The Effect of the COVID-19 Emergency on the Victorian Criminal Law System

The COVID-19 crisis has impacted all areas of our society. The criminal law and the administration of justice has not been immune.

The Magistrates’ Courts have adjourned over 7000 cases, not deemed a priority, to a nominal date in June. This is to allow the powers that be time to reassess. The matters that are continuing are those hearings that can safely continue or those hearings that must continue. They are bail applications, remands relating to family violence, filing hearings, committal mentions and county court appeals. The criminal lawyers at Dribbin & Brown have been busy at Court most days with these types of matters.

It appears although police have been remanding less people they are still continuing to charge people, either placing them on bail or summons. This means that there is a huge backlog of cases building. As a result, when the restrictions lift, rest assured the Magistrates will not be entertaining adjournments or any other form of delay. Lawyers and their clients will need to be prepared and ready to go or suffer procedural disadvantages.

Whilst there is a hiatus in matters being finalised it is critical that all preliminary matters that can be addressed behind closed doors, via email and telephone conference with the prosecutors are addressed. The criminal solicitors at Dribbin & Brown have been doing this on a daily basis.

If you have a matter listed at Court it is important that you engage a competent criminal solicitor to assist you now.

Waiting until the day of Court will be a mistake, as stated in this short article, when the restrictions lift, all Courts will be full steam ahead to try and get ahead of what can only be described as a crippling backlog of cases and those that are prepared and ready to move forward will benefit.

Those benefits may accrue in two ways:

The first benefit relates to resolving matters that must resolve early. The Supreme Court has recently stated that an early plea of guilty in the current climate will attract substantial utilitarian value, noting the current public health concerns regarding the COVID-19 virus and the backlog of cases in the Courts. See this recent Supreme Court decision DPP v Bourke [2020] VSC 130 (16 March 2020)

The second benefit relates to being prepared early. As lawyers if we are across the matter early, we will be in a position to put pressure on the prosecution who will be inundated with a backlog of cases.

There are also important ramifications for bail, see the Supreme Court decision of Tong [2020] VSC 141 (26 March 2020), where COVID-19 was used to establish exceptional circumstances as to why an accused should be released on bail, in combination with other factors.

If you have a matter listed at Court or require a bail application, call Dribbin & Brown Criminal Lawyers today, we are operating per our normal hours and have lawyers continuing to appear every day at the local Courts. If you require an appointment, we have video and phone conferencing services available.