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From 30 March 2020, the District Court have implemented a number of changes to the way in which criminal cases are heard during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is important to remain up to date as arrangements are likely to continue to change.

If you have a criminal matter in the District Court currently, please review the below information regarding the key arrangements that have recently taken effect by NSW District Courts in Australia.


Jury Trials

Whether a defendant is in custody or on bail, all jury trials that are not current have been suspended.

Upcoming criminal jury trials will be vacated and given new Trial dates after October 2020 – until further update.

A current jury trial means any trial that has already commenced for example, a jury that has already been selected and empanelled. The District Court will prioritise the health of jurors and professionals in court and continue these trials only in accordance with any COVID-19 regulations.

In the case of a judge alone trial (where there is no jury), and where a defendant is not in custody, these have been suspended and will be reviewed on 1 May 2020. The Court will notify parties of a new listing dates. In the cases where a defendant is in custody, judge alone trials will continue until further notice.


Bail Applications and Variations

District Court Bail Applications for Defendants in custody will still proceed. However, legal representatives are expected to appear via a virtual courtroom when making these applications, unless in exceptional circumstances.

Defendants in custody will not be brought to court physically and will appear via Audio Visual Link (AVL) in all applications.

From 1 April 2020, all applications to vary bail conditions, except in compelling cases, will be dealt with by a Judge in chambers without the need for parties to physically attend court. All legal representatives are required to provide written submissions to the District Court on an application to vary bail conditions. Parties will then be notified of the outcome by the court.

In a compelling case, where the bail application requires a hearing, this has to proceed via a virtual courtroom.


District Court Arraignments and Readiness Hearings

Where a defendant is not in custody, all Arraignments and Readiness Hearings are suspended.

The Registrars of the District Court will notify parties of a future mention date which will not be before 1 May 2020.

An arraignment is a day in the higher court (from the Local to District Court) in respect to serious criminal charge(s) where the defendant is required to appear and either plead guilty or not guilty after the court reads out the charges/allegations in court.

A readiness hearing court date is a date the defendant is required to attend before the date of hearing/trial to confirm whether or not each party are ready to proceed with hearing or trial. The hearing or trial date is then set and/or confirmed.

If the defendant is in custody, the court will continue to hear these matters via AVL facilities for as long as consistent with pandemic regulations.


District Court Sentences and Appeals Cases

District Court sentences and appeals, such as severity and all ground appeals will continued to be heard where a defendant is in custody.

Legal representatives are to appear virtually, unless in exceptional circumstances.

Legal representatives are obliged to notify the court of defendants whose time in custody on remand is approaching a period of time likely to exceed the time one will receive on sentence. In those cases, the court may list the Sentence or Appeal to an earlier date to be heard virtually via virtual application.

However, in the case that a defendant is not in custody, all Sentences and Appeals will not be proceeding on the allocated court date. Instead, the matter will be listed on a date after 1 May 2020 for Mention to set a new hearing date in accordance with the status of COVID-19 at that time.


Can family members and support persons attend court to watch District Court Sentences, Bail Applications or Appeals?

All hearings will be heard virtually in the District Court.

This means that legal practitioners will be appearing via virtual court rooms (Audio Visual Link) and defendants will also appear via AVL.

In those circumstances, the courts cannot realistically cater for members of the public to view or attend.

Unfortunately, this means that support persons such as family members are not able to be present during the Sentence or Appeal in court, unless the allocated Judge consents to it.

Who the allocated Judge ends up being will be a question mark until about a day or two before the court date or, in some cases, on the morning of court.

This means, that an application ought to be made to the court directly by a legal representative which will ultimately be decided by the Judge hearing the matter.

It cannot be guaranteed that in all cases, virtual appearance by family members will be accepted.

Confused? Call our Sydney criminal lawyers today to arrange a free consult. We’re here to help and available 24/7.

AUTHOR Tayla Regan

Tayla Regan is a Specialist Criminal & Traffic Defence Lawyer at Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia - Australia's Leading Criminal Defence Lawyers, Delivering Exceptional Results in all Australian Courts.

View all posts by Tayla Regan