Federal Circuit Court sittings in many remote and regional Queensland centres have been postponed for the remainder of 2020 as a result of “Queensland Courts’ comprehensive COVID-19 safety plan”.
Proctor was advised of the proposed suspension of regional sittings early last week when it confirmed that Brisbane-based federal judges were “informally” told of the proposed change – prompting one judge to inform parties in a Southport matter of the suspension in open court.
The closures mean federal judges will not be able sit for ‘face-to-face’ hearings in Queensland-run courts in areas such as Ipswich, Toowoomba, Southport, Maroochydore, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Mackay or Rockhampton for the foreseeable future.
The Federal Circuit Court of Australia (FCC), in a written statement, said: “The FCC has recently been informed by the Queensland State Courts that face-to-face hearings are not possible for our courts due to changes to their registry and courtroom operations to ensure safe distancing.
“Accordingly, the FCC will continue to service these important families through the use of electronic hearings, via telephone or Microsoft Teams.
“The Court expects that access to justice for parties who live in regional and remote locations will be enhanced through the increased use of technology.”
The FCC spokesperson said parties would not have to wait for a circuit judge to travel and be physically present in their particular location, which would assist in reducing delays.
“It can also assist through the additional use of Registrars and family consultants,” the spokesperson said. “Importantly, electronic hearings can also increase safety for vulnerable parties.
“The FCC has enjoyed an excellent relationship with the Queensland State Courts and through the use of their courtrooms the FCC has been able to provide essential family law services to families living in regional Queensland.”
A Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General spokesperson, who released a written statement, said: “The Queensland Courts’ comprehensive COVID-19 safety plan involves a range of changes to registry and courtroom operations to ensure safe distancing.
“The changes require limiting the number of people in courthouses and courtrooms across all Magistrates, District and Supreme Court matters.
“The operational changes complement the COVID-19 safety plan’s hygiene instructions and enhanced cleaning practices.
“As such consideration is being given to how other entities use Queensland court facilities and whether this can be accommodated.”
It is understood the postponement of hearings is effective immediately.