Australia: Chief Judge Federal circuit court confirms courts are prepared for COVID-19 in long-term

The Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia said the courts are now prepared to see out a long-term future in conducting hearings via a “digital transformation”.

William Alstergren QC has issued a notice to the legal profession, assuring them that over 100 judges, 35 registrars and 40 different locations are now well equipped to handle trials, appeals and applications electronically from each registry amid coronavirus concerns. Reports The Australian Lawyers Weekly.

Urgent matters will still be given priority for the time being, with many postponements and cancellations still standing, but the profession is prepared for a long-term future.

“The rapid implementation of new technologies has not been without issues, however the problems have been dealt with as they unfolded and, generally speaking, hearings [have been going well],” Mr Alstergren said on a number of matters heard by courts recently.

The courts have now moved to a Digital Court File, which will allow the ability to conduct hearings remotely and will “enhance the [courts’] flexibility to hear trials and appeals” over digital means in the long-term, including via telephone and video link.

“It allows judges to hear cases from any registry or in remote locations,” the Chief Judge added. “It also provides an extremely safe and less stressful forum for vulnerable parties.”

All duty lists are now being conducted digitally, except for a very small number of matters that are under exceptional circumstances. Even then, court processes are in place.

As for directions hearings and trials, Mr Alstergren said the courts have a greater capacity to conduct “as many hearings as possible in current circumstances”.

“The [courts] will rely on the profession to assist by cooperating with the use of technology, adapt to new practice directions and be progressive,” Mr Alstergren said.

Source: Australian Lawyers Weekly