Updated 7 August 2020
Courts and tribunals across Australia have changed the way they operate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most courts and tribunals have moved towards hearing matters remotely using online platforms or phone calls.
The following resource is written for self-represented litigants whose court or tribunal matter has been listed for a remote hearing. It includes tips to help you:
To minimise physical hearings, courts and tribunals may make some decisions ‘on the papers’ or ‘in chambers’. To understand what this means, please see our resource on “What are decisions made by Courts and Tribunals ‘on the papers’?”
The court or tribunal you are at will notify you if your matter is listed for a remote hearing. These hearings may occur via:
When you receive your notice of hearing, you should consider whether you have any special needs that may make it harder for you to participate via the type of remote hearing that the court or tribunal has decided to use. If so, you should tell the court or tribunal immediately.
This may apply to you in the following circumstances:
Can I adjourn my matter so that I can attend Court in person?
Unlikely unless you can show compelling reasons for why a physical hearing is absolutely necessary. During COVID-19, Courts and tribunal are continuing to progress matters, and have implemented a range of measures to do so fairly and expeditiously. Each request to adjourn the matter so that it can proceed in a physical hearing will be assessed on a case by case basis. Courts and tribunals are not obliged to grant you an in person hearing.
If your matter is proceeding to a remote hearing, the court or tribunal will let you know in advance the method by which the hearing will be heard. This could be by telephone, or via video conferencing on a number of different digital platforms.
Before the hearing, you should set up the platform on the digital device you will be using, and familiarise yourself with its use. You can do this by following these steps:
If a free version of the platform exists, download and test its use with a friend or family member. At a minimum, you should understand how to mute and unmute yourself, and how to use the chat function. You can also try to set up a virtual background to protect the privacy of your home. If you do this, make sure the image is neutral or court approved.
Check that the device you intend to use is working, including its audio and video functions. To eliminate any noise and/or distraction, you should use headphones with microphones as far as possible.
You may also need to refer to documents throughout the hearing. If so, think about how you would like to set up your digital device, so that you can easily make reference to your notes.
Set up the physical space you will be using to attend the hearing. Ideally, this should be a room that is:
To ensure the hearing goes as smoothly as possible, you should also take the following steps:
On the day of the hearing, you will be placed in a virtual waiting room once you log on to the relevant digital platform. Once you are admitted from the waiting room and can see the other parties in the hearing, you are in a hearing. From this point on, all the same rules that apply for in person hearings will also apply.
A remote hearing is just as formal as a physical hearing, so make sure that you:
You should speak up if the hearing is starting but people you expect to be present haven’t been dialled in yet. This could include:
Can I record the hearing from my computer?
No. Some digital platforms may allow you to record video conferences. However, just like an in person courtroom, you are not permitted to make your own recording of the proceedings. If you want a record of the hearing, you should make this request of the court or tribunal.
Just like an in person hearing, you may be required to present documents to the court or tribunal during the course of the hearing.
If you are in a final hearing, all the documents you intend to rely on as evidence should have been submitted to the court or tribunal, and served on the other party, in advance of the hearing. You should also have a copy of all of the other party’s documents already. Make sure that you have easy access to all of these documents prior to the hearing.
To present evidence in the hearing, you may be able to share your screen on certain digital platforms. However, this may not always be the method preferred by your court or tribunal. You should seek guidance from the court or tribunal before you share your screen.
If you are not permitted to share your screen, you will likely have to verbally direct the court or tribunal, and the other party, to refer to the document within the submitted bundle of documents. To prepare for this, you should make sure that you know the electronic location of your documents well so that you can manually refer to its location quickly. For example, you can say “Please refer to Annexure 1 of my Points of Claim dated 1 January 2020 – this is the invoice from XYZ Consulting dated 3 May 2019”.
The same rules that apply in relation to in person witness examination also applies in remote hearings. That is, witnesses must be objective and free from interference.
To ensure that your witness examination proceeds smoothly, you should ensure that your witness:
Each Australian court and tribunal has implemented different approaches to case management and remote hearings during COVID-19. We have listed below approaches taken by some courts and tribunals in relation to civil matters.
The Supreme Court of Victoria will determine whether a hearing, if listed, will be heard in person, virtually, or in chambers. Once your matter is listed, you will be notified. It will also appear on the Supreme Court of Victoria’s website the day before the hearing. The list is available by clicking here.
If your matter is proceeding virtually, it will be marked as virtual hearing under the “Hearing” column.
If your matter is proceeding in person, you will find the location of the hearing under the “Location” column.
Which digital platform is used?
The Supreme Court of Victoria has introduced virtual hearings using WebEx, Skype or Zoom depending on the requirements of the proceeding. You can find information about accessing and attending virtual hearings on the Supreme Court website, which is available by clicking here.
The County Court of Victoria has created consolidated information packs on recent changes to its operations in response to COVID-19. These documents are available by clicking here.
The presiding Judge in each matter, in their discretion, will determine whether a hearing, if listed, is to proceed in person or remotely. Once a matter is listed for hearing, all parties will be notified of its method of delivery.
Which digital platform is used?
County Court of Victoria is using Zoom for remote hearings in the Commercial Division and Common Law Division.
The Court has published user guides for Zoom, which is available by clicking here.
VCAT has currently paused all face-to-face hearings, and is listing matters to be heard either by phone, videoconferencing, or ‘on the papers’. VCAT will inform you how your matter is to proceed when it lists your hearing. It will also provide you with brief instructions for how to join the hearing.
If you need assistance with your virtual hearing you should get in contact with VCAT’s customer support as early as possible. The contact details for VCAT’s customer support is available by clicking here.
VCAT has provided the following etiquette guidance for phone and videoconference hearings:
The Federal Court of Australia has published an information note which sets out all relevant COVID measures and instructions. The note is available by clicking here.
All Federal Court listings that would ordinarily take place in person will be conducted on the papers, by telephone or by another digital platform. If none of these methods are possible, the listing will be vacated or adjourned until it can be held in person.
What digital platform is used?
The Federal Court of Australia is using Microsoft Teams and telephone conferencing in order to hear matters. The Court has created a guide to virtual hearings and Microsoft Teams which is available by clicking here.
If you have concerns about a matter at any other Australia court or tribunal, you should visit the relevant court or tribunal website as a starting point.
Information from courts and tribunals is changing all the time so we recommend that you contact the specific registry hearing your matter for the most up-to-date information relevant to your case.
We have collated links to the latest updates and information from some courts and tribunals, which are available in our resource on accessing courts and tribunals during COVID-19.