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No trials for at least six months as Victorian courts face ‘greatest crisis’

In the County Court, new jury trials have been suspended and are unlikely to start again until the end of the year. The court will instead prioritise the sentencing of offenders and their plea hearings.

Appeals against sentences imposed in the Magistrates Court will be expedited, while appeals against convictions in the lower court will be suspended because they typically involve multiple witnesses.

And all committal hearings in the Magistrates Court, which determine whether an accused criminal faces trial, have been postponed by seven weeks.

The criminal courts, along with the Coroners Court and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, will begin testing technology including Skype, video conferences and teleconferences on Monday to reduce the number of people who need to attend the courthouses.

“In both the criminal and civil courts, we are rapidly moving to a position where appearances will be managed through the electronic and digital environment,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Ferguson said.

“Not all courts have the technical capability yet, but considerable work is under way to build that as soon as possible.”

It is uncertain how the proceedings will face scrutiny from the public and media, but the County Court said it was committed to open justice and the vital role of the media during the crisis.

Chief Justice of Victoria Anne Ferguson.

Chief Justice of Victoria Anne Ferguson.

The suspension of new trials and committal hearings is expected to bring a surge of bail applications over coming weeks, as accused criminals argue the delay they face waiting for their trial should be a compelling reason for their release from custody.

Both the Supreme and County courts are focusing on hearing judge-alone trials in civil matters.

There are a handful of juries still hearing evidence in the County Court, but those trials began before the suspension took effect.

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Lawyers for accused criminals whose committal hearings are scheduled over the next seven weeks will appear before a magistrate to adjourn cases to new dates.

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