The Environment Court will not physically be sitting in courtrooms or elsewhere during the Level 4 phase, the court says in a statement by Principal Environment Judge Laurie Newhook.
"The Environment Court is not categorised by the Chief Justice and Heads of Bench as a Category 1 Essential Service Court. Hence, all cases listed for hearing [during the week of 23 to 29 March] in the Environment Court have been adjourned except for ENV-2020-AKL-025, Environmental Protection Agency which is being processed on the papers," he says.
"Beyond this week, during the Level 4 phase, the Environment Court will not physically be sitting in courtrooms or elsewhere, and ADR events like mediation and expert conferencing will not be the subject of physical gatherings."
Judge Newhook says this will remain the situation until the Alert Levels drop, "which could be some weeks". This will all be subject to further direction from time to time, as this unprecedented situation continues to change.
"As head of this Court, I will arrange prioritisation of cases over which Environment Judges are presiding. Those that are the most urgent involving important issues in the public interest, could be the subject of some remote activity by Judges and Commissioners. Much of such activity will be audio, as AVL facilities are being prioritised by Heads of Bench and the Ministry, to the Category 1 Courts."
He says some AVL work might be possible, but there can be no guarantee. Lowest priority cases might remain fully adjourned during this period, but could be the subject of directions that parties and participants are able reasonably to undertake to keep them moving. Cases in the middle of that spectrum may be the subject of directions to advance them, and possibly audio or AVL conferences.
"The Judges and Commissioners are very aware that anything capable of being done to advance cases must occur with all participants working from home. We will ensure that anything asked of participants will be within the letter and spirit of sections 5 and 6 the Courts (Remote Participation) Act 2010. Health and safety of all participants are paramount, as are fairness and access to justice.
Judge Newhook says parties may be asked from time to time by Judges to consent to evidence and submissions being processed and resolved “'on the papers' to use the traditional phrase". In current circumstances that means electronically, he says.
"Arrangements have been put in place for means by which decisions, determinations, minutes and other documents can be signed, sealed and issued during this period. Earlier this week I issued a BLANKET WAIVER suspending the requirement to file paper originals and copies in court, subject to same being done by parties after the limitations are lifted.
"Contact can be made with the Court by phone or email to the case, hearing, or mediation manager handling any file, or if in doubt to the Deputy Registrar in the relevant registry as follows: Auckland: Gemma Carlyon, 027 4467193. Wellington: Rachell Staunton, 027 2569494. Christchurch: Michael Tinkler, 027 2808135.