The profession has significant concerns for all who appear in court, from lawyers and their clients to victims and witnesses, to court staff and judges. Of particular concern are reports from lawyers and court staff suggesting lower vaccination rates and higher vulnerability among those required to attend court. This is particularly the case in the many busy District Courts.
The clear picture we are getting from across the country is that the judiciary is being cautious, and judges are using discretion in adjourning matters if they have concerns. We believe this is wise.
The Law Society believes a reduction of in-person appearances, and a conservative approach to resuming jury trials, will help keep the safety of those who appear in court at the forefront and assist in keeping courts running, albeit at a reduced capacity.
There are already significant backlogs and delays in our criminal justice system. To deliver justice, people need to have their matters resolved and while it's hard for our clients we know it's equally hard for the victims and witnesses waiting to be heard.
There are severe constraints on staffing, PPE and other resources required to ensure that courts can run at full capacity. Add to that Court rooms are by design enclosed, sealed rooms which were not designed with COVID-19 in mind.
We understand the Ministry of Justice and judiciary have been working hard to keep court users, including lawyers and our clients, safe. We acknowledge this is a difficult time for everyone.
The Law Society will continue to work with the Ministry of Justice, Heads of Bench (judges) and other stakeholders to ensure the courts can continue to operate and balance the many competing interests of the parties with the community’s shared interest in a safe and effective justice system.
The Law Society endorses a conservative approach which will mitigate the risk of courts themselves being linked to spread and/or suffering widespread issues like staff shortages linked to local outbreaks.