As New Zealand’s alert levels edge downwards the changing face of trials and court work has entered the realms of the new normal – face masks, scanning-in and social distancing.
New laws and case law continue and academic treatises on the effect of Covid on society, the law, Maori, the justice system and more continue to emerge from the law schools.
There have also been studies on how Covid affects the deliberations of juries.
One report from the CourtroomSciences blog noted from US research that when juries return they will be more extreme in their beliefs and more adament in defending their beliefs.
“One key finding is that these individuals will adhere to and defend their pre-existing attitudes and beliefs, and often become more polarized.
“Again, doing so helps them feel more in control and ease the psychological distress caused by uncertainty. Stress and fear catalyze the fight or flight response mode. These individuals are not in a position to consider multiple response options. Instead, they tend to choose familiar options when making a decision that cohere with their pre-existing experiences and beliefs.
“This is why stressed or fearful individuals often keep deploying the same ineffective tactic in the face of a threat rather than to consider a different, more effective solution.”
During level 4 lockdown the Justice Ministry announced that more than 6500 court hearings have been postponed around the country, but as the restrictions eased, the new face-masked court appearances have become the new norm.
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A recent social media post from Whanganui Crown Solicitor Michele Wilkinson-Smith noted how level 2 jury trials and the Covid protocols were ‘normal’.
“Everyone masked including the jury who sit in an extended jury box to allow for some social distancing. We came straight out of lockdown into a 3 week jury trial session in Whanganui so we are just getting on with it. After a few days it feels normal.”
The ‘Covid court’ rules have changed . . for counsel and for juries.