News & Thinking
Court proceedings under COVID-19 alert level four
At midnight on Wednesday 25 March 2020 New Zealand moved into COVID-19 alert level 4, after which, only essential services remain operating.
The Ministry of Justice has advised that the Courts will be closed to the public, and only essential and critical Courts will be operating (including parts of the Criminal and Family Courts).
Below we set out what the restrictions under level 4 mean, if you or your business currently have an ongoing civil proceeding in the High and District Courts.
All non-urgent civil hearings have been postponed, or, if practical, are being dealt with on the papers (no appearances from parties or counsel required). This includes Court associated Tribunals (Dispute, Earthquake, Tenancy etc.).
However, please note that the High Courts in the South Island have nominally adjourned all civil matters until Friday 15 May 2020, this includes hearings, judicial settlement conferences, civil lists, duty judge lists and telephone conferences. A further adjournment can be expected if Level 4 remains in place as at 11 May 2020.
Priority proceedings have been defined as “proceedings affecting the liberty of the individual or their personal wellbeing, or proceedings that are time-critical”.
Time critical hearings, such as injunctions or urgent judicial reviews may be heard by audio visual link, telephone or on the papers. If there are constraints on Court time, then matters will be heard by order of highest priority, as determined by the Court.
During the level 4 lockdown period, the Courts will be accepting filing of documents by email and post only (apart from some limited exceptions in the Family Court).
Courts will also be waiving filing fees during the lockdown.
If you believe you have a limitation period deadline (in a money claim, 6 years from the date of the act or omission on which the claim is based) we recommend that you urgently consult your lawyer or the Court Registrar to confirm whether filing a document without a filing fee stops the limitation period running. We suggest that you consult a lawyer to determine when the limitation period on your matter expires.
There has not yet been clear guidance issued on how to deal with affidavit evidence during alert level 4.
An affidavit is required to be sworn or affirmed in front of an independent lawyer or justice of the peace, and the original version to be filed in Court.
As, with other possible procedural difficulties which may arise during alert level 4, section 24 of the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006, allows Judges to modify the usual Court rules to deal with such difficulties and we expect many such modifications in the near future.
Bankruptcy / Liquidations
The bankruptcy and liquidation High Courts list dates in April (2 April and 30 April 2020) have been adjourned to 14 May 2020. Any agreed directions in advance of this list date are encouraged to be dealt with by joint memorandum in advance of the new list date, and filed in Court by email or post.
If you or your company are intending to issue bankruptcy or liquidation proceedings within the alert level 4, you will need to consult your lawyer regarding the service of these proceedings, given the current limitations around human contact.
The restrictions associated with alert level 4 are unprecedented. The consequences of the restrictions, in regard to disputes and litigation, are a moving target and information and directions from the Courts will continue to be produced. We advise that you immediately contact your lawyer if you have an urgent claim. If your claim is non-urgent, we advise that you regularly consult your lawyer as to the progression of your claim and any available alternative routes to resolve your claim.