UPDATED: Māori Land Court COVID-19 Level 2 Protocol - Effective as at 7 September 2021
1. This protocol will take effect when New Zealand, or any region of New Zealand, moves to Level 2 of the Covid-19 Alert System. It should be read in conjunction with the Government’s Covid-19 Alert System Level 2 restrictions, including the additional measures put in place to address the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.
2. Courts are an essential service. At Alert Level 2, and subject to the restrictions noted below, the Māori Land Court and Māori Appellate Court will carry out all their usual scheduled work that can be safely supported, subject to workforce capacity levels and the requirement to observe requisite physical distancing and heightened hygiene practices. This requires the co-operation of all parties to ensure the courts function at the fullest extent they safely can in performance of their constitutional role.
3. Under Level 2, the Māori Land Court will hold some in-person hearings, and the Māori Land Court district offices will be open for limited in-person services. However, for the safety of Court users and staff, the majority of Māori Land Court hearings and services will be undertaken on the papers or via phone- and video-conferencing.
4. Any filing with the Māori Land Court should be done, where possible, by email or post. The email and postal addresses for all Māori Land Court offices can be found on the Court’s website at www.maorilandcourt.govt.nz/contact-us(external link).
5. Where email or postal filing is not possible, Court applications and documents may be filed in person at the Māori Land Court. Measures will be put in place at Māori Land Court counters to ensure appropriate social distancing between all Court visitors. No one who is feeling unwell should file any Court documents in person.
Court advisory services
6. Normal Māori Land Court advisory services, such as assistance with research and title information searches, will not be able to be undertaken in person under Level 2, due to the difficulties in maintaining appropriate social distancing while providing such services to Māori land owners.
7. Advisory services will be available by email, telephone and video-conferencing methods (such as Zoom) at Level 2. The phone and email contacts for all Māori Land Court offices can be found on the Court’s website at www.maorilandcourt.govt.nz/contact-us(external link).
Setting down hearings
8. At Level 2, when setting the pānui for new Court sittings Judges should assess whether any of the matters listed can be completed on the papers. For example, applications such as replacement of trustees (Rule 12.8), successions (s 117) and reducing trustees (s 239) may be able to be dealt with in Chambers.
9. Where matters cannot be dealt with on the papers and require a hearing, Judges and staff will investigate with parties whether it is appropriate for a hearing to take place either by telephone conference, audio-visual link (AVL) or another form of video-conferencing, such as Zoom.
10. Where matters cannot be heard using telephone or video-conferencing, they will be set down in the pānui for an in-person hearing.
11. For in-person hearings the pānui should be set to allow extra time between each application than would normally be provided, to avoid groups of people gathering in or outside the Court. The intention is people will arrive and have their matter dealt with and then leave Court prior to the parties for the next matter set down for hearing arriving.
12. All those attending an in-person Māori Land Court hearing should wear a face mask in public spaces and courtrooms. Those attending court will be reminded of this by Court staff upon their arrival. Attendees will be offered a mask if they do not already have one.
13. Masks are to be worn at all times at in-person hearings, unless permission is given by a judge to remove a mask or if a medical exemption applies.
14. Court staff will wear masks when in courtrooms and public spaces.
Prior to in-person hearing
15. Two weeks before an in-person hearing the Court will contact all applicants (and respondents if matter is contested) who are set to appear before the Court advising them that:
a. If they are unwell, over the age of 70, immunocompromised, or have an underlying respiratory condition, they should not attend Court.
b. If they have the technology, they can discuss with their case manager the option of:
i. Requesting their case be heard by audio-visual link conferencing (AVL) or Zoom; or
ii. Requesting their case be heard by teleconferencing.
c. A Judge will need to give approval for parties to attend a hearing by AVL, Zoom or telephone. This approval will not be withheld unless such attendance would compromise the ability of parties to present or test evidence.
d. In preparing for hearing, the case manager will discuss with parties:
i. How many people are going to attend in person;
ii. Whether any person planning to attend is currently (or has in the recent past) felt unwell, experienced flu-like symptoms, or has come into contact with anyone who is unwell or who has had such symptoms. This should also include anyone who has recently returned from overseas or who is subject to the self-quarantine protocols; and
iii. Whether attendance in person can be facilitated in line with the Government guidelines (i.e. no direct contact and maintaining physical distance between each attendee, Court staff and anyone else in the Court room).
e. Attendance in person will be discussed with the case manager, and if necessary the Judge, to ensure that it is appropriate before that is confirmed with the parties.
f. If it is not possible for an in-person hearing to be held in accordance with the Government guidelines on safety at Level 2, the application will need to be adjourned to a new date. This should be confirmed by the Judge before such adjournments are granted.
g. Cases will be specifically set down to be heard at certain times – it is critical that parties arrive at Court at the set time so as to avoid gathering of groups outside or inside of Court.
h. When a case is called only parties, Court staff and the Judge will be present in Court.
i. People are to distance themselves from others when seated in Court.
16. If an in-person hearing would require a party to travel outside of the region in which they live, or if they have recently travelled (for purposes other than transiting between regions) to an area at a higher Alert Level, they should advise Court staff of this and discuss attendance using telephone- or video-conferencing instead of attending in person.
17. All applicants (and where appropriate interested parties) are to be sent a draft copy of the submission for their application at least one week before hearing. Case managers should contact the applicant by telephone before the hearing to review the draft submission, as for those attending Court there will be no pre-Court interview.
Court hearings outside of district courtroom
18. If the relevant Court is one held outside of a Māori Land Court courtroom (i.e. not in Whangarei, Hamilton, Rotorua, Gisborne, Hastings, Whanganui or Christchurch), the following should apply:
a. Court staff should liaise with the District Court staff in that area so that they are aware of how the applications are going to be managed.
b. A Deputy Registrar, or senior staff member, will be available on the day of the hearing to field any calls from any person who wishes to appear and has not prearranged to do so.
c. To assist with this, a contact phone number should be left with the District Court staff, and a notice placed on the door of the District Court, for those people to contact.
i. If that person is a party to the application, the Deputy Registrar will need to assess whether they can attend by telephone, AVL (they may be able to appear via the District Court’s AVL facilities) or Zoom, or if not whether they may be able to make a submission through the registrar.
ii. If the person is not a party to the application, and he or she has not filed a notice of intention to appear, the staff should take their contact details and a copy of the minute from the hearing can be sent to them. If that person wants to appear via AVL, Zoom or telephone, leave should be sought from the Judge to do so.
d. In general, Court staff should aim to minimise any circumstance that requires Court attendees to congregate in a large group (eg if multiple groups arrive early and are waiting for their application to be called). If there are multiple ‘waiting room’ spaces available in the Court where the sitting is being held, staff should aim to ensure that Court attendees are able to wait in separate areas rather than being seated together in one space.
19. The Ministry of Justice has advised that it continues to take a number of steps to ensure the safety of those coming into courthouses during Alert Level 2, including:
a. A designated hygiene officer to attend to hygiene, physical distancing and safe working practices.
b. Access will be denied to those
i. showing signs of illness such as coughing or sneezing;
ii. reporting feeling unwell;
iii. who have had close contact with a suspected, probable or confirmed case of Covid-19; or
iv. who are unwilling to disclose the purpose of their visit or their contact information.
c. Limiting entry to those with business at court, and members of the public who are given permission to enter.
d. Maintaining an orderly queuing system at courthouse entrances, reminding people not to enter if they are symptomatic, and offering wipes for items place in screening trays.
e. Maintaining a contact register.
f. Providing a daily supply of clean PPE for use by staff and Judges.
g. Maintaining a cleaning regime based on the Ministry of Health recommendations, with a wide range of deeper cleaning measures in key areas throughout public and non-public areas and regular cleans – for example during lunch breaks – to ensure that areas where there is high traffic are clean and sanitised.
h. Monitoring the provision of cleaning supplies such as soap and towels and ensuring availability of key products such as hand sanitiser at appropriate points around the courthouse.
i. Keeping under constant review all cleaning practices and procedures, to enable additional measures to be added if required.
j. Reminding those attending Court of the need to take personal responsibility for their own health and wellbeing – including washing hands regularly, following hygiene practices and, if unwell, following Ministry of Health guidance.
k. Leaving doors open where consistent with security, fire safety, privacy and noise reduction.
20. Parties should arrive at Court at the time that their matter is scheduled for hearing and vacate the courtroom once their hearing has concluded.
21. Safe distancing will be observed in the courtroom, and the following hygiene practices can be expected:
a. Those working in the courtroom, including counsel, are required to maintain 1m social distancing, in line with the relevant Public Health Orders(external link). Seats in public galleries will be taped off to ensure this.
b. Cleaning products are available on site to enable staff and lawyers to keep their immediate areas clean (including AVL suites).
c. Face masks should be worn in all public spaces, in accordance with paragraphs 12-14 above. Gloves may also be worn.
d. Hand sanitiser will be readily available within the courtroom.
e. The court will not normally permit documents to be handed up. Documents that parties wish to produce should be scanned and shared by email at the appropriate time.
22. Any concerns about health and safety practices in the Court should be raised with the local Māori Land Court Service Manager in the first instance.
23. Accredited news media will continue to have entry to the Court in order to report court proceedings, and to ensure open and transparent justice. Remote access for accredited news media will continue to be facilitated in accordance with current protocols.
Expectations of counsel
24. Counsel are expected to assist the court by:
a. Briefing clients and witnesses on public health messages:
i. Not to come to court if unwell.
ii. To advise counsel as early as possible if they are unable to attend court.
iii. Social distancing expectations in the courthouse and precincts.
iv. What they may expect by way of PPE and hygiene supplies in the courthouse.
v. The limits on attendance by members of the public.
b. Reducing the need for attendance in the courthouse by counsel, their clients and witnesses by reviewing each attendance in advance and:
i. Seeking remote participation for appropriate cases and witnesses.
ii. Limiting the number of witnesses via the use of agreed facts.
c. Raising any deficiencies with cleaning, the availability of cleaning supplies or physical distancing with the site manager immediately.
Community transmission response
25. At Alert Level 2, it remains possible that a new cluster of Covid-19 community transmission may be confirmed within the location served by a courthouse. In that event the Court will rely on official advice. Steps may be taken to reduce in-person attendances at the Court to help protect those working or appearing there. The extent of any reduction will depend on the circumstances and official advice or notices.
26. If a location is required to return to Alert Level 3 or 4, the Court is now better equipped for remote participation. Where practicable and appropriate, the Court may conduct additional types of work by remote participation.
Variation to protocol
27. This protocol will be followed by the Māori Land Court wherever possible. Any variation to the protocol, to address the circumstances of a particular case – for example, where an urgent application is made and the timeframes prescribed by the protocol cannot be met – must be approved by the presiding Judge.
Chief Judge Wilson Isaac
7 September 2021