COVID-19 Suspension of new jury trials

The Chief Justice, Dame Helen Winkelmann, has announced that jury trials in New Zealand are suspended for the next two months in the wake of measures to contain the spread of Covid-19. her Letter to the profession now follows:

"Functioning courts are critical to the maintenance of law and order and the safeguarding of human rights. During the current pandemic, it is particularly important for the courts to continue to provide essential justice services for the community – including for victims of crime and those taken into custody. Nevertheless, the judicial leadership must also ensure the safety of all who participate in the courts.

The Chief Medical Officer’s advice to the judiciary to date, has been that so long as prudent hygiene precautions are practised in courthouses and community transfer of COVID-19 has not occurred, hearings can proceed safely. That advice has not changed.

However, I have decided that maintaining prudent hygiene precautions in the environment of a jury trial is unrealistic. After consultation with Heads of Bench and the Secretary for Justice it has been decided all new jury trials will be suspended for two months. This decision does not affect jury trials already in progress

I believe it necessary to take this step out of an abundance of caution. There is a special onus on the courts to protect the health of jurors who are performing an important civic duty.

The process of empanelling juries often involves bringing large numbers of people together in relatively confined spaces. Once empanelled jurors are inevitably spending significant periods of time in relatively close contact.

There are also risks to trials proceeding in the event a juror or other court participant becomes unwell and must be sent home. In the current environment, where anyone feeling unwell is being told to stay away from court, this problem will become more pronounced for jury trials."

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