As the COVID-19 pandemic grew into Australia and the government put in place various lockdown measures such as stay-at-home orders and business restrictions to combat the spread, criminal justice system was also significantly affected.
As public health principles against the spread of the virus were imported into criminal law, consideration and processes for bail, access to clients, jury trials, judge-alone trials, sentences and applications for demonstrations and public assemblies were adjusted.
Courts at every level postponed or cancelled face-to-face proceedings and a rapid transition to ‘remote justice’ was implemented. However, it was not without certain teething problems.
The lack of adequate or appropriate technologies as well as the technical skills required for people to adapt was evident at the start.
Luckily, to-date, these challenges have largely been met – especially in the hardest hit lockdown State’s of Victoria and New South Wales. In some respects, there has been anecdotal evidence that remote justice measures have simplified and even improved functionalities of the justice system.
Courts adapted their processes to facilitate appearances, hearings and decisions by electronic and digital means.
This included limiting physical access to court rooms and utilising technical tools to enable matters to be heard by via audio and video conferencing. They also provided support materials to facilitate the continued professional activities of the legal community.
Safeguards were also put in place to ensure that lawyers in criminal law proceedings were able to represent their clients on an equal basis with the prosecution. This includes requirements for the consent of the accused in judge-only and fast-tracker trials, and public information for all parties on how to navigate the new remote justice system.
Access to Clients
Even after the National Cabinet moved to suspend in-person visits to adult correctional facilities, by March 2020 lawyers were still able to physically visit their clients.
Using Victoria as an example however, this changed the following month with the enactment of the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (Vic), which saw the restriction of visits to clients by lawyers and assistants.
This changed again earlier this year, and all in-person visits have resumed via non-contact ‘box’ visits.
Rights to Jury Trials
The jury is a fundamental part of the criminal justice system in Australia. The right to a fair trial, whether by jury or judge alone, is another fundamental part of the system of criminal justice in Australia. There are various important aspects of the right to a fair trial including:
- the right of an accused, with certain limitations, to legal representation of his or her choosing
- the right, subject to gross misbehaviour, of an accused person to be physically present in court at his or her trial.
Many state governments at least at some stages throughout the pandemic have moved to implement restrictions on conducting trials.
During lockdowns, accused persons were not allowed jury trials and courts were given the power to try criminal offences by judge alone.
Full Package Criminal Lawyers
COVID-19 has made changes to how we operate in the criminal justice system. If you’re looking for legal advice, Legal Pathways has a team of first-class lawyers who not only have extensive courtroom/advocacy experience, but hold related qualifications and experience in the areas of forensic science and criminal investigation. As such, our criminal lawyers can provide a comprehensive, unparalleled and unique legal service.