Victorian Court Arrangements during the Second Lockdown
Due an unfortunate surge of COVID-19 cases, Victoria is now under a second lockdown with metropolitan Melbourne facing the strictest stay-at-home and curfew restrictions which will last for at least 6 weeks from the beginning of August. In this context, how the Victorian judiciary, which traditionally relies heavy on face-to-face hearings, adapt to the second lock-down deserves special attention. This article will take a brief look at such adaptive measures.
Courts operating protocols
In general, Victorian courts and tribunals remain accessible, but they now only hear urgent and priority matters. Most non-urgent matters are either postponed to a later hearing date or scheduled to be heard via video conferencing instead. For those who are required to attend the county court physically, they must adhere to the face covering rules inside the court.
Supreme Court of Victoria
The Supreme Court of Victoria normally deals with the most significant cases. Currently, most hearings at the Supreme Court are being heard remotely. If you are unable to attend court due to COVID-19, you must notify the Prothonotary by email as soon as possible.
County Court of Victoria
In the second lockdown, the County Court will only grant permission for matters to be conducted in person at court on a case-by-case basis where such physical attendances are necessary and urgent with no reasonable alternative. Examples of such cases include those concerning the liberty of a person, or cases involving highly vulnerable participants or dying litigants.
Other hearings are conducted via video conferencing (eHearings) where participants will be able join remotely.
Like the County Court, the Magistrates’ Court is managing many of its matters remotely and you should not attend court unless otherwise instructed by prior arrangement. A range of non-urgent matters have been adjourned and most matters are now being heard in the Online Magistrate Court ( OMC) premises. The Courts are now also utilising “webex” that allows certain matters to proceed remotely.
VCAT, which mainly deals with small claims, is still accepting new cases and you can still apply for matters that fall within the VCAT’s jurisdiction for determination. However, VCAT is able to issue summons at your request. VCAT is conducting hearings via telephone and video conferencing. Most cases that require face to face contact have been adjourned and rescheduled for hearing for a later date. Parties will be informed of how to attend their scheduled hearing by the tribunal.
Federal Circuit Court
The Federal Circuit Court has suspended all face-to-face hearings in the Melbourne and Dandenong registries for the next six weeks unless exempted by the Chief Justice. The court will conduct all trials and hearings electronically via telephone or Microsoft Teams. Regarding family law cases in particular, the court has asked parties to cooperate and ensure that the best interests of the child are being addressed by complying with court orders. If strict adherence to parenting orders are not possible, all amended arrangements must reflect the essence of the orders.
To sum up, thanks to remote conferencing technology today, Victorian courts are able to maintain public access to the court system while safeguarding public health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is notable, however, that specific arrangements vary depending on the type of court and the case they deal with. If you are involved in a court case or plans to initial legal proceedings, it is advisable to look at the arrangement of the applicable court and keep in close contact with your lawyer.
Disclaimer: This publication is general information only and does not purport to provide legal advice. We do not accept responsibility for any losses for reliance upon this publication.