By and -

The original version of this article was published on 13 January but has since been edited to reflect current court operations and procedures.

Physical courtrooms have started to make a comeback for 2022, after a turbulent start to the year amid a surge of Omicron cases across NSW.

Supreme Court hearings (except for Registrar’s Lists, bail hearings and Judges’ Lists) resumed in-person on 31 January, with strict rules requiring all persons attending provide proof of double vaccination, check in with a QR code and wear a face mask. Judges and those speaking are exempt from the mask rule.

Each criminal trial in the Supreme Court is now operating under a bubble system. Each person attending the trial, including jurors, must be double vaccinated – with the possible exemption of the accused. All court participants will also need to complete regular rapid antigen screening, arranged by the Office of the Sheriff or Justice Health.

The NSW local court operated mostly remotely through January to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19. All defended hearings in NSW will be vacated up to and including Friday 11 February, including hearings where the defendant is in custody.

The Chief Magistrate of the Local Court, Judge Peter Johnstone said matters would remain listed for call over and self-represented litigants can make an application to the Court to appear in person in limited circumstances.

Criminal lawyer and partner at Dowson Turco Lawyers Nicholas Stewart told LSJ despite his concerns, he understands the need to adapt to the unpredictable nature of COVID-19.

“The decision is understandable, from a health and safety standpoint, because judicial offices and court staff and lawyers are exposed. It can be quite scary to attend court – from a virus point of view,” Stewart told LSJ.

Sittings for the District Court also resumed on 31 January. All civil proceedings have moved to virtual courtrooms with no personal appearances allowed until further notice. Many types of criminal hearings will also go online including sentencing hearings, Local Court appeals, bail applications, and matters for mention.

District Court jury and judge alone trials will continue to proceed in-person; with anyone attending court, including jurors, required to take a rapid antigen test at the start of the trial and on every second day of the trial.

The Children’s Court of NSW has excused parties from attending court in person unless otherwise directed. All crime, parole, care and protection, education and AVO lists will continue to operate but should be conducted by audio-visual link. If necessary, the parties can attend the court to appear by telephone or by AVL where those facilities are available.

The 2022 Opening of Law Term Dinner will be held on Monday 28 March at the Hyatt Regency Sydney, with the outgoing Chief Justice of NSW Tom Bathurst delivering the opening address. Guests will also hear from Joanne van der Plaat, President of the Law Society of NSW, who will deliver the 2022 Presidential Address.

The Opening of Law Term Red Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral Parramatta will go ahead as usual, and the Red Mass at St Marys Cathedral will be held by AVL link. All other services have been deferred.

The Law Society of NSW provides weekly COVID-19 email updates for lawyers wishing to stay across changing court procedures and requirements through the pandemic. Sign up to the emails here.