Thursday, April 25, 2024

Court rules tighten around COVID crisis

The Government is moving forward with legislation changes to ensure that courts can continue operating safely and effectively as COVID-19 spreads in the community.

“Access to justice through the courts is vital to a fair and democratic society,” Justice Minister, Kris Faafoi said.

“The courts must continue to operate during the pandemic to enable people to access justice. When people attend court they must have a reasonable assurance of safety.”

Minister Faafoi said while measures to date to keep COVID-19 out of the courts had largely worked, additional safety measures were needed to manage transmission risks under the COVID-19 Protection Framework.

“I know people who are essential to our justice system operating fairly – like jurors and lawyers – are apprehensive about entering the courts. Courts carry transmission risks, as they involve people mixing for extended periods.”

“In the near term, as we respond to the impacts of Omicron, more proceedings are happening remotely. This Bill is necessary to support safe physical court proceedings,” Mr Faafoi said.

He said the proposed legislative changes will;

For example, Court Security Officers will be able to request evidence of a person’s compliance with the entry conditions set by the judiciary and Ministry to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, and refuse entry and remove people based on non-compliance with the conditions.

The changes will also mean that jury selection can take place outside court buildings, where alternative venues need to be used to reduce close physical contact between jurors.

The Ministry and Judiciary will set conditions, as required, to respond to COVID-related health and safety risks. However, a judge will be able to depart from general safety conditions in individual cases in order to ensure people’s rights are not compromised, the Minister said.

People will also still be able to access the courts when they are legally compelled to do so even if they do not meet entry conditions; for example, if they are a criminal defendant.

“The changes need to progress urgently, particularly in light of the spread of Omicron,” Mr Faafoi said.

He said the Government aimed to have the law change in place by mid-April.

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