New Zealand Law Society - Public courthouse access limited

Public courthouse access limited

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District Courts and the High Court are now excluding from courthouses members of the public whose attendance is not required for the business of the court that day, Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann has announced.

Dame Helen says this is to preserve public safety and give effect to the COVID-19 Alert Level 4.

"Under section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011, a court may exclude members of the public when necessary to avoid endangering the safety of any person present, to avoid undue disruptions to the conduct of proceedings, or to avoid prejudicing the maintenance of the law. In the present state of emergency, it has been necessary to exercise this power," she says.

"With effect immediately, the only members of the public who can enter the District Court or High Court for criminal proceedings are those whose presence is required for the business of the court.

"The court will remain open to accredited members of the media to ensure that the principles of open justice continue to be observed.

"The following people are also permitted to enter the court: defendants, prosecutors, lawyers and officers of the court. All people attending court may be required to show identification."

Supporters denied entry

Dame Helen says as a result of these measures, supporters of people appearing in person will be denied entry to courthouses unless they get advance permission from the presiding Judge.

"These requests cannot be made in person at the courthouse because all public counters are closed to the public, as are court precincts. Instead, permission can be requested by telephoning the Ministry of Justice Contact Centre 0800 COURTS (0800 268 787)."

She says if permission is given to attend as a supporter, a court security officer will advise the person that they may enter. For the health and wellbeing of everyone in the courthouse, supporters will be denied entry if they are feeling unwell or have flu-like symptoms. If any supporter disobeys safety orders from court staff, or creates a disruption, they will be asked to leave.

Priority Family Court hearings

For those people who need to attend a court for priority Family Court proceedings, or other priority civil proceedings, there will be signs on the court doors advising how they can contact court staff for assistance.

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