The New Zealand Parole Board says that from Wednesday 25 March, all cases will be considered on the papers by four of the most experienced senior panel convenors.
It says counsel will not be able to appear in person, but written submissions are welcome.
"The Board will require these as early as possible, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org."
The Board says it is being guided by section 13A of the Parole Act 2002, which covers epidemics, and allows for cases to be considered on paper only by four experienced parole convenors.
“The most important point for prisoners is they will still have their cases considered – just not in person,” says Board chairperson Sir Ron Young. “A form will be provided to prisoners, allowing them to give some basic information to the Board in lieu of appearing in person. We recognise this isn’t a perfect solution, but is one way to retain retain prisoners’ rights as much as possible."
However, he says a significant number of offenders routinely appear before the Board without counsel "and we must do all we can to ensure their legal representation at this time".
“I ask the New Zealand Law Society, ADLS Inc, Public Defence Service, and Legal Services Agency to urgently meet to find a way to ensure legal representation for all offenders due to have their case considered by the Board,” says Sir Ron.
The Board says it has asked the Department of Corrections to assist lawyers to have phone contact with offenders due for upcoming consideration by the Board.
The Board says it is working with Corrections on a process to allow prisoners to provide written input on their case.
“Now more than ever, access to justice is vitally important and we must make every attempt for offenders to have their say,” says the Board chairperson, Sir Ron Young.
Written decisions of the Board will not be available as quickly, due to the temporary measures, but will be issued as soon as possible.