Planning and development matters - COVID-19 arrangements

COVID-19 has had an unprecedented effect on life as we know it in WA.  In fact the consequences and resulting impacts are changing that quickly that  it can be difficult to know where things stand procedurally, including in the planning and development space.

To assist in providing some clarity, Lavan have prepared a summary outlining the current state of operations (as at 30 March 2020) with key components in the space within which we operate:

Local Governments

  • Council meetings will continue as new regulations have come into effect allowing council meetings to be held electronically during a public health emergency or state of emergency.
  • Local governments may hold meetings via teleconference, video conference or other electronic means.
  • If a meeting is held electronically, local governments will need to allocate time for raising questions by members of the public and provide a means for questions to be submitted prior to the meeting.
  • A fast-tracked application process has also been introduced allowing local governments to seek approval for a reduced quorum at meetings.

Development Assessment Panels (DAPs)

  • The Department of Planning Lands and Heritage have not released any guidance on the DAPs’ response to COVID-19 so far.
  • In our experience to date, DAPs have been continuing to operate as per normal though it is likely arrangements will be made for meetings to operate remotely going forward.

State Administrative Tribunal (SAT)

  • The SAT is operating as usual but will, where possible, conduct all hearings and mediations by telephone or video conference, rather than requiring the parties to attend in person.
  • In our experience, the SAT will contact parties, or make orders about this, when it lists matters for hearing. For matters already listed for hearing the SAT will contact the parties directly.
  • SAT has generally advised against anyone entering the SAT building unless they are directly involved in a proceeding and do not pose a COVID-19 risk.
  • Documents are to be lodged electronically only.

Supreme Court – General Division and Court of Appeal

  • Civil trials (General Division and Appeal) that involve witnesses giving oral evidence will only proceed with the express authorisation of the Chief Justice, based on the urgency of the matter. Otherwise they will be vacated and given priority for relisting when normal listing of matters can resume.
  • Civil trials before judges in the General Division that do not involve witnesses giving oral evidence will continue as listed. Civil trials of this nature will only occur in courtrooms that can ensure appropriate social distancing. This will be at the Court’s discretion and it is likely that the Court will contact the parties to arrange for a hearing by telephone. Video link hearings may be accommodated subject to capability and availability.  Subject to the Court’s discretion, criminal appeal hearings, civil appeal hearings (that do not involve witnesses giving oral evidence), mediations, case management conferences, directions hearings and strategic conferences will be conducted by telephone unless all parties are represented by counsel and all counsel have access to video conferencing facilities, which may then be used. Witnesses must appear by video link from a remote location.
  • Apart from in exceptional circumstances, no new mediations will be listed until the end of May 2020.
  • The General Division registry and Court of Appeal office are closed to the public. All documents must be filed electronically.

Magistrates Court

  • Court listings continue to operate as per normal.
  • Where the prosecution consents, some criminal hearings (such as mentions for a planning prosecution) may be conducted by audio or video link. However, this does not apply to trials, bail variations, sentencings or appearances where a surety is not extended, in which case the accused must attend in person (unless otherwise ordered by the Court).
  • While the Court remains open to the public, it is recommended that only legal practitioners, parties, witnesses and media should attend court hearings. Other members of the public are requested not to attend.
  • Any person proposing to attend the Magistrates Court and is experiencing COVID-19 like symptoms and has travelled overseas or has been in contact with a confirmed or unconfirmed case of COVID-19, is directed not to enter the Court precincts (including courtrooms, hearing rooms and registries).
  • Anyone required at Court who fits the above description must call the relevant registry to have their hearing adjourned, and request that a note be entered onto the Court record.
  • Documents are to be submitted electronically and are not to be handed up to the Magistrate.

Lavan’s Planning and Environment team is fully operational and continuing to assist clients.  If you have any questions or require assistance, please do not hesitate to get in touch with any member of our experienced team.