CHANGES TO NSW COURT PROCEDURES DUE TO COVID-19 – PART 3
The NSW Local Court is the largest summary trial jurisdiction in Australia and deals with more than 90 per cent of the State’s criminal matters. Ordinarily, a large number of people attend the Courts on a daily basis.
In an effort to reduce the number of people appearing at the Local Court and to support social distancing, the Chief Magistrate has made further substantial changes to the way the Local Court will operate. These arrangements will be effective from Monday 30 March 2020.
Below are some common questions we are being asked about matters which are listed in the Local Court. If you require information about District or Supreme Court matters, please refer to the blog we posted on 24 March.
This information is current as at 25 March 2020.
Do I still need to attend Court?
The Local Court has announced that many matters can now be dealt with electronically (i.e. your lawyer will appear by emailing the Court).
This includes if you are:
- asking that your matter be adjourned
- entering a plea of guilty and seeking a sentence date
- entering a plea of not guilty
- asking that your matter be listed for defended hearing.
If you have been charged with a strictly indictable offence (an offence which will ultimately be finalised in the District or Supreme Court), you will only be required to attend Court when your matter is ready to be committed to the District or Supreme Court for trial or sentence. All earlier mentions can be dealt with electronically.
If I plead guilty, can my matter still proceed to sentence?
The Local Court will now accept written sentencing submissions from your lawyer. These will be emailed to the Court, along with other subjective material such as character references.
If the Magistrate intends to impose a Conditional Release Order (CRO) or Community Corrections Order (CCO), the sentence proceedings may be adjourned for either a physical appearance or an appearance via AVL.
If it appears to the Magistrate that you might be sentenced to full-time gaol or an Intensive Correction Order (ICO), your sentence proceedings will be deferred for at least 8 weeks, and likely longer.
If I plead not guilty, will my matter be listed for hearing?
All defended hearings which were listed between 23 March and 1 May have already been deferred. Unfortunately, this also applies to defendants who are currently bail refused. The position in relation to these hearings will be reviewed on 27 April.
From 30 March 2020, if your matter is listed for mention and you enter a plea of not guilty, your matter will not be allocated a hearing date straight away. Instead, your matter will be adjourned for further mention in three months. This will allow the Local Court to reassess the impact of COVID-19. Both of these mentions will be dealt with electronically.
My partner / friend etc is in gaol waiting for their Local Court sentence or hearing. What happens to them?
If your partner, family member or friend is in custody and has an upcoming sentence they will appear via AVL, rather than in person. If possible, their lawyer will also appear via AVL.
The Local Court is currently unable to hear defended hearings even where the defendant is in custody. Persons in custody who are impacted by this should urgently consider making a bail application because of the expected delay in the Local Court being able to finalise their matter.
Can I still make an application to vary my bail conditions?
If you are currently on bail and would like to vary your bail conditions you can apply for a review of your bail conditions. This application will need to be made in writing to the Prosecutor and then communicated to the Court via email.
What other changes have been announced by the Local Court?
If police charge someone by way of a Field CAN or Future CAN, the first Court appearance will be three months in the future. It is expected that on the first Court date the matter will be further adjourned.
While we understand you may want your matter to be dealt with as quickly as possible, the ability of the Local Court to hear and determine matters at the moment presents unprecedented challenges.
If you have any concerns about the changes to NSW Court procedures or your upcoming matter, call us on (02) 9696 1361 to make an appointment to speak to one of our lawyers via phone, Zoom or FaceTime.