Coronavirus: New jury trials suspended for two months

All new jury trials in New Zealand will be suspended for two months due to the spread of the coronavirus.

Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann made the announcement in a statement and added it doesn't affect jury trials already in progress.

She said it was necessary to take the step out of "an abundance of caution".

"There is a special onus on the courts to protect the health of jurors who are performing an important civic duty.

"The process of empanelling juries often involves bringing large numbers of people together in relatively confined spaces. Once empanelled jurors are inevitably spending significant periods of time in relatively close contact."

Previously, the advice courts had received was to practice good hygiene so community transfer of COVID-19 didn't occur.

Measures are also being taken to modify list court hearings to ensure proper hygiene is maintained and courtrooms aren't overcrowded. Enhanced cleaning of courtrooms is being done, and the Ministry of Justice is reviewing what additional steps should be taken.

The statement says that more generally, the judiciary is seeing what measures can be taken to reduce the number of people attending court in public foyers and galleries.

"The judiciary and Ministry of Justice will be working through the implications of this decision for all court participants. This includes the legal profession, victims, defendants, court staff, and other justice sector partners," the statement says.

Anyone who is affected by the suspended jury trials will be contacted by the registry of the relevant court. Further information will also be available on the Courts of New Zealand website.