The Judiciary has been active in planning and taking action to deal with the problems caused by COVID-19 infections on court operations, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma said today.
In a statement, Mr Ma explained that almost 18% of the annual caseload of the courts at all levels has been affected since cases were adjourned on January 29.
Given the administration of justice has been adversely affected, he said that the Hong Kong Bar Association, the Law Society of Hong Kong, the Department of Justice and many other interested parties and the public are concerned over the disruption and inconvenience caused.
He said: “The Judiciary has from the earliest stages been active in planning and taking action to deal with the problems caused by the effect of the virus on court operations.”
Up till now, the Judiciary has adopted a conservative approach to the types of cases that have been heard since cases were adjourned, Mr Ma said, adding that a number of exceptions, mainly urgent and essential hearings, took place.
“The reason for this approach was public health and safety. Court buildings are places where at any one time many people are gathered and the potential spread of infections is a very real one.”
Justice Ma noted that public health and safety remain paramount considerations in determining the Judiciary’s approach to the present problems.
“We have nevertheless been urgently exploring further ways to increase court services during this time without compromising the health and safety of court users, our staff and judges.”
He emphasised that judges have been proactively managing cases and making determinations on paper.
He added that the Judiciary is also actively considering expanding the scope of hearings by hearing submissions by telephone, video-conferencing and generally making use of technology.
“I wish to assure the community that the Judiciary is doing its best to deal with the situation.
“However, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the present challenge faced by the community is a public health and safety one, and in considering what best course to take, we must at all times bear in mind the health and safety of the public, court users, our staff and judges.
“I hope we will be able to return to normality soon but if the general adjourned period is to continue, we will do our best to have the courts operate as much as practicable and safe."