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Coronavirus update

The Coroners Court of Victoria is closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation and following State and Commonwealth government advice.

Monday 7 September 2020

Joint jurisdictional statement on the easing of Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions, from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Anne Ferguson.

Victoria’s courts and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) will begin working with the legal profession and justice stakeholders on a coordinated response to the foreshadowed gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

All of our courts and VCAT have closely followed public health advice as we rapidly adapted to the COVID-19 environment. 

Each jurisdiction is now largely managing matters online, with limited physical attendance in our buildings. 

In light of the announcement from the Premier of Victoria yesterday, we will carefully consider what changes we can make practically, safely and steadily in line with the easing of each level of restrictions.

As Courts Council Chair, I have asked my fellow Council member, State Coroner, His Honour Judge Cain, to work through the next steps with the criminal courts, the legal profession and criminal justice stakeholders. 

As Chief Justice, I will consult with the civil courts, the legal profession and civil justice stakeholders. The focus of this consultation will be on changes that can be made in common law, commercial, family violence, child protection and other civil matters as restrictions ease. 

We have been extremely grateful for the co-operation and perseverance of everyone who has worked so hard with us to keep our virtual doors open.  

We understand the importance of doing everything possible to slow the spread of COVID-19, while still delivering justice for the community.

Each jurisdiction has made a number of significant procedural and practical changes since March this year. 

We now look forward to working with Victoria’s legal sector and justice stakeholders to develop a sustainable, coordinated response to the latest public health developments.

Once again, we thank all of our court users and staff for their patience and understanding.


The Honourable Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
The Honourable Chief Judge Peter Kidd, Chief Judge of the County Court
The Honourable Justice Michelle Quigley, President of VCAT
Her Honour Judge Lisa Hannan, Chief Magistrate
Her Honour Judge Amanda Chambers, President of the Children's Court
His Honour Judge John Cain, State Coroner

 

Thursday 6 August 2020

The Coroners Court has issued a new practice direction to outline how proceedings can be safely held at the present stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to the State Government’s new Stage 4 restrictions, all Coroners Court hearings, including inquests, will be convened via electronic and digital means where feasible.
 
A schedule of upcoming hearings will be maintained on the Coroners Court website. If any participant has concerns in relation to matters proceeding by way of technological means, their views will be considered in determining the appropriate way to proceed.

Urgent or priority matters which require parties to be physically present at the Court must be approved by the State Coroner.

The Coroners Court remains open and committed to the timely and efficient conduct of proceedings, and continues to serve the community by advancing safe, proactive and appropriate solutions to the ongoing difficulties posed by COVID-19.   

For more information please read Practice Direction 4 of 2020.

This practice direction supersedes Practice Direction 3 of 2020.

Thursday 23 July 2020

Victoria’s courts and VCAT continue to adapt with the rest of the community to the additional public health measures put in place to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Physical attendance at courts remains limited. For those who are required to attend physically the following information is provided.

The latest Directions from the Chief Health Officer will mean that from 11.59pm, Wednesday 22 July:

Anyone in Victoria’s court or tribunal buildings in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire must wear a face covering unless an exemption applies .Those exemptions include where:

Where the nature of a person’s work means that clear enunciation or visibility of the mouth is essential

  • judicial officers and those addressing the court as part of their work may therefore remove face coverings when in court for this purpose
  • court staff speaking in court and court interpreters may also remove face coverings when needed 
  • those formally addressing the court as part of their work (e.g. barristers, solicitors, police prosecutors, interpreters, media seeking to be heard on a suppression order application), may choose to continue to wear a face covering so long as they can be clearly heard and understood and the court will endeavour to make reasonable adjustments to allow for this
  • where it is necessary to confirm identity for security purposes, authorised officers may request face coverings be removed temporarily for that purpose

Required or authorised by law

  • for example, where it is considered necessary for the fair conduct of court proceedings the presiding judicial officer may direct a witness giving evidence, to remove a face covering
  • where it is a legal requirement that someone’s face be able to be seen in court (e.g. during the jury empanelment process) they may be directed to remove a face covering

The person has a physical or mental health illness or condition or disability which makes wearing a face covering unsuitable

  • The person communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing and visibility of the mouth is essential for communication. Those in this category need not wear face coverings. Those interpreting for the deaf may remove face coverings for this purpose

It remains the expectation that all court participants maintain physical distancing and, even if face coverings are removed pursuant to an exemption while in court, that they be worn when moving through the court environment.

It is expected that now that there is a general requirement to wear face coverings in public, most people attending court will have their own, and will be wearing a face covering when arriving at court. Some disposable face coverings will continue to be available to court and tribunal users attending for hearings, or the registry in person. These can be obtained at entrance points before security screening. Guidance on how to properly fit and dispose face coverings will be provided and displayed.  

Further information on face coverings can be found on the DHHS website.

The health and safety of judicial officers, staff, and court users is of the highest priority. We will continue to closely follow public health advice, and thank all those coming into our courts and tribunal for their patience and understanding as we work together to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
 

*The exemptions and a description of compliant face coverings can be found on the DHHS website.

 

Wednesday 15 July 2020

Anyone in Victoria’s court or tribunal buildings will be expected to wear face masks when they are moving around in a court building.

The health and safety of judicial officers, staff, and court users remains of the highest priority as Victoria faces increasing community transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19). 

Based on current health advice, anyone in Victoria’s court or tribunal buildings will be expected to wear face masks when they are moving around in a court building.

If people are physically distanced and stationary (for example, in the case of barristers, standing to address the Court), they can remove their mask, dispose of it and replace it with a fresh mask when they move around again.

Disposable masks will be available to all court users attending for hearings or the registry in person. The masks will be available at entrance points before security screening. Guidance on how to properly fit and dispose of the masks will be provided and displayed. Further information on face masks can be found on the DHHS website.

This practice is a further measure towards providing a safe workplace for everyone working in and coming into Victoria’s courts and tribunal. Please also follow the continuing health advice, including:

  • Practice physical distancing – stay 1.5 metres away from anyone you don’t live with.
  • Practice excellent personal hygiene at all times – wash your hands and cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow.
  • If you feel unwell or have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), however mild, do not attend at Court, contact the court to discuss alternative arrangements.
     

The courts and tribunal continue to operate largely through virtual hearings, which do not require people to physically attend court.

We thank all those coming into our courts and tribunal for their patience and understanding as we work together to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Friday 10 July 2020

The Coroners Court has issued a new practice direction to outline how proceedings can be safely held at the present stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Court will continue to focus on convening hearings via technological means wherever feasible. 

For hearings which require the physical attendance of persons at the Court, strict adherence to current health and safety advice issued by State and Federal governments will be observed. This includes:

  • all persons must remain 1.5 metres away from one another, follow good hand hygiene practices, and refrain from attendance at hearings when unwell. 
  • courtrooms will be set up in a manner that respects current health advice (such as maintaining the density quotient, being a maximum of 1 person per 4 square metres). 

To further minimise risk, physical hearings will run for a maximum of two hours. 

The Court will consult participants in currently listed hearings regarding arrangements for use of technology, or if required, physical attendance.  Specific information on any particular health and safety measures required to be observed will be provided prior to persons physically attending hearings at the Court.

The Court remains open and committed to the timely and efficient conduct of coronial investigations. 

For more information please read Practice Direction 3 of 2020.

This practice direction supersedes Practice Direction 2 of 2020.
 

Thursday 30 April 2020

The Coroners Court of Victoria has published a new practice direction regarding recent changes to court hearings in response to COVID-19.
 
Coronial hearings will continue to be held remotely via technology wherever feasible. However, to ensure the effective and timely conduct of proceedings, Victorian State Coroner, Judge Cain has directed that beginning 30 April 2020:

  • some court hearings that require the physical presence of persons at the Coroners Court may be scheduled, providing strict adherence to distancing advice from State and Federal governments is observed.
  • inquests that were previously adjourned to a date to be fixed will now be rescheduled on a case by case basis.

The health and wellbeing of Court users and staff is the highest priority and hearings that require physical attendance will only be scheduled when necessary.
 
The Coroners Court is open and continues to actively investigate all cases. Coroners and staff are working in accordance with the restrictions imposed as a result of COVID-19 and remain committed to serving the community at this difficult time.
 
For more information please read Practice Direction 2 of 2020.

This practice direction supersedes Practice Direction 1 of 2020.

 

Friday 27 March 2020

In line with government restrictions, Victorian State Coroner, Judge Cain, has directed that no hearing which requires the physical attendance of any person at the Coroners Court will proceed.

Inquest Findings, Summary Inquests, Direction Hearings and Mention Hearings will be facilitated through technology.

Inquests are adjourned to a date to be fixed. Adjourned inquests will be rescheduled in line with government guidelines, but not before 31 May 2020.

The Coroners Court remains open and continues to actively investigate all cases. Coroners and staff are working in accordance with the restrictions imposed as a result of COVID-19 and remain committed to the timely and efficient conduct of proceedings and to serving the community at this difficult time. 

For further information please read Practice Direction 1 of 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic Response.
 

When a COVID-19 death should be reported to the coroner

The Coroners Court of Victoria investigates all deaths that are reportable. Of the approximately 40,000 Victorians who die every year, only 6500-7000 of those deaths are reportable.  The Coroners Court of Victoria will generally be treating deaths of people who tested positive for COVID-19 as arising from natural causes, similar to individuals who die from the flu. Therefore, in general, these deaths do not need to be reported to the coroner. The treating doctor in such circumstances should complete a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (death certificate).

However, there may be another reason to report a death to the coroner where the deceased had COVID-19. For example, a death should be reported to the coroner if a person is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 and their death is unnatural or violent or has resulted, directly or indirectly, from an accident or injury, or the person was in custody or care. These deaths will continue to be investigated like any other reportable death. Where the cause of death is unknown and no death certificate is issued by a treating doctor, the death will be considered reportable. Enquiries will be made in relation to recent travel and health history, including the onset of any flu-like symptoms in the lead-up to the death. 

If those in Victoria with reporting obligations require advice regarding the reportability of a death, they should contact staff at Coronial Admissions & Enquiries at VIFM on 1300 008 436.