Chief Magistrate Judge Lisa Hannan introduces the Online Magistrates' Court
A message from Chief Magistrate Judge Lisa Hannan:
Justice has not changed, just the mode of delivery.
I would like to commence by acknowledging the difficult circumstances we are all facing. As you are aware, metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire areas have returned to stage 3 restrictions, which commenced at midnight on Wednesday 8 July. Areas outside this zone are unaffected by the chief health officer’s most recent directions.
I want to assure you that all Magistrates’ Courts across the state remain open, including those in the restricted zone and what have previously been described as ‘hotspots’. As we have said from the start of this pandemic, the Magistrates’ Court will continue to provide access to justice for the people of Victoria across the state, whatever the circumstances.
Our courts continue to hear in our courtrooms urgent matters that include:
- remand hearings
- bail applications
- pleas for persons in custody
- sentence indications for people in custody
- straight hand up briefs
- committal mentions
- family violence interim order applications
- urgent PSIO applications
- urgent FV breach and other applications
- WorkCover applications/mentions/directions hearings
- Workcover contested hearings
- civil applications/mentions/directions hearings
- civil contested hearings
- judicial registrar hearings - motor vehicle claims
- early neutral evaluations
- urgent VoCAT hearings.
Other matters are being adjourned in line with our practice directions to new dates.
We are conscious that social distancing will be with us for some time and, like the rest of our community, we have had to take steps to limit the number of people who physically attend our court buildings. What is clear, is that it will not be possible for us to return to what was the familiar crush of our courthouses in the near future.
We have worked to find innovative ways for Victorians to continue to access justice in our courts, and one of those initiatives is the Online Magistrates’ Court (OMC). We have been supported by CSV and government in facilitating and procuring the IT hardware and operating spaces we needed for what has been a very fast-moving project.
We have been piloting the OMC since mid-May and are very grateful for the efforts and enthusiasm our stakeholders have demonstrated for this project. We have been assisted by testing real-time hearings and working collaboratively to ensure that we are listing the right kinds of matters in the OMC. You have been patient as we sought to iron out the technical difficulties and you have been flexible in your approach.
Magistrate Tim Bourke, who leads the OMC, is often heard to say that we are engaging in ‘battle ground training’ – it has certainly been a process that has highlighted what we are capable of achieving both individually and, more importantly, collectively. This project is a fundamental part of our emergency response and our recovery plan. We have already learnt a number of important lessons about how familiar justice can be delivered in unfamiliar ways.
On Monday we commenced operating from our new online court premises. The OMC will hear a wide range of matters including:
- consolidated pleas
- sentence indication
- summary contests subject to witness availability
- informant-only committals
- submission-only committals
- contested committals subject to witness availability
- FV hearings and applications where safe
- PSIO hearings and applications where safe
- Workcover applications
- Workcover contested hearings subject to witness availability
- civil applications
- civil contested matters
- early neutral evaluations
- VoCAT hearings.
From this week, seven magistrates at Melbourne and at least one at each headquarters court across the state commenced in our OMC. They are assisted by experienced staff, including our coordination team led by Luke Murray, who many of you have met as we rolled out our stakeholder training sessions. We will hear matters from the OMC premises and other remote locations as we test our infrastructure and processes.
We are actively triaging adjourned matters to identify matters suitable for OMC. This has included calling on a number of matters for mention so they can have dates abridged and be brought on for hearing sooner than the currently listed date. We are looking carefully at matters with child or vulnerable witnesses or a vulnerable accused and would be assisted by parties helping us to identify these maters
In addition to our allocated OMC magistrates, other magistrates will hear matters using the OMC as required. For the first time we have a real ability to assist between courts, as needs change throughout the day.
To facilitate as much flexibility as possible, we have trained magistrates, judicial registrars and staff across the state. For us to recover from our growing backlog we need to embrace the opportunities OMC provides.
Parties are being encouraged to assist us in this so if you have a matter that may be suitable for abridgement and hearing in OMC, please confer with other parties and, where there is agreement, contact email@example.com or your local court coordinator.
The health and safety of our judicial officers, staff and court users remains our highest priority, and online hearings provide us with a safe way to ensure we can progress matters in a timely manner.
As court staff have heard me say many times in recent weeks: Justice has not changed - it is just the mode of delivery that is different.
Our courts in regional locations are not subject to stage three restrictions so decisions in relation to summary contests and contested committals at our court buildings will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with the parties. Sometimes a combination of physical presence at court and WebEx will be appropriate. We all need to be creative and flexible while holding steadfast to the principles of fair hearing and natural justice.
I want to thank you all for your ongoing support in working with us to ensure the maximum number of matters that can be listed are able to proceed.
I look forward to updating you on our progress.
Judge Lisa Hannan