After New Zealand's Chief Justice closed the doors of the country's highest court more details have emerged about what hearings will continue during the nationwide lockdown.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday that Aotearoa is now at level 3 on the Covid-19 alert system with level 4 - the highest alert - to follow at 11.59pm on Wednesday.

Schools, childcare centres and universities will be closed, while all non-essential businesses or services must also shut by the deadline. Kiwis should stay at home unless visiting an essential service.

Ardern said the strict measures will save tens of thousands of Kiwi lives.

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New Zealand's courts and justice system is considered an essential service, however, Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann admitted last night level 4 "will be extremely disruptive to everyday court practices".

She said proceedings will not take place this week in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Employment Court, Environment Court (with the exception of one proceeding), Māori Land Court, Waitangi Tribunal and Coroners Court.

"It is my expectation that for the remainder of this week courts will operate only in the priority areas," the Chief justice said.

In a letter sent to New Zealand's lawyers last night and forwarded to the Herald, those priority proceedings in the High Court and District Court were explained.

The only work in the High Court for the remainder of this week, according to the letter, is custodial remands, mental health dispositions and urgent bail appeals.

Meanwhile, the Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu determined that the following proceedings take priority in the District Court:

• Criminal hearings when the defendant is in custody: Public order offenders; bail
applications (including breaches); sentencing those already in custody; deportation
warrants; Criminal Procedure (Mentally Impaired Persons) Act (CP (MIP); breach of police safety orders.

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• Civil hearings: Injunctions, harassment orders; harmful digital communications; Tenancy Tribunal appeals against evictions.

• Youth Court hearings: Arrests (first appearances); secure care applications; bail applications; review of custody, CP (MIP), early release hearing.

• Family Court hearings: Public Health Order applications; without notice applications: care and protection (s67 and s78 immediate uplift); protection and related orders (Family
Violence Act); care of children applications (family violence related); mental health (applications for compulsory treatment orders); and other without notice applications such as Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act, Property (Relationships) Act, Hague Convention; substance addiction (compulsory treatment); s67 care and protection.

"Unless a case is in this category, the matter will be administratively adjourned for a week
except in the case of Youth Court which will be adjourned on the papers for four weeks," the letter said.

"If AVL (audio-visual link) facilities are not available, the duty solicitor (or duty youth advocate or assigned youth advocate in Youth Court) must attend in person. If facilities for the defendant to appear by AVL are not available, the defendant will appear in person."

In the Family Court, counsel are to appear by telephone or AVL, and if facilities are not available, in person, the letter said.

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In civil cases, counsel can appear by telephone.

The Chief Justice earlier said: "It is essential that New Zealand courts continue to uphold the rule of law and to ensure that fair trial rights, the right to natural justice and rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act are upheld.

"These are unprecedented times for New Zealand, and we would not be human if we were not worried. I deeply appreciate the commitment that the people who work in our court buildings have shown over the last two weeks."

The Chief Justice had already ordered a halt to any new jury trials for at least two months due to Covid-19.

The Ministry of Justice is also ordering infrared scanners to test people's temperatures when entering a courthouse. Those who appear to have a fever will be turned away.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

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