New jury trials halted to combat COVID-19
New jury trials will be temporarily suspended across the state from Monday as authorities grapple with the spread of coronavirus.
The NSW Supreme and District Court Chief Justices announced an urgent review of the empanelment process to limit close social contact among jurors, who form a key pillar of criminal trials.
Existing jury trials will continue while judge alone trials, bail applications and civil trials will not be affected, Chief Justice Thomas Frederick Bathurst AC and district court Chief Justice Derek Michael Price AM said in a joint statement on Sunday.
"The health and safety of all court users remains of paramount importance whilst maintaining access to justice and essential court services," they said.
"This decision has been made in response to the Australian government's advice to limit large gatherings and close social contact over an extended period of time."
Attorney-general Mark Speakman said audio visual link technology will be used more to minimise the number of people coming to court, while visitors not involved in cases are asked to stay away.
The trial delays will add to a huge existing backlog of cases clogging up the justice system.
"I acknowledge this will cause inconvenience, which is why a range of additional options to mitigate disruptions are being discussed," Mr Speakman said.
These will include the possibility of holding judge-alone trials by consent where possible, centralising Local Court bail applications at key locations and pre-recording evidence from witnesses when jury trials resume.
NSW Law Society president Richard Harvey labelled the move an understandable precautionary measure.
It comes after extra COVID-19 prevention efforts were rolled out across the state's jails.
No inmate or prison staff member has tested positive to the virus, but Corrective Services has pandemic plans in place to prevent outbreaks and control any spread of infection.
"All inmates and visitors are being screened to identify those who've been overseas or had contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days, or those showing symptoms," a spokeswoman said.
Corrective Services has already banned anyone who has travelled internationally or visited risk areas from entering prisons and hygiene procedures are being enforced behind bars.
"This can include staff and affected inmates wearing protective equipment gear, washing hands frequently, restricting movements of affected inmates and vaccinating staff and inmates for influenza where required," the spokeswoman said.
"There will also be an accelerated roll out of flu vaccinations to staff this year."