Consistent with health directions, the Magistrates’ Court is limiting the number of people permitted inside the court building. From 9 April 2020, matters may be adjourned to an undisclosed date (currently around 6 months into the future) and depending on what matter is being heard, clients may be excused from attendance. If your client’s matter is adjourned under this Practice Direction, please continue to check with the Magistrates’ Court or via EFAS to confirm the new listing date.
It is best practice to confirm, in writing, with the Magistrates’ Court that you have advised the client of the adjournment and that they are not required to attend at the Magistrates’ Court on the relevant date.
From 7 May 2020, the Magistrates’ Court commenced hearing pleas for summary offences on the papers (including proceedings commenced following enforcement review). This means that lawyers and clients do not need to attend Court. Instead, the Magistrate will preside over the case with the written submissions from each party. In some instances, seeking to have a client’s matter determined on the papers may be beneficial as it may provide a quicker resolution of the client’s matter where it would be otherwise adjourned under Practice Direction No. 5.
However, given the difficulties of conveying a client’s particular vulnerabilities through an application on the papers, the benefits and risks of proceeding under this Practice Direction should be carefully considered and explained to the client. If the client wishes to proceed with a plea on the papers, instructions need to be provided by the client to that effect. The client should also be advised of the process and provided with the sentencing outcome.
There are three important ways that Practice Direction 17 relates to the management of infringements matters that have been listed before the Magistrates’ Court. Most importantly, it will require lawyers who have infringements matters listed in the Magistrates’ Court to have access to an account on the Magistrates’ Court online filing system. The system is called the ‘Electronic Filing and Appearance System’ (EFAS). From 31 August 2020, this is the only way that lawyers will be able to correspond with the court in relation to these matters.
This Practice Direction formally implements a number of processes at the Magistrates’ Court. Most importantly for infringements matters:
Reinforces the ability to access and a preference for matters to be heard through the ‘Online Magistrates’ Court’ (OMC), which will be conducted by Webex. Lawyers seeking further guidance on Webex may want to access Victoria Legal Aid’s Webex resources. The best way to contact the court with enquiries about the OMC is by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clause 7.5 confirms that clients should not attend court for summary crime listings. It states: “Where the matter is not listed in the OMC it will be adjourned. Bail will be extended in absence where required. Parties will be advised of the new date by hearing notice.” This clause will apply to all infringements matters. In spite of the operation of this clause, lawyers should still contact the court via EFAS and lodge a request for an adjournment.
All persons who attend the Magistrates’ Court must wear a mask, comply with social distancing and follow all directions of the Chief Health Officer.