If you’ve got a court case coming up, you’re probably wondering how the COVID-19 restrictions will affect it.

The NSW Local Court has implemented huge changes to how it operates. Many types of cases have been postponed and there are new rules about who is allowed in the courthouse.

It is likely that your case will be affected in some way. These are big changes that we are all still learning (clients and lawyers alike!). If you’re not sure, feel free to contact Janelle or Sarah at Ainsley Law. We’re happy to help cut through the confusion. 

The information set out below is focussed on how these changes will affect traffic matters (because as dedicated traffic lawyers, traffic is what we do!)

Time limits to court elect and lodge appeals still apply

We are putting this right at the top because it’s really important.

You will read below that many types of cases have been put on hold, some until the end of the year. However, this is not a pause on the time limit for you to court elect or lodge your appeal.

If you receive an infringement notice or licence suspension that you wish to take to court there are strict time limits to lodge your application. These must still be complied with.

The best thing to do is to get advice and make your application now, to ensure your right of appeal is preserved. 

Defended hearings postponed

If you have already entered a plea of “not guilty” you will likely have been given a hearing date. 

All defended hearing dates scheduled for between 23 March and 1 May 2020 have been postponed (unless the defendant in is custody pending the hearing). 

Instead, you will be given a mention date in early May for a new hearing date to be allocated. Unfortunately, due to the backlog in the courts, this may be many months away.

Sentencing matters to go ahead

At this stage, cases where the person has plead “guilty” will go ahead as scheduled. 

The magistrate can conduct the sentencing hearing without you attending if your case is not too serious (i.e. likely to get nothing worse than a fine). The magistrate will let you know if they decide you need to be present.

If you want your sentence to be decided in your absence, you can send the court documents that you’d like considered. This could include character references, an explanation letter etc. 

It’s a good idea to speak with a lawyer before choosing to have your case dealt with in your absence. You want to make sure it won’t result in a worse penalty. 

Emailing the court

You may be able to deal with some administrative court appearances by email. This is a big change because the Magistrate normally expects the defendant or their lawyer to attend every court date.

The rules about when it’s ok to email are a bit complicated. It’s probably wise to confirm with the court or a lawyer if it’s ok in your case.

New cases on hold

Normally the first court date for a new case is about 4 weeks from the Court Attendance Notice is created. This is being extended:

  • Charge matters where the person is not on bail or in custody (e.g. drink driving) will be allocated a date 12 weeks away. 
  • Matters where the person has court elected a traffic infringement (e.g. a speeding fine) have been suspended until October 2020.

Limits on people coming to court

Many courthouses are restricting who is allowed into the building to limit the crowd. You may find that only you and your lawyer can enter. Support people (such as mum, partner, friend) are being told they cannot come into the building. 

These changes are all very new and are being updated to keep the courts in line with government policy.  At Ainsley’s lawyers are available by phone to help take the stress out of your court matter so that you can focus on the bigger issues.  Our thoughts are with all in the community as we navigate these unprecedented times together.

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