20 March 2020
The Commission continues to monitor the Commonwealth and State Governments' announcements and health advice relating to Coronavirus (COVID-19).
In an endeavour to contain the effects of the virus and to keep the Commission operational as much as possible, the Commission has implemented temporary procedures which were set out on the Commission's website on 16 March 2020 at http://www.irc.justice.nsw.gov.au/Pages/IRC_research_information/IRC_research_information_announcements/IRC_research_information_announcements_2016_66.aspx.
The primary aim is to minimise the need for parties and representatives to attend the Commission in person in the near future and to develop methods of dealing with cases that do not require face-to-face contact so that the Commission can continue to operate in the current environment.
To assist with this aim, the Commission requires parties and representatives to observe the following protocols in addition to those set out on 16 March 2020.
1. Only those people necessary for the conduct of a hearing may attend the Commission for the hearing. The Commission will not allow any person to attend a hearing solely to observe proceedings. The Commission may inquire as to the reason why any individual is in attendance, and may ask persons to leave the Commission if they are not required for the hearing.
2. To the extent possible, parties must continue to maintain social distancing when in court or waiting to appear.
3. The Commission expects that all parties will have conferred as to which witnesses will be required for cross-examination and whether those witnesses could give evidence other than in-person and in what order witnesses will be called.
4. Only those witnesses who are genuinely required for cross-examination in-person should attend the hearing.
5. To the extent possible, witnesses should be required to attend the Commission as close as possible to the time at which it is estimated that they will be required to give evidence. The Commission will not be perturbed by reasonable delays caused by a witness being required earlier than anticipated.
6. Witnesses must leave the Commission once they are excused and they are not required otherwise in the matter. Consistent with point 1, they must not remain simply to observe proceedings.
7. To minimise the hearing time, the parties are asked to consider whether there are aspects of the proceedings, such as submissions, which might be conducted other than in person.
8. The Commission takes all care to ensure the cleanliness of its precincts, and aims to have some means available to the parties to maintain a safe working environment. In the current environment, the Commission expects that all persons attending the Commission take responsibility to ensure ongoing cleanliness, particularly at the bar table and the witness box. Parties are encouraged to bring items such as disinfectant wipes and hand sanitiser that they consider may be required. The Commission cannot guarantee that these items will be available to the parties and/or witnesses.
9. All water jugs and glasses have been removed from hearing rooms for the protection of people appearing before the Commission in the current environment. Parties will be allowed to use their own personal water containers in the hearing room.
10. If parties intend to provide documents to witnesses or to the Commission during the arbitration then it is expected that the copies provided to witnesses and the Commission will be kept in an environment and manner with the least likelihood of contamination by the COVID-19 virus.
Report Backs and Conciliations
1. If parties intend to refer to documents in a report back or conciliation then these documents must be sent to the other party and the Commission at irc_Commissioner_support@justice.nsw.gov.au no later than 3:00pm on the day before the matter is listed. When determining the documents to which you intend to refer, be conscious that that the Commission has limited resourcing to print and collate these documents, and send only those sections of the documents that will be necessary for the report back or conciliation. These documents will not be taken to have been filed in the Commission but will be made available to the Commissioner to assist with conciliations and report backs.
NB: If this creates an administrative burden then further varied arrangements will be considered and parties should note that this practice only applies while measures are implemented to assist the Commission to operate during COVID-19.
Sittings outside Parramatta and Newcastle
1. From Monday 23 March 2020 until Friday 29 May 2020 the Commission will only hear matters requiring in-person attendance at a hearing at the Commission's premises in Parramatta and Newcastle.
2. Commissioners will initiate contact with parties and/or representatives impacted by this measure to make alternative arrangements.