As in other states and territories, precautionary measures against COVID-19 have had significant impacts on the ACT’s justice system, from consequences for trials and tribunal proceedings to effects on people on bail, under supervision and in prison and police cells.
To limit risk to court and tribunal users, revised arrangements have been implemented to avoid filing documents in person, to suspend enforcement action and to conduct all tribunal hearings and mediations by teleconference temporarily. Notably, amendments were made to the Supreme Court Act 1933 to authorise Supreme Court judges to dispense with criminal trials by jury for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. However, some jury trials have recommenced as of 15 June 2020 provided social distancing can be observed. A bill was also introduced in the ACT Legislative Assembly on 18 June 2020 to repeal the authorisation for judge-alone trials.
The Alexander Maconochie Centre has similarly moved from in-person visits to online visits, including for family members and, in some cases, lawyers (see ‘Places of Detention‘). This responds to the greater risk of infection in a prison environment given the often higher rates of chronic illness and a record of poorer health among inmates, and the limited space available for distancing or isolating confirmed or suspected cases. The ACT has also made provision for the early release of detainees convicted of low-level offences, or their temporary leave in the community where assessed as appropriate.
ACT Courts and Tribunal – Special Measures in response to the COVID-19 Virus
ACT Bar Association – Special Edition Bar Bulletin: Right to Trial by Jury
Legal Aid ACT – Weekly summaries of restrictions and COVID-19 measures (Youtube)
Canberra Community Law – Coronavirus service advice
Judicial College of Victoria – Coronavirus and the Courts (concerning temporary operating procedures in Australian Courts)
Judicial College of Victoria – Coronavirus Jurisprudence (information about COVID-19-related cases across different areas of law)
Justice Connect, Victoria – Resources for people affected by COVID-19