COVID-19: Changes needed to minimise impact on delivery of justice

Changes, including national access to judge-only trials, need to be made to ensure the justice system can still operate fairly in light of the social distancing requirements caused by COVID-19, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“We completely support the implementation of appropriate public health measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Greg Barns, national criminal justice spokesperson, ALA.

“However, to ensure the courts can continue to operate fairly, there are some changes that could be made quickly to ensure defendants, witnesses and victims can still access justice.

“In states where this is not currently possible, defendants should be allowed to elect to have the right to a jury trial waived, so that trials can proceed before a judge of the court. This will minimise the delays that will otherwise limit access to justice.

“Taking this step will allow court cases to proceed in light of social distancing measures, and is an option the ALA supports more broadly.

“We would also like to see home detention considered as a possibility for older detainees who are on remand or have been sentenced. This will help to ensure their health and safety.

“Clearly the increased use of video link technology and on-line court facilities is going to be very important for both civil and criminal trials, and we welcome and encourage further use of this technology.

“Even with these changes adopted, the social distancing measures that need to be put in place will likely cause significant injustice over the coming months because of a delay in the disposition of cases. This needs careful monitoring and review to ensure individuals are not being unfairly and unduly impacted.”

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