Greens spokesperson for Justice Hon Alison Xamon MLC has today called for stricter measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in WA courts, while preserving access to justice for the most disadvantaged Western Australians.
"Many courts in the eastern states have put a halt on personal appearances unless there are exceptional circumstances," said Hon Xamon.
"Documents and court appearances are being dealt with electronically and courts are being closed to members of the public not involved in a case. Western Australia has introduced some measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, we are seriously lagging behind other states in both efforts to protect people involved in the court and prison systems, and in work to ensure as much as possible people can still be afforded proper access to justice".
Hon Xamon said that, unlike other Australian jurisdictions, WA only had a limited amount of judge-alone trials – a gap she urged the government to address as part of emergency COVID-19 legislation going before Parliament next week.
"The Supreme Court of Victoria recently announced from 25 March it is moving all court proceedings that would have been before a civil jury to a judge sitting alone. This will allow courts to continue their important work while limiting the potential spread of the virus. Western Australia should seriously consider following suit," said Hon Xamon.
"While the move to increased use of video-conferencing is a positive step to protect public health, it is essential work is done to ensure people not physically in the court room are still adequately supported. This is particularly important given the high numbers of people in our court systems for whom English is not their first language or who may have cognitive impairment".
“I have heard anecdotal evidence that people appearing via video link from WA prisons are being denied the opportunity to make sure they properly understand their rights,” Hon Xamon said.
“It is crucial that, despite the quickly changing environment, all the usual checks and balances are still in place.
“The rule of law and access to justice are fundamental to a democratic society – even in, and perhaps especially in, such trying times.”