The Courts remain committed to providing access to justice across regional Victoria during this period. However, until further notice, the Supreme and County Courts have changed how circuit sittings at regional locations will be conducted due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
Regional court work and circuit sittings
The Magistrates’ Court operates at all regional locations across the state including the Barwon, Loddon Valley, Grampians, Hume and Gippsland regions.
The Supreme and County Courts schedule a number of sitting periods at circuit locations in regional Victoria every year, in both the criminal and civil jurisdictions. These sittings can be scheduled for up to 5 weeks at a time, and typically involve in-court personal attendance by Judges and staff, practitioners, witnesses, and other court users.
Developments in the light of COVID-19
The Courts remain committed to providing access to justice across regional Victoria during this period.
The Magistrates’ Court continues to hear at both metropolitan and regional locations:
- Remand hearings
- Applications for bail, applications to vary bail and applications for revocation of bail
- Committal Mentions
- Pleas for accused in custody
- Family Violence – Application for Interim Orders and any other urgent Family Violence matters
- Urgent Personal Safety Intervention Order matters
- Urgent civil applications
- Civil hearings that can be conducted by way of telephone conferencing including pre-hearing conferences and Early neutral evaluation hearings
- Urgent Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal applications
Supreme Court (Trial Division) and County Court
Until further notice, the Supreme and County Courts have changed how circuit sittings at regional locations will be conducted due to the COVID-19 virus and having regard to the following matters:
- Jury trials have been suspended.
- Movement of people between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victorian locations is to be minimised in the interests of regional communities.
- Measures are being put in place to reduce the number of people attending regional court locations to allow social distancing in Magistrates’ Court matters.
The courts are working with the profession to leverage technology to run virtual hearings to enable parties to participate remotely.
(a) Criminal matters
Insofar as the regional work in the criminal jurisdiction is concerned, the Supreme and County Courts will work with parties who have matters listed at circuit locations in order to conduct work remotely (where possible) utilising technology including telephone conferences, and audio-visual solutions.
Supreme Court criminal jury trials which were listed for circuit in term 2 cannot proceed until juries recommence. The parties have been offered the option of a fixed trial date in Melbourne in term 4, or adjournment to the next circuit sitting for Supreme Court criminal matters (the 2021 circuit dates are not yet known). Criminal pleas and sentencing for circuit matters will continue to be held, using technology as circumstances permit.
County Court criminal jury trials cannot proceed until juries recommence. The County Court will focus on indictable pleas and sentences, sentence appeals from the Magistrates’ Court, appropriate pre-trial hearings and the case management of vacated jury trials.
(b) Civil Matters
Although no juries are available, it may be appropriate that civil jury trials be heard as causes. The Courts will work with the parties and their lawyers to process proceedings in circuit lists, particularly causes and serious injury applications.
Mediation services and hearings conducted remotely, using technology solutions, will continue with co-operation from the profession. Circuit sittings are being maintained for disposition of as much business as practicable by these remote procedures.
Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal will also be working with parties to conduct circuit matters remotely as they have been doing with appeals generally. Consideration is being given to how to provide access to those hearings for the local community without impacting on the work of local Magistrates’ Courts.
The Courts will continue to closely monitor the situation with a view to re-commencing conventional Supreme and County Court circuit sittings as quickly as possible.