The Victorian courts and Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) have transformed the way they operate in response to the COVID-19.
In both the criminal and civil courts, we have rapidly moved to a position where appearances are being managed through the electronic and digital environment.
In response to public health advice, the courts and VCAT have made a number of operational changes that include the postponement of criminal jury trials, guidance around the use of face masks, Registry operations and filing documents and access to cases and hearings.
Further changes are now being made in response to the introduction of Stage 4 COVID-19 restrictions. Physical attendance will be limited to urgent or priority court or tribunal matters determined by the relevant head of jurisdiction.
All jurisdictions are conscious that this new environment requires lawyers to operate largely from their homes. While many have adapted to this mode of working already, others will be making new arrangements and doing so in different household environments. The challenges this presents are acknowledged and the jurisdictions will be mindful of this. There is great confidence in the profession's capacity to continue to assist the courts and VCAT to progress as many matters as possible through this time utilising technology.
The County Court will strengthen the default position it has had for some time now, which requires hearings to be conducted fully remotely, wherever possible.
In accordance with the Stage 4 Directions, the Chief Judge will consider whether to grant permission for a matter to be conducted involving the physical attendance at court of legal practitioners, the accused or other court users. This will be decided on a case-by-case basis, in circumstances where such physical attendance is necessary, there is no reasonable alternative, and the matter is urgent or of priority.
Otherwise, the Court will continue to conduct a range of work using video conferencing software, where counsel, the accused and other court users participate fully remotely.
These changes are underway and will remain in place until further notice.
The health and safety of judicial officers, staff, and court users is of the highest priority.
We will continue to closely follow public health advice, and thank all those coming into our courts and tribunal for their patience and understanding as we work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19.