Like everyone else the courts are grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. Yesterday, Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann announced new measures that would be brought in in response to the Government's implementation of a four-level COVID-19 alert system and designation of the current situation as level two – reduce contact.

The Chief Justice's message was clear: the courts will continue to operate, though practices may need to change to limit social contact.

Where possible, the courts will make decisions on the papers (i.e. without oral submissions) or hearings will take place by telephone or audio-visually. The Ministry of Justice is undertaking work to ensure that the appropriate infrastructure is in place to support this in a more flexible way than is currently available.

The Chief Justice acknowledged that there would be disruption to court schedules, with the District Court being the worst affected. Where there was disruption, proceedings involving personal liberty (such as criminal matters) or time-critical issues (such as injunctions) would be given priority.

The Chief Justice's message was echoed by the President of the Court of Appeal, Stephen Kós, the Chief High Court Judge, Geoffrey Venning and the Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu, who each issued separate guidance. All emphasised that civil matters would continue to be heard subject to some changes to court practices.

It is not yet known how the courts will respond should the Government increase the COVID-19 alert level to three or four.

If you would like to discuss how COVID-19 affects you or your business, please contact your Wynn Williams advisor.

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