18 May 2020

Jury trials resume in ACT Supreme Court with temperature testing

| Dominic Giannini
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ACT Supreme Court

Jury trials will resume in the ACT Supreme Court from mid-June. Photo: Region Media.

Jury trials in the ACT Supreme Court will resume from 15 June in cases where Court facilities and resources allow for appropriate social distancing and health measures for jurors, witnesses, practitioners, accused persons and staff.

Temperature checks will also be a new staple of proceedings to ensure the health of people using the court.

All final hearings, enforcement hearings, cost assessments, commercial lease conciliations, Industrial Court worker’s compensation conferences and registrar hearings scheduled before 1 July were vacated by the Court at the end of March because of COVID-19.

Chief Justice Helen Murrell says some trials will still remain suspended where it is not safe to conduct hearings.

“For a significant number of matters – including matters involving multiple accused – it will not be feasible to conduct jury trials in the near future,” she said.

“All Court attendees will be required to cooperate with measures deemed appropriate by Court and security staff, including temperature testing.”

The decision has been welcomed by the ACT Law Society more than a month after it criticised the Government for removing the right to a trial by jury.

Under the new laws, a judge trying a case can force the defendant to proceed to a judge-only trial if the judge perceives it to be “in the interest of justice”, even if they do not consent.

The President of the Law Society, Chris Donohue, says lawyers and legal practitioners should continue to listen to the health advice to help stop the spread of COVID-19 during proceedings.

“We urge all legal practitioners, and any others involved in such trials, to ensure they fully comply with the measures put in place by the Court,” he said.

“The Society is satisfied that the Court will apply appropriate measures to implement such trials in a safe and effective manner.”

Audiovisual facilities in the new court building had previously been brought in to support the safe continuation of Court processes and allow parties to appear in court remotely, while some lists were moved to digital platforms to minimise physical contact.

The court is encouraging people to use emails where possible.

During the pandemic, anyone who is required to self-isolate or quarantine does not have to report to the court and instead should contact the registry team in advance, or the sheriff’s office in the case of jury duty.

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