Justice grinds to a halt as Covid outbreak forces suspension of jury trials

All new jury trials in Queensland will be suspended for at least a month after the state’s Covid-19 outbreak grew to more than 90,000 cases with hundreds of people in hospital.

Jan 11, 2022, updated Jan 11, 2022
Commissioner Catherine Holmes is hearing evidence from the so-called Robodebt scandal. (Photo: AAP Image/Pool, Mark Cranitch)

Commissioner Catherine Holmes is hearing evidence from the so-called Robodebt scandal. (Photo: AAP Image/Pool, Mark Cranitch)

Another 9581 cases were recorded on Monday after more than 21,000 tests, taking the total number of active cases to at least 90,000.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Catherine Holmes and Chief District Court Judge Brian Devereaux on Tuesday morning moved to limit new jury trials.

“All new trials in Queensland requiring a jury have been suspended as a precautionary measure,” the judges said in a statement.

“Jury trials will not recommence before 21 February 2022. The situation will be reviewed on 11 February 2022.

“Jury trials currently listed to commence before that date will be reviewed by the court at a time notified by the registry.

“Within courtrooms, safe distances should be maintained, and practitioners should not be present in court other than when their matters are being dealt with.

Monday’s recorded case numbers were lower than expected because four private pathology labs were unable to report test results for Sunday, possibly due to a software update glitch.

There were also 21 patients in ICU including seven on ventilation, while 419 people are being treated in hospital.

Chief Health Officer John Gerrard said more than half of the ICU cases and one-quarter of all hospital admissions are on the Gold Coast.

“It looks like at the moment the surge is probably occurring on the Gold Coast,” he told reporters on Monday.

“It’s not surprising, given the sheer number of interstate visitors which would cause seeding events to occur.”

Meanwhile, the government has postponed the start of the school year from January 24 until February 7 for most students, with Year 11 and 12 students to start online learning on January 31.

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The delay will allow most children to get vaccinated before school returns, Dr Gerrard said, but there will still be a surge when classes go back.

He said parents shouldn’t be overly anxious about their children catching the virus, which would not be severe for most of them.

“I worry that we are making parents very anxious that it’s going to make their children terribly ill,” Dr Gerrard said.

The government said the school year will run for an extra week in December to make up for the delay, but the Independent Education Union rejected the extension.

IEU Queensland and Northern Territory branch secretary Terry Burke said schedule changes for state schools do not automatically apply to non-government schools.

“There is no need nor any justification for non-government employers to follow this silly and unnecessary step by the state government,” Mr Burke said in a statement.

“IEU members are dedicated professionals who have put the safety and continued quality education of their students and school communities front and centre for the last two years.

“Any extension of the school year would be shameful lack of recognition of that commitment.”

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