After a two-month hiatus due to COVID-19, jury trials will resume in NSW with strict new hygiene measures for anyone attending court. Trials in the District Court will be first off the rank; with jury trials to resume from Monday 15 June after an announcement by the Chief Justice Derek Price in May. The Court resumed posting summonses to potential jurors on 11 May.
Supreme Court criminal trials will follow later in the month, resuming on 29 June as announced by Chief Justice Tom Bathurst. Chief Justice Bathurst said 13 criminal trials had been delayed due to the pandemic, and five accused (in a further four trials) have taken the option for trial by judge-alone.
“For the first time in living memory, personal appearances were essentially banned in our courtrooms two months ago to help minimise the spread of the virus,” Chief Justice Bathurst said. “I am pleased to outline a return to in-court hearings, in a measured and staged approach that protects the health and wellbeing of all court users.”
The shift to a remote system of justice was not without its technical challenges, yet I am confident we are getting better each day, and I see an innovative and flexible future ahead.
Chief Justice Tom Bathurst
Bathurst said that, moving forward, criminal trials would require “at least two courtrooms each” to accommodate social distancing requirements. He said he envisaged some lists would be heard online, a new advantage that could be attributed to the court’s “remarkable” transition to virtual courtrooms in recent weeks.
“The shift to a remote system of justice was not without its technical challenges, yet I am confident we are getting better each day, and I see an innovative and flexible future ahead,” he said.
In the District Court, Sheriff of NSW Tracey Hall said that jurors would need to adhere to strict hygiene measures and social distancing – laid out on a factsheet that would be sent to potential jurors with their summonses. This could include, but was not limited to, temperature checks, screening questions and spaced-out juror seating to reduce the risk that people with cold or flu-like symptoms would present in court.
“Ample provision of hand sanitiser, readily available wash stations, increased commercial cleaning and individualised meals will also help prevent contamination,” Hall said.
Juror selection would also be held by audio-visual link, removing the dangers of crowding that saw jury empanelment become impossible amid the COVID-19 lockdown in NSW.
A statement from NSW Department of Communities and Justice said, for the time being, District Court jury trials will only be held at the Sydney Downing Centre complex and Parramatta and Newcastle courthouses.