Three Auckland men each charged with murder have appeared in court via video link from custody. Their isolated lawyers dialled in by phone.

The Government considers New Zealand's justice system an essential service as the country prepares for a level 4 lockdown at 11.59pm tonight to combat the global coronavirus pandemic.

The courts will operate only in the priority areas, as outlined by Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann this week.

This morning, in the High Court at Auckland, a courtroom was opened to hear two murder cases.


Justice Sally Fitzgerald presided over the hearings and was in the courtroom with a small number of court staff and three journalists, all sitting in different areas.

Only one lawyer was in the room. Defence and Crown counsel dialled in by phone.

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The first case involved two men charged with murdering a 24-year-old man in a shooting in Ōtara on February 28.

They are also charged with wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

The pair, who appeared via a video link from prison, were granted interim name suppression by Justice Fitzgerald and remanded in custody until April and June.

The identity of the 24-year-old dead man was also suppressed.

Lawyers for the 30-year-old and 28-year-old accused killers told the court Covid-19 and the tight restrictions on movement have created difficulties in getting instructions from their clients.


However, the 30-year-old was able to plead not guilty today, but the 28-year-old man did not enter a plea.

A trial was scheduled for the pair in April next year.

A 46-year-old man charged with murder and injuring with intent to injure also appeared via video link from custody.

He was arrested after a man, 51, was found dead at a house in Randwick Park, Manurewa, on February 29.

The accused was also granted interim name suppression and will appear in court again in June. A trial was set for April next year.

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

The Ministry of Justice, meanwhile, is also ordering infrared scanners to test the temperatures of those still coming to the country's courthouses. Those who appear to have a fever will be turned away.