The Supreme Court of NSW has recently put in place a number of protocols in relation to criminal proceedings.
The new measures are intended to protect the health and safety of courthouse workers, as well as legal teams, witnesses, the accused, and juries.
The Supreme Court is now establishing a separate trial ‘bubble’ for each criminal trial, with a view to keeping trials ‘Covid free’.
Double-dose vaccinations are mandatory
Everyone attending the trial in person, including jurors, will need to be at least double vaccinated – with the possible exception of the defendant and any other person specifically authorised by the trial judge.
Solicitors will be required to inform all parties of the requirement for vaccinations and confirm these to the court.
Vaccination status will not be kept or stored by the court, although it will be recorded in the transcript of proceedings.
Where a witness, a translator or other vital person is not vaccinated, they may attend via video link.
The requirement for regular RAT Screening
All court participants will be required to undergo regular rapid antigen screening, arranged by the Office of the Sheriff or Justice Health.
If someone tests positive, then they need to leave the premises immediately and will not be allowed to return to the ‘trial bubble’.
Rapid antigen testing
Rapid antigen testing (RAT) will be conducted on the first day of trial, as well as every two days thereafter.
These will occur in the following locations:
- Members of the judiciary and staff and will be tested in chambers,
- Defendants (in custody) will be tested at correctional facilities, prior to being transported to court,
- Corrective Services Officers will be tested at correctional facilities every two/three days, and
- All other trial participants will be tested at the Sydney Congress Hall (Salvation Army), 140 Elizabeth Street. Testing will commence from 8:30am – 11:00am depending upon the time the trial is listed to commence.
For those in regional and rural areas, a participant will be notified of how testing will be conducted prior to the commencement of the trial.
Masks are required to be worn in the courtroom at all times.
The only time a person can remove a mask is when they are addressing the courtroom – it’s permitted to remove a mask when speaking.
To pre-empt any potential problems caused by jury members falling ill and therefore requiring absences, amendments have been introduced to the Jury Regulation 2015 allowing the court to order up to three additional jurors in criminal trials where the trial duration is likely to be 4 or more weeks.
Under the changes, the addition of jurors will be considered on a case-by-case basis, and the trial judge will need to consider the size of the proposed courtroom as well as the size of the jury deliberation room and whether it can accommodate additional jurors.
The changes affect all Supreme Court trials, whether they are held in metropolitan or regional court rooms, although there will be some variations, depending on location and premises.
In some cases, the presiding judge may consider it appropriate for all the legal representatives involved to meet 1-2 weeks prior to the trial commencement date to discuss health protocols and practicalities, including:
- Full headcounts of all involved,
- The space available and capacity,
- Physical distancing requirements and how to manage these,
- The physical handling of documents, material and evidence,
- The number of judicial staff required,
- The location of witnesses, and
- Generally how the trial will run to accommodate what’s needed to ensure the fair carriage of justice.
Audio visual links will be used where possible and practical.
Audi-visual (AVL) links for media, family and support people
Journalists and members of the media will need to apply to the court to attend via video link.
Families, friends or support people for the accused and the victim will also need to be approved by the trial judge prior to commencement of proceedings.
If you need to attend court – if you are required for jury duty, or you need to appear as a witness, or want to attend in a supportive capacity, then it’s wise to keep in touch with the legal representatives.
You can also contact the court directly, if you know where the case is being tried