New Covid policy - site inspections are back on at the LEC!

As government restrictions continue to ease, the acting Chief Judge of the Land and Environment Court has published a new COVID-19 Pandemic Arrangements Policy effective from 8 July 2020 (New COVID-19 Policy).

The New COVID-19 Policy replaces the previous COVID-19 Pandemic Arrangements Policy made on 23 March 2020 and sets out the arrangements for the staged return to face to face attendances in Court and on site.

Below is a summary of the key changes in practice and procedure:

  • Parties are encouraged to file originating and interlocutory applications including Notices of Motion using the Online Registry to avoid or minimise physical attendance at the Court Registry.

  • Parties are also encouraged to seek directions via the Online Registry to avoid or minimise physical attendance at the Court Registry.

  • That said, parties are able to file documents in hard copy via the drop off/pick up service available at the Court Registry. All other attendances must be by appointment only.

  • The court will implement a staged return to face to face hearings, conciliation conferences and mediations.

  • The first stage will allow in court and on-site hearings, conciliation conferences and mediations upon request by the parties provided that current social distancing and public gathering requirements are complied with.

  • The second stage allows listings with multiple parties, witnesses and public attendance which will only occur after social distancing and public gathering requirements are removed.

  • Site inspections for hearings and conciliation conference within the Greater Sydney Area may recommence. At least 3 working days prior to the site inspection, the parties are to advise whether a site inspection is necessary or appropriate and if the location can accommodate social distancing and public gathering requirements.

  • At the request of the parties, hearings, conciliation conferences and mediations can be conducted in a virtual courtroom environment via telephone, Audio Visual Link or Microsoft Teams, especially if the parties are unable to comply with social distancing and social gathering requirements.

  • To reduce congestion in courtrooms, the start and finish times will vary from the standard court hours. The timing will be communicated to the parties at least three business days ahead of the listing.

  • Thermal scanning will be conducted before all listings in court commence.

  • To minimise the need for oral evidence at the hearing, the parties must ensure that lay and expert witness evidence that can be reduced to writing is reduced to writing.

  • Objectors’ evidence can either by reduced to writing or given orally by telephone, AVL or MS Teams.

The abovementioned announcements are a welcome change, particularly when it comes to the re-introduction of site inspections for conciliation conferences and hearings.  These changes will once again allow objectors the opportunity to make oral submissions face to face with the Commissioners.  It will also make it easier for Presiding Commissioners to understand the context within which proposed developments are proposed.

We will continue to keep our Council clients up to date on further developments from the Court.

Please call Bartier Perry if you wish to discuss the policy or its implications.

Authors: Dennis Loether and Julide Ayas