Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia
In light of these restrictions, it is important to reiterate that the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Courts) are essential service providers, and the Courts will remain open to continue to provide access to justice in a timely and responsive way, whilst balancing this against the public health directions and necessary restrictions to protect our staff and our community.
The Courts remain open by conducting most trials and other hearings electronically via telephone or Microsoft Teams for the next seven days. This notification is to advise the legal profession and all court users that face-to-face hearings in the Melbourne and Dandenong registries (for the next seven days) will continue only if expressly authorised by the Chief Justice or presiding Judge, and only in exceptional circumstances. If matters cannot proceed electronically and must proceed face-to-face, the Courts will ensure that only the minimum necessary participants are to attend the registry or are present in the courtroom and other social distancing and other requirements are adhered to.
Chief Justice Alstergren has previously raised the expectation that during these exceptional times, parties should cooperate and ensure that the best interests of the child are addressed by complying with court orders. If strict adherence to parenting orders is not possible, it is imperative that any revised arrangements reflect the spirit of the orders.
The Courts have previously issued information in relation to parenting issues that may be of assistance:
- National COVID-19 List – National court list dedicated to dealing exclusively with urgent family law disputes that have arisen as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Border restrictions and parenting orders – Guidance in relation to border restrictions and shared parenting, and
- Parenting orders - Statement from Chief Justice, the Hon Will Alstergren.
Further information is available from the Courts’ websites here and here.
Victoria will enter a seven-day circuit breaker lockdown for seven days from 11:59pm Thursday, 27 May to 11:59pm Thursday, 3 June 2021.
This means there will be five reasons to leave home: Food and supplies; Authorised work; Care and caregiving; Exercise, for up to two hours and with one other person, and Getting vaccinated. For more information on how restrictions will apply to Victorians, please click here.
On Thursday, 27 May 2021, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria and Chair of Courts Council, Anne Ferguson, issued an update on behalf of the Victorian courts and VCAT:
- In accordance with the public health advice, matters will be held in person only where it is not practicable for them to be held remotely and it is essential that they proceed.
- The courts and VCAT will continue to hear as many matters as possible remotely. Some matters may be adjourned for a period of time.
- Criminal jury trials which are already underway will continue, following COVID-safe plans, although a few may be adjourned. No new criminal jury trials will begin until restrictions ease. Every effort will be made to re-list any vacated trials as soon as possible.
For the full statement, please click here.
Supreme Court of Victoria
In accordance with public health advice during the 7 Day Circuit Breaker Restrictions, physical attendance for hearings in the Supreme Court will be limited to essential matters that cannot proceed remotely.
The arrangements under the Notice to the Profession issued on 17 May 2021 are suspended for this period.
Please see Judicial Support Contacts to contact the chambers of the presiding judicial officer regarding the arrangements in individual matters or contact Registry on 8600 2000.
COVID-Safety measures are in place across all buildings for any onsite attendances that are authorised. Public entrances will be open. QR recording systems remain in place at each building’s security screening area.
Face masks are required to be worn in all Supreme Court of Victoria (SCV) buildings, as well as outside, subject to the exemptions. Masks can be provided at the security screening point if required.
The Supreme Court Registry and Probate Office remain operational. Please telephone the Registry Services team or the Probate Office to discuss alternatives to in-person attendance or to make an appointment if attendance is essential. The Registry Services team and Probate Office can be contacted on 8600 2000.
If you are subject to a requirement to isolate, feel unwell or have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), however mild, do not attend at Court and notify the Registry by calling the Prothonotary on 03 8600 2023 or emailing email@example.com.
County Court of Victoria
The Commercial Division of the County Court has published a response to the “circuit breaker lockdown’” restrictions here. Until such restrictions are eased, the arrangements outlined in the document available at the below will apply to matters in the Commercial Division.
Onsite attendance and criminal jury trials
Those criminal jury trials underway may continue at Melbourne and on Circuit, subject to the views of the judge and the parties. Self-evidently, there is a strong public interest in those trials proceeding to verdict, where possible. The Court deems the continuation of any jury trial which has begun as essential.
Criminal jury trials which were due to be empaneled tomorrow, 28 May 2021, or next week will not be able to proceed. Every effort will be made to relist these trials as soon as possible. The Court will be in contact with the parties soon in relation to these re-listings.
Onsite attendance and criminal judge alone trials
There are a few judge alone trials which are midstream. Given their equivalence with jury trials, the interests of justice demand that they proceed to conclusion as efficiently as possible. By their nature, the Court considers the completion of such trials as essential to the administration of justice. Where onsite attendance is needed for the efficient completion of these trials, the Court would authorise it.
Onsite attendance and other non-jury trial work
Save for work considered essential to the administration of justice, all other non-trial jury work will have to be conducted, if possible, completely offsite. That means that all matters are to be conducted remotely. If the matter cannot be effectively conducted remotely, then the matter will be adjourned.
Onsite attendance will only be approved where there are compelling reasons why the case must go ahead over the next week, and where a remote hearing is not practicable.
This is a Statewide lockdown.
The above considerations apply equally to all criminal circuit work – jury and non-jury work.
Mask wearing is at Setting 2 for cases which are conducted onsite, namely those in a speaking role, including counsel, are not required to wear a mask, but all other participants and other court users (including jurors) must wear a mask. The Setting 2 will extend to all circuit matters.
Letters of authority
The profession should obtain any letter of authority to attend onsite at Court from their respective organisations, should this be required.
An accused’s bail papers will suffice to attend onsite at Court.
The approach outlined above is based upon a 7-day lockdown.
Should the lockdown continue, then the Court’s approach will be reviewed.
Magistrates’ Court of Victoria
Please find attached Practice Direction X of 2021 that commenced operation at 11:59pm on Thursday, 27 May 2021.
The purpose of this Practice Direction is to outline arrangements that will apply during the circuit breaker lockdown as directed by the Chief Health Officer on Thursday, 27 May 2021. It applies statewide, to all venues of the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, until 11:59pm on Thursday, 3 June 2021.
The Practice Direction is intended to reduce the need for physical attendances at Court by maximising the use of remote hearings. It provides, where possible, for the listing of all matters remotely via the Online Magistrates’ Court or on WebEx, rather than at a physical court venue.
It confirms that all physical attendances at court venues are to be by prior arrangement with the Court – except in the case of urgent family violence interim applications and first remand hearings, where they are unable to proceed remotely.
Specific directions are provided with respect to first remand/bail hearings, in custody matters, summary hearings, committal mentions, family violence applications, Personal Safety Intervention Order applications, VOCAT and urgent civil applications.
For up-to-date information about the Courts’ responses, please visit their websites:
- Federal Court of Australia – see here.
- Family Court of Australia – see here.
- Federal Circuit Court of Australia – see here.
- Supreme Court of Victoria – see here.
- County Court of Victoria – see here.
- Magistrates’ Court of Victoria – see here.