The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to a great number of changes to the way we work, socialise and generally interact. The criminal justice system is no different, and a number of laws and processes have been modified to limit physical interaction and protect vulnerable people during the pandemic. We have set out some of the more important changes below, but it is important to remember that the medical advice and the law around this situation is changing rapidly, at a state and national level. This information is accurate at the time of writing, but please contact us to obtain the most up-to-date advice.
Ordinarily, you will first go to court within 28 days of being charged, unless a bail decision needs to be made. This has now been extended to three months.
COVID-19 is a relevant consideration for the Court in granting bail. Even if you have previously been refused bail, in hearing a fresh release application the Court can take into account the risk of infection to jail inmates and the length of time defendants will be in custody waiting for their matters to be finalised.
As of 30 March 2020, bail applications will be centralised to certain Courts.
Court appearances can now be done by email, so you may not need to attend Court in person, even if you are on bail. Your solicitor can seek adjournments and make submissions in writing on your behalf, including for matters listed for sentence from 30 March 2020. If the Court is likely to impose a jail sentence, your matter will be adjourned for two months, and you will need to appear at Court in person on that day.
If there is no appearance the first time your matter is listed before the Court, your matter will be adjourned for a month, and the Court will notify you that your matter may be dealt with in your absence on the next occasion if there is no appearance.
From 30 March 2020, no Local Court matters will be allocated hearing dates. Instead, matters will be adjourned for three months, and the situation will be reassessed at that time.
For serious matters that will ultimately be dealt with in higher Courts, appearances can be done by email unless the matter is listed for committal for trial or sentence. All committal proceedings will be centralised to certain Courts. Jury trials will not proceed, and matters will not be allocated trial dates before October 2020. If you have a sentencing or appeal matter in the District Court and you can appear by AVL, your matter may still be dealt with.
If you are attending Court in person, you will likely need to remain outside Court until your matter is called, and will need to leave straight away when you matter is dealt with. You may not be allowed to have anyone with you in Court other than your solicitor.
Under new legislation, certain inmates can be released on parole if it is reasonably necessary to do so due to their vulnerability to COVID-19, having regard to the safety of the community, impact on victims and their protection and the availability of suitable accommodation for the inmate.
Under NSW law, Public Health Orders can be issued requiring people to refrain from certain conduct, to obtain specified treatment, or to provide notice of other persons with whom they have been in contact. Currently, there are Orders in place prohibiting mass gatherings and requiring certain places to close.
It is an offence to breach a Public Health Order, with penalties including fines of up to $11,000 and up to 6 months jail.
Under federal law, the Health Minister can determine requirements and give any directions deemed necessary to control COVID-19. It is an offence to breach a requirement or direction, with penalties including fines of up to $63,000.00 or up to 5 years jail.
If you have any questions about how your criminal law matter might be affected by these changes, please do not hesitate to email us or give us a call.