The COVID – 19 pandemic has caused quite an amount of disruption to the traditional way in which court proceedings are administered here in Queensland and further afield. That being said, the message from the court is very much “we are open for business.” That is certainly the experience that the solicitors at Rose Litigation Lawyers have experienced over the last month, or so.
They say ‘justice delayed, is justice denied’ so we welcome the fact that the Courts are open and vigorously conducting matters.
Despite the uncertainty and anxiety that has been experienced the world over, our lawyers have attended to quite a number of matters both in the Federal and State Courts since lock-down was introduced some weeks back.
The Federal Court of Australia is operating through Microsoft Teams and we have found this to be very user- friendly and effective. A practice direction issued by the Federal Court encourages parties to reach agreement in advance of directions hearings and to propose orders to advance a matter towards a conclusion/trial. If an agreement cannot be reached or if a judge wishes to hear from the parties in relation to a certain matter, then the hearing will commence virtually.
The Supreme and District Courts have implemented a similar system albeit through a different platform. Again however, practitioners and litigants are encouraged to reach an agreement where possible in terms of sensible directions for the disposal of matters. Not long after the lockdown was announced by the state government, Chief Justice Holmes circulated a notice to all practitioners in Queensland encouraging them to reach agreement where possible in order to minimise formal hearings in court. The Magistrates Court of Queensland has issued a direction whereby all civil applications will be dealt with in chambers (that is without the need for a formal appearance and the Magistrate will assess the merits of the case based on the affidavit and the submissions filed in paper) unless the parties request a formal hearing be convened.
All in all, our experience over the last number of weeks has been very positive. Our clients who have been involved in hearings over the last number of weeks have not in any way been affected by these new arrangements. There was a meeting convened in the Banco Court of the Supreme Court chaired by the Chief Justice, along with a number of judges of the Supreme and District courts, along with senior barristers where they explained the judiciary’s plan to facilitate virtual hearings and use technology during this pandemic. One observation from Justice Bond was that it is likely, knowing that we now know these systems work, that the courts will perhaps be more welcoming of the use of this technology in the future once the pandemic does pass.
Furthermore, outside of the court room we have also appeared for clients in the last number of weeks at mediations that have also been convened virtually. Mediations are still going ahead for our clients as scheduled via the application ‘Zoom’. Zoom allows all parties to be present at the mediation via their phones or laptops. The process is as follows:
- Prior to the mediation, the mediator sends all parties a Zoom link to access the meeting;
- At the scheduled time, all parties click on the link and are brought into the ‘meeting room’ by the mediator;
- The parties have an introductory discussion with the mediator, before being transferred to separate virtual rooms for each party to conduct their own private discussions.
The mediation then continues in this way, with the mediator being able to move in between the private rooms to assist the negotiations. The mediator can bring everyone back into the same room at any time. The process has been well received by our clients, who are now able to virtually conduct settlement discussions from the comfort of their own homes.
In addition, mediation via Zoom is a cheaper alternative for our clients, as they avoid the booking fees and travel costs often associated with mediations. Overall, virtual mediations are an efficient way to conduct settlement discussions between parties and will undoubtedly be utilised by practitioners more frequently going forward, even after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.
If you have any concerns in relation to how or if the COVID-19 pandemic is going to affect your case, please do not hesitate to call the solicitor in charge or Shaun or Billy to discuss your concerns and the impact this new procedure may have on your case.