These answers to key questions provide further information on the resumption of jury trials in the County Court and Supreme Court of Victoria.
Criminal jury trials will resume in the Supreme Court and County Court from 20 July 2020.
The courts are in the process of reviewing individual trial listings with the parties.
The Supreme Court is planning to conduct up to three jury trials at any given time. The County Court is planning to conduct up to five jury trials during an initial period, and, when appropriate, progressively increase to ten jury trials at any given time.
Provided that jurors and trial participants do not fall ill during trial, the COVID-19 measures are not expected to cause trials to take significantly longer. Staggered sitting times, to minimise the congregation of people entering and exiting the court building, may add some time to the overall length of a trial, but it is not considered that this will be substantial.
Jury pools will be formed virtually, with only smaller groups (jury panels of approximately 40–45 people) brought into court (at the Supreme Court) and into the jury pool room (at the County Court) for jury empanelment, at staggered times. In the Supreme Court, physical distancing will be maintained throughout the empanelment and trial process. Jurors will be spread apart in the courtroom and provided with much larger spaces for their jury room.
In the County Court, jury empanelment will be conducted remotely, using video-links between the jury pool and the courtroom. Physical distancing will be maintained throughout the trial process. Jurors will be seated in extended jury boxes, and provided with much larger spaces for their jury room.
In both courts, hygiene measures including regular cleaning will also be in place and the handling of common objects will be minimised.
A trial court will be paired with another nearby courtroom or large space, where the entire space will serve as the “jury room”.
People will not be required to touch or hold a religious text when swearing an oath. In the Supreme Court, each juror will be provided with a tablet to view exhibits and will be told not to share or swap tablets. Each juror will also have their own note pads and stationery. In the County Court, jurors will receive individual copies of documentary exhibits. Where jurors are asked to handle an exhibit that cannot be copied, they will be provided with gloves.
Yes. The courts have put in place arrangements for regular cleaning of the jury pool room, empanelment courtroom, trial courtrooms and jury deliberation area with a focus on high touch points in areas used by multiple people. For example, high touch points in the witness box will be cleaned between witnesses.
Seating arrangements will differ for each courtroom. In some courtrooms in the Supreme Court, the arrangements will require reconfiguration of participants as follows:
In the County Court, the configuration of participants will remain the same as usual, however, jury boxes are being physically extended to ensure they provide appropriate physical distancing. In both the Supreme and County Courts, people in the courtroom (including jurors) will be expected to use the same seat throughout the trial.
In line with Victorian public health advice, people in the courtroom will be seated 1.5m apart. Signs or markings will indicate which seats may be used and which may not.
In ordinary circumstances, pools of up to 200 people attend the County Court building to form the jury pool for trials across the Supreme Court and the County Court. During COVID-19, pools will be formed remotely, and only smaller panels, comprising about 40-45 people will attend at any given time. Where more than one panel is formed each day, the jury pool room will be cleaned before each new group uses the room.
Initially, summonses will only be sent to people who live in metropolitan Melbourne. The Juries Commissioner will issue an appropriate number of summonses to ensure that enough jurors are available for the number of trials starting.
The courts are in the process of assessing regional courts to determine when and how jury trials can be resumed safely there, applying similar measures that have been adopted for jury trials in Melbourne.
The courts anticipate that physical distancing will be required for quite some time, but that timeframe will depend on medical advice and advancements. The courts will follow public health advice in this regard. The courts have developed the COVID-19 measures in consultation with Victorian public health experts.