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At least 59,500 court events across the country are estimated to be postponed during New Zealand's coronavirus lockdown.

The enormous number of adjournments, based on Ministry of Justice statistics for just the District and Youth courts, has the potential to create a lengthy backlog of hearings in the system.

The effect of the level 4 lockdown, which allows for only essential services to continue operating, also comes after the Chief Justice halted any new jury trials until at least mid-May to help stop the spread of Covid-19.


But despite the Kiwi shutdown, New Zealand's courts and justice system will continue to operate throughout the next four weeks as an essential service.

The heads of bench, the top judge at each judicial level, earlier this week decided only proceedings "affecting the liberty of the individual or their personal safety and wellbeing, or that are time-critical" will be heard while the country is at alert level 4.

Based on the priorities identified by the Chief District Court Judge, Principal Family Court Judge and Principal Youth Court Judge, the Ministry of Justice estimates about 12,500 events will still go ahead during the next month.

Typically, 72,000 events take place each month in the District and Youth Courts, with one court case having multiple events.

In the District Court, proceedings deemed non-essential will be administratively adjourned until the next available date, Secretary for Justice Andrew Kibblewhite said.

Non-essential Youth Court proceedings will be adjourned on the papers for four weeks.

"We are working with the judiciary to ensure the identified priority proceedings, for example when a defendant is in custody, are dealt with. Where possible, these are being heard via audio-visual link," Kibblewhite said.

"While the courts have faced challenges before, this is the first time they have had to make such wide adjustments on this national scale. I ask all court participants to be patient and work with the ministry and judiciary as we work to continue to deliver essential justice services for New Zealanders."


Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann has also tightened public access to the country's courthouses as people seemingly were breaching the nationwide lockdown during its first two days.

The new measures mean no one can enter a courthouse unless they are essential for the hearing such as the defendant, prosecutors, lawyers, officers of the court and accredited journalists.

"These steps from the Chief Justice have been taken to protect the safety of those who need to be in court for priority justice services during alert level 4 and to give effect to this alert level," Kibblewhite said.

Supporters of a defendant who wish to come to court now require the permission of the presiding judge, which must be sought prior to the hearing and can only be done through contacting 0800 COURTS (0800 268 767).

People who are unwell but required to attend court are also being asked to stay home and call ahead to advise of this.

Kibblewhite said the Ministry of Justice is working closely with other government departments to constantly assess its services and the current situation.

The ministry has posted designated hygiene officers to each court to ensure increased hygiene standards are maintained, while infrared scanners to test people's temperatures when entering a courthouse have also been ordered.

Those who appear to have a fever will be turned away.

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Supreme Court and many other courts to close doors this week ahead of lockdown

Kibblewhite said as a result of the restrictions all counter services in courts are also closed and filing of court papers needs to be done electronically or by post. Filing fees are being waived under section 24 of the Epidemic Preparedness Act, he said.

Justice of the Peace services have also been suspended, while bailiffs will only serve urgent documents if all other options are unavailable, he said.

Only staff who are considered critical to maintaining the justice system will be working out of the courts or the ministry's national office in Wellington.

"We have worked closely with the judiciary to prepare for this because upholding the rule of law is just as vital at times like this," Kibblewhite said, thanking those in the profession.