The Wheel of Justice Turns Slowly: The Court’s Response to COVID-19
It is common practice that criminal matters before the Courts must be dealt with in an expeditious manner, as justice delayed is justice denied. However, in light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the Queensland Judiciary has made the decision to do just that… delay justice.
As of 23 March 2020, Queensland criminal courts have been operating in a reduced capacity, as the whole world is in the process of making arrangements to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Whilst each court has their own nuances, the general guidelines are summarised in Magistrates Court Practice Direction No. 2 of 2020.
These changes, which are in place indefinitely, consist of the following changes (to name a few):
All jury trials are suspended, and Defendants are encouraged to apply for Judge Alone trials where appropriate;
All legal practitioners have leave to appear via telephone;
Legal practitioners are encouraged to finalise sentencing matters via telephone or audio visual link (AVL);
All summary trials in the Magistrates Court will be adjourned for a period of 3-months;
Prison visits will be via telephone or AVL;
Sentences where the Defendant is at risk of going into custody are to be adjourned.
Whilst these directions will dictate the way (and significantly, the timeframes) in which matters will be resolved, where a Defendant is in custody, the Court will still hear urgent bail applications, or sentence hearings where there is a likelihood the Defendant would be released from custody on or near the sentence date.
This same principle is being applied in reverse, i.e. when a Defendant is on bail and in the larger community, and is likely to receive a period of imprisonment when sentenced, that sentence will be adjourned for a period of 3-months. The logic being, is the imprisonment of persons currently in the community would inevitably lead to the introduction of COVID-19 into the prison system, an event which needs to be avoided.
The Queensland Court system is already bottle-necking, and these directions are only going to augment the backlog of cases when things return to normal. However, we are in the midst of what is the greatest non military risk to life since the Spanish Influenza in 1918, and when faced with unprecedented risk, unprecedented changes need to occur.
At the end of the day, human preservation will always trump justice and the Courts have taken appropriate steps to ensure it remains functioning (albeit at a reduced capacity). That being said, those charged with minor offences who intend to plead guilty, and a sentence of imprisonment is not within range, can still finalise their matters promptly.
If you, or someone you know, has been charged with a criminal offence and require competent representation, do not hesitate to contact the team at Creevey Russell Lawyers on 07 3009 6555 or 0436 665 939.