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New Zealand's top judge has tightened public access to the country's courthouses as people seemingly breach the nationwide lockdown.

The courts and justice system will continue to operate during level 4 of the Government's Covid-19 alert system, with Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann saying the rule of law and civil rights and liberties need be upheld during the global pandemic.

However, despite an already truncated list of daily hearings, some members of the public are still trying to enter the country's courthouses.


"To preserve public safety and give effect to the Covid-19 alert level 4, District Courts and the High Court are excluding from courthouses members of the public whose attendance is not required for the business of the court that day," the Chief Justice said in a statement last night.

"This takes effect immediately."

The Chief Justice said several people have still attempted to enter courthouses as supporters of defendants, which is in contravention of the lockdown.

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.

A halt to any new jury trials for at least two months had already been ordered by the Chief Justice.

Despite court buildings being public spaces, the Chief Justice said s197 of the Criminal Procedure Act allowed her to exclude Kiwis from their courts.

The law states that the court may exclude members of the public when necessary to avoid endangering the safety of any person present, to avoid undue disruptions to the conduct of proceedings, or to avoid prejudicing the maintenance of the law.

"In the present state of emergency, it has been necessary to exercise this power," Justice Winkelmann said.


New Zealand's courts will remain open to accredited members of the media to ensure that the principles of open justice continue to be observed.

Defendants, prosecutors, lawyers and officers of the court are also permitted to enter, Justice Winkelmann said.

But all people attending court may be required to show identification.

"As a result of these measures, supporters of people appearing in person will be denied entry to courthouses unless they get advance permission from the presiding judge," the Chief Justice said.

"These requests cannot be made in person at the courthouse because all public counters are closed to the public, as are court precincts."

Permission can be requested by calling the Ministry of Justice on 0800 COURTS (0800 268 787). Supporters will be denied entry if they are feeling unwell or have flu-like symptoms.

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.

"If any supporter disobeys safety orders from court staff, or creates a disruption, they will be asked to leave," the Chief Justice said.

"The priority of the courts during the pandemic emergency is to keep all staff and court users safe while providing fair and effective justice."

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While Aotearoa is in level 4, only essential services are continuing to operate, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declaring everybody else must stay home.

People can go outside for exercise but have been told by Police Commissioner Mike Bush not to linger or stray far from their residence.

A state of emergency has also been declared, providing authorities new powers, including powers of requisition, closing roads and stopping people from doing certain activities.

One Auckland driver has already been stopped by police twice during the lockdown.

"The man was not an essential worker and was not undertaking essential travel. The man was detained by police and is currently facing driving matters and further charges are being considered," a police spokeswoman told the Herald.