orders can be made. Magistrates should excuse the defendant from appearing on the next occasion if they are legally represented. The legal representative may appear on the next occasion via email and could outline the orders they are seeking from the court.
- If a hub court refuses bail, the proceedings will be adjourned to the court where the matter would normally have been heard. Subsequent appearances will be via AVL. If appropriate, brief orders can be made. Legal practitioners may appear in the same manner set out in paragraph eight above.
- First appearances from a police station or correctional centre in regional NSW will be before ‘hub’ Local Courts at Wagga Wagga, Dubbo, Tamworth, Lismore, Port Macquarie, Newcastle and Wollongong irrespective of the court where these matters would normally be heard. Ongoing supervision of matters involving the detention of a person remaining in custody after first appearance are to be case managed within the COVID-19 pandemic environment at these courthouses.
- Not every country courthouse has access to AVL facilities. For this reason, matters brought before a hub court where there is refusal of bail, will remain at that court and be case managed by AVL. Any application for a review of bail, including by or on behalf of persons in custody, are to be lodged at this court via email or post. Unless the application is urgent, no less than three days’ notice is to be given setting out the grounds why an application is being made and what changes are being sought. Applications that don’t comply with the minimum three-day period will not be dealt with unless the change is by consent. All practitioners are reminded the Registrar of a Local Court may deal with consent alterations to bail conditions.
- All applications for a review of bail in relation to the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area are to be lodged with the Registrar at the Downing Centre irrespective of the court where they previously appeared. Wherever possible, the application for review of bail is to be lodged via email or post. The prosecuting authority is to be given no less than three days’ notice of the application including the grounds upon which it is being made and the changes contemplated. Applications that do not comply with the minimum three-day notice period will not be dealt with unless the change is by consent.
Early Appropriate Guilty Plea matters
- Contrary to the current Practice Note, proceedings commenced as committal proceedings are to be adjourned to a hub court where the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Legal Aid appear irrespective of whether the accused is bail refused or released to bail.
- Where an accused is legally represented, their physical attendance, if on bail, is not required until the matter is before the court for committal for trial or sentence. Where a party is unable to meet the purpose for which the matter is adjourned, whether for plea or committal for trial, they are to notify the court and the opposing legal representative by email no less than 72 hours prior to the date being fixed for committal. It must set out the reasons why the matter is to be adjourned. The court will advise both parties by email of the new date.
- If the matter is to be finalised in the Local Court and the defendant is legally represented then the defendant does not need to be physically present, as long as full instructions have been given to their legal representative. This advice may be communicated to the court and the DPP by email. Where that takes place the physical appearance by the legal practitioner will not be required. The court will consider finalisation of the matter in the context of the arrangements for sentencing proceedings set out immediately hereunder.
Sentencing proceedings in the Local Court
- The Local Court will accept a plea and sentencing submissions from a legally represented defendant via email or post. The physical appearance by the defendant or their legal representative will not be required unless the court determines it is necessary. This should only arise in matters where the court considers a Conditional Release Order or Community Corrections Order. Where that is the view of the magistrate, the proceedings will be adjourned for either a physical appearance by the defendant or an appearance by the defendant via AVL. Where it is intended to utilise AVL, the defendant or their legal representative is to make the appropriate arrangement.
- Where the court considers a sentence of imprisonment is the appropriate outcome, whether by full-time detention or by an Intensive Correction Order, the court will adjourn the proceedings for eight weeks. On that date, a physical appearance by the defendant will not be necessary. Subject to the situation regarding the pandemic the matter will be listed for sentence at a later date. If the current situation remains, the proceedings should be adjourned for a further eight weeks. In this situation, the legal representative may appear by email.
- Where the defendant is in custody bail refused, sentencing proceedings may take place by AVL from within a correctional centre. Where possible the legal representative may also appear by AVL.
- In all proceedings involving a plea of guilty by email or via post, the submissions made on behalf of the defendant are not to be any longer than three A4 pages. Where there is reference to an authority in the submissions the reference is sufficient. A copy of the relevant case will not be required, but the attention of the court is to be drawn to the relevant parts of the judgment upon which submissions rely.
- The court acknowledges the difficulties in relation to a Section 32 application made under the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) legislation that have been created by the shutdown. In such matters, appearance by the legal representative can happen via email flagging the likelihood of such an application. In this situation, the court should be asked to adjourn the proceedings for at least eight weeks.
- The court will continue to accept proceedings that are urgent. The court should be contacted by email in the first instance outlining the nature of the application and why it is urgent. If the magistrate at the court where the application is to be made considers there is sufficient basis for urgency, then parties will be notified by email of the arrangements.
- In the current environment it will not be appropriate to allocate hearing dates where a plea of not guilty is entered. In those matters the court will adjourn proceedings for three months at which time the impact of the pandemic will be reassessed. It will not be necessary for a defendant or their legal representative to appear in person. Appearance will be accepted in writing or by email.