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Wheels of justice continue to turn

New Zealand courts are deemed an essential service and will keep operating throughout the alert Level 4 phase, albeit in a different way.

In Gisborne District Court yesterday, a judge's list fixture proceeded as scheduled but cases involving defendants already on bail were administratively adjourned to either May 4 or 9.

Those defendants were not required to attend court in person.

Those in custody or on yesterday's arrest list were dealt with by AV- link in courtroom one in the afternoon.

The only people allowed into the courtroom were the prosecutor, duty lawyer and counsel.

Support people were not permitted to enter. Neither were media representatives.

In a media statement yesterday, Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann assured New Zealanders “the courts will continue to uphold the rule of law and to ensure that fair trial rights, the right to natural justice, and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, are upheld”.

But the move to Level 4 will be extremely disruptive to everyday court practices, she said.

“It is my expectation that for the remainder of this week courts will operate only in the priority areas I identified earlier this week, namely proceedings that affect liberty of the individual, personal safety and wellbeing, matters in which resolution is time critical,” Justice Winkelmann said.

Proceedings have been cancelled this week in other courts — the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Employment Court, Environment Court, Maori Land Court, Waitangi Tribunal and Coroners Court.

”As far as possible, and to avoid the need for people to attend court in person, the courts will use remote participation to hear matters. Remote participation may involve AVL where that is possible, telephone or email.

“However, in the District Court in-person attendances may be required in some cases. Where court attendance is unavoidable, the safety of the public, court staff and members of the legal profession is paramount. Measures have been taken to achieve physical distance and to improve courthouse hygiene,” Justice Winkelmann said.

The Courts of New Zealand website will continue to provide regularly updated information on how each court expects to operate during this time of heightened alert.

■ COURT will continue to operate with the exception of tomorrow's Ruatoria District Court session, which has been adjourned until April 30 because of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Gisborne District Court is continuing to operate with the exception of jury trials.

The Chief Justice has suspended all new jury trials from this week for two months as a precautionary measure.

No trials were scheduled for Gisborne this week, but the final trial of last week was adjourned.

Court users nationwide are greeted with signs asking them to stay out if they've been overseas in the last 14 days, are feeling unwell, or are over 70.

Hand sanitiser and anti-bacterial wipes have been made available.

The country's courts were among the services or businesses not required by the Prime Minister to go into lockdown for the next four weeks.