Pandemic causes massive backlog at Tweed court
THOSE who have a contested hearing in civil or criminal court matters could be waiting a long time for their day in court.
The coronavirus pandemic has blown out court diaries around NSW, including Tweed Heads Local Court, after the decision to postpone all defended hearings between March 23 and July 31.
A spokeswoman for the NSW Chief Magistrate's Office (CMO) explained this was just one of the protection measures put in place to halt the spread of the virus.
Court sheriffs have also been ordered to turn away anyone attending a courthouse "who does not have a legitimate reason to be there".
The world inside the Tweed courthouse has changed post COVID-19.
Many solicitors and applicants appear by telephone or videolink, while every second seat is unavailable to ensure social distancing and hand sanitiser is at every door.
To enter the registry, the public must call the phone number on the door and explain their query.
If allowed inside, there is a table to stand behind to ensure social distancing.
Marks on the floor outside the building's door give a guide for people to queue safely.
"The local court moved quickly and decisively to reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect the safety of court users and keep the wheels of justice moving," the CMO spokeswoman said.
"It has continued to operate on a daily basis throughout the pandemic, with the chief magistrate implementing measures to reduce the number of people attending court."
The chief magistrate also ordered postponement of sentencing offenders who were on bail but were set to receive a prison term. However, this has now resumed.
On Wednesday, Magistrate Geoff Dunlevy told an applicant in Tweed Heads Local Court that the court system had up to 150 hearings waiting to be allocated.
The CMO was unable to confirm this number.
The T weed Daily News understands that at the beginning of the pandemic, the chief magistrate directed all magistrates not to list any defended hearings in October 2020 in order to deal with the increase of pending cases before the local court.
The month of October 2020 will be used to finalise as many outstanding matters as possible.
New hearing dates are progressively being set for matters that were postponed due to COVID-19, with priority given to cases involving defendants in custody and domestic violence-related proceedings.
A spokeswoman said that to date no inmates or correctional centre staff had tested positive to COVID-19.
"The court has kept its doors open for urgent domestic and personal violence proceedings, recognising the potential for an increase in domestic violence during the pandemic period," she said.