Posted on March 23, 2020 by Liam Mulligan

New Land and Environment Court policy – COVID-19 Pandemic Arrangements Policy

The Acting Chief Judge of the Land and Environment Court has published a new Court policy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ‘COVID-19 Pandemic Arrangements Policy‘ (‘COVID-19 Policy‘) commenced on 23 March 2020, although it appears that it will soon be further updated.

There is no indication at this time as to how long the COVID-19 Policy will be in force.

The COVID-19 Policy applies to hearings (including Court hearings, on-site hearings, notices of motion and other interlocutory applications), conciliation conferences (in both the s 34 and s 34AA streams), hearings of tree matters, mediations and the delivery of judgments.

You can view the COVID-19 Policy here.

UPDATED – 25 March 2020

Going forward, the counter of the LEC Registry will not be personally attended by Registry staff. All documents should be filed by Online Registry, DX, post or courier, as previously advised. If filing of hard copy documents is necessary, a box has been provided in the public foyer near the counter for filing documents. The box will be regularly cleared and the documents processed by Registry staff and the processed documents returned to the parties.

All appearances before the Court will now be by telephone or audio-visual link.

Changes in practice and procedure

In-person appearances before the Court will be significantly reduced under the policy. Parties in Class 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8 proceedings are to use the Online Court wherever they can (such as to seek directions), and originating processes, as well as applications for interlocutory matters are to be filed by Online Court.

The Registrar’s list will continue for matters that are not able to be determined by Online Court, but the list will be conducted by telephone.

In respect to site inspections, the parties are to approach the Court at least seven days prior, to advise whether the site inspection is necessary or appropriate and if the location can accommodate social distancing requirements. The Court will then advise the parties whether the site inspection should proceed.

Alternative arrangements may need to be made for regional matters, where travel to the location is no longer feasible. This may include standing the matter over to a later date.

The parties are also to limit the number of participants at site inspections (such as objectors at s34 conferences), and the Court’s Site Inspections Policy (which states that a maximum of six persons objecting to a development proposal should provide oral evidence on site) is temporarily suspended.

For courtroom hearings, the Court may direct parties, practitioners and witnesses to observe social distancing (i.e. to sit at least 1.5m apart). Access to the courtroom (for non-essential participants) or the bar table (for practitioners) may also be restricted.

Parties are also directed to ensure that evidence be reduced to writing wherever possible, so as to reduce or eliminate the need for cross-examination in person.

In addition, judgments will now be handed down by telephone and copies of the reasons distributed to the parties.

Vacation of listings for self-isolation reasons 

No practitioner, party, expert, or person involved in court proceedings who is required to self-isolate, or who has been in contact with a person who is required to self-isolate, or who is sick, is to attend the Court premises (including the Registry) or any conciliation, mediation, hearing or directions hearing in the proceedings.

If, because of such illness or self-isolation, there is a need to vacate a listing, parties should apply to the Court for the matter to be rescheduled.

Further arrangements

Since the publication of the COVID-19 Policy, the Court has directed that all listing proceed by telephone or audio-visual link. If a matter cannot be properly heard in this manner, it will likely be postponed.

All matters listed between 30 March and 30 June 2020 will be subject to a review. Each matter will be listed for telephone directions to determine whether it should go ahead, or be adjourned.

The Court will also be contacting all parties to matters listed between 23-27 March 2020 to urgently discuss suitable arrangements for those matters.

Please call Liam Mulligan on (02) 8235 9715 if you wish to discuss the policy or its implications.