Experienced Wellington criminal lawyer Mike Antunovic criticised the Ministry of Justice for continuing with jury trials in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
The Wellington District Court had 355 potential jurors scheduled for callover next week for jury trials
And now Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann (left) has suspended all new jury trials from 23 March for two months.
Existing jury trials will continue and a press release has indicated that the suspension will be reviewed based upon new advice received.
This week, defence lawyer Antunovic said to District Court Judge Peter Hobbs that he couldn’t believe the Ministry of Justice was still requiring staff such as the court security guards to be exposed to every person who enters the courthouse.
“I’d like to see some of those officials get down there and do that,” he said.
He said there was a trial scheduled to begin in the High Court at Wellington on Monday with 355 potential jurors expected to show up.
“It just seems to me to be absurd that they would be expected to all assemble in the one area. It’s quite unbelievable really,” he said.
Judge Hobbs said he was just a “foot soldier” and the advice from higher up the chain was to “continue as normal”, according to a NZ Herald report.
“I can’t personally help the security officers but what I can tell you is that obviously the matters that you raised are in daily review,” he said.
And now, it seems, the ‘daily review’ has reached the Chief Justice with the announcement of jury trial suspensions.
The Justice Ministry Statement:
Information for jurors From the Ministry of Justice
The Ministry is working quickly to contact all affected court participants, including jurors. If you are a juror who has been summonsed for trials from Monday 23 March, please do NOT come to court. If you have any questions relating to your summons, please call 0800 COURTS (0800 268 787).
All courts remain open.
Information for all court users
Any changes to court schedules for Senior Courts will be notified in the Daily Lists published here(external link).
Anyone attending court is advised to follow the advice of the Ministry of Health and;
- do not come to court if you are unwell,
- do not come to court if you have been instructed to self-isolate,
- let court staff know if you become unwell in court,
- practice coughing and sneezing etiquette,
- wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with soap.
If you were planning to attend court and are unwell, or you have been instructed to self-isolate, please call the court that you were going to attend to discuss your particular case. Any other questions can be directed to 0800 COURTS (0800 268 787).
If you believe that you or someone else in court has COVID-19, call Healthline immediately on 0800 358 5453.
It is recommended that you stay at a distance from other people if you come to court. You may wish to avoid handshakes, hongi, or sitting closely to others for long periods of time. All courts have hand sanitiser readily available for all to use.
Information for lawyers
Information on all courts about remaining sittings and any special arrangements that may be necessary will be updated on our web site accordingly.
Special sittings and admission ceremonies may be affected. If you intended to attend any of these, please contact the court that the sitting or ceremony was to be held in to confirm what arrangements are being made.
The Chief Justice addressed a letter to lawyers on 13 March 2020 about planning for possible effects of a COVID-19 outbreak on court operations. A copy of this letter is available here(external link).
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