Covid-19 update for the ACT legal profession

Monday, 18 October 2021

Covid-19 update for the ACT legal profession

The Law Society is monitoring the current situation, and will update this page as new information becomes available.

Canberra comes out of lockdown on Friday, and members will no doubt begin transitioning back to their offices consistent with the guidance from the ACT Government. Masks remain mandatory outside the home, and you should continue to use the ACT Government's Check In CBR App.  

Members are encouraged to refer to the following resources:


ACT Law Society updates

The office of the Law Society will remain closed to the public for a period from 15 October 2021, while our staff begin transitioning back to the office. This means that if you are visiting us, you will need to arrange for a staff member to meet you in the ground floor foyer. Please notify us ahead of time if you need to drop off or collect items from the Law Society, or call our main phone line 02 6274 0300.

Consistent with the ACT Government’s pathway out of lockdown, a number of staff will continue to work remotely over this transition period. We may still have delays in our response times and ask for your patience. We encourage members to continue contacting us by email where possible at mail@actlawsociety.asn.au. A small number of staff will be in the office from 15 October to answer our main phone line.

Committee meetings will continue to be held online until further easing of restrictions, and we will continue to deliver online CPD wherever possible. Please look out for updates in Hearsay and our Events Update.

The Legal Advice Bureau is on hold until further notice. Pro Bono Clearing House meetings will be held online where possible. 

Restrictions affecting legal practice

Practitioners will be aware that the ACT government’s lockdown is being lifted from 15 October 2021, and legal services can resume in a Covid safe way. The ACT government has published its pathway out of lockdown, including guidance for business, on its website at www.covid19.act.gov.au. We recommend monitoring the Business FAQs on this website, which are regularly updated.

Law firms should have regard to the general guidance for business on the website applying from 15 October.

Members should regularly consult the public health directions and www.covid19.act.gov.au website to stay up to date with their responsibilities.

Check in requirements for law firms

The Law Society has sought clarification on the guidance from ACT Health about use of the Check in CBR app, following release of the Public Health Direction on Friday 15 October:

The Check In Direction requires certain businesses to register and use the Check In CBR app. Those business are retailers, public passenger vehicles and non-essential business or undertakings — which captures businesses such as gyms, nightclubs, community centres, and cinemas. The Check In Direction does not require law firms/offices to register and use the Check In CBR app. However, if law firms wish to use the Check In CBR app to assist with contact tracing efforts then they may register to do so noting that it is not mandatory for individuals to ‘check’ into these buildings.

We understand that information about the Check In CBR requirements for business will be clarified on the Covid-19 website to better reflect the directions.

Use of the Settlements Office

The Settlements Office will continue to operate in a Covid safe manner and having regard to Public Health Directions. The following rules will be in effect at the Settlements Office from 15 October:

  • The building will be open to the public from 15 October.
  • Based on the updated guidance from ACT Health that legal services can resume in a Covid safe way, exchange transactions can resume at the office from 15 October. Where exchanges can be reasonably transacted electronically, we still encourage this to occur as the most Covid safe approach. 
  • The office is working on the basis of one person per 4 square metres, meaning the number of users is limited to a maximum of 25 at any time.
  • To keep capacity within the 25 person limit, the regular users previously approved for entry will continue to liaise with each other about attendance requirements, to support maintenance of required density limits. Non-regular users, including unrepresented members of the public, should contact the Society for a list of approved users who can assist with settlement transactions to support these requirements.
  • Any person entering the office is required to check in on entry using the Check in CBR app, and must use the provided hand sanitiser. For ease of check-in, QR codes are displayed at the entry and on every table in the office.
  • All users of the office must wear a mask at all times and should maintain a 1.5m physical distance between them, having regard to the current public health directions.
  • Users of the office must wipe down touch points after each transaction, including desktops and chair arms. Hand sanitiser and antiseptic wipes have been provided for this purpose.
  • Any user who is unwell with any cold or flu like symptoms, no matter how mild and whether vaccinated or not, must not attend the office – they should stay home and get tested for COVID-19 and do not return to the office until a negative test is received.
  • Anyone who has been to an identified case location must not attend the office and should follow health directions for isolation and testing.
  • All users should continue to monitor and comply with updates to the restrictions on the ACT Health Covid-19 website.

Events, including Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

As we transition back to face to face events, the safety of our members and staff is our biggest priority. We will be following ACT Health guidelines, including QR code sign-ins, mask-wearing, social distancing, and surface cleaning between events. If you have any questions or concerns please contact our Professional Development & Events Officer, Liz Francis, on liz.francis@actlawsociety.asn.au.

Mental health support

As we settle into a lockdown period in Canberra, we want to remind members that they can contact our EAP, Acacia Connection, for support at any time. Phone 1300 364 273 (24/7) or visit their website for online options at acaciaconnection.com

You can also call the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service on 1800 512 348 or Lifeline on 131114.

Useful guidance notes during lockdown

Remote working and confidentiality. Guidance for law practices on supervision of staff working remotely and ensuring confidentiality of client information. [read more]

Does the Check in CBR app breach lawyer/client confidentiality? The Legal Profession Act & Ethics Committee has prepared some advice to help firms and practitioners who may have questions about the interaction between Covid-19 check in requirements and their client confidentiality obligations. [read more]

Tips for managing the legal workforce as COVID-19 restrictions ease in the ACT. The Law Society’s Industrial Relations Committee has published a guide to help ACT law firms with HR questions related to work health and safety, returning to work, and work from home requirements. [read more]


ACT Community Legal Centres

ACT Community Legal Centres are continuing to deliver essential legal assistance and other support to the most vulnerable members of the Canberra community during the current COVID-19 outbreak. All ACT Community Legal Services are currently delivering services by phone, video or online.

  • You can leave lockdown to escape domestic violence. For support, call Legal Aid ACT on 1300 654 314, Victim Support ACT on 6205 2222, or the Domestic Violence Crisis Service on 6280 0900.
  • Canberra Community Law have launched a website covering common legal areas that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic: Canberra COVID-19 Legal Help

Other services

Working with Vulnerable People cards

Changes to Working with Vulnerable People operations during lockdown: Recent changes to the Working with Vulnerable People (Background Checking) Act 2011 remove the obligation for a registration card to be produced. In accordance with this, and to remove the need for staff to attend the workplace to generate and post registration cards and letters, registration cards will not be produced during at this time. All people issued with a positive WWVP registration will instead receive a letter of confirmation. Registration cards will be issued at a later date once services resume. 

ACT Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)

Service of briefs during lockdown: Where possible, DPP will disclose briefs electronically using sharepoint. When this is not possible, DPP will arrange a contactless “drop point system” outside the office entry to the Reserve Bank Building. Read the details of this procedure online.

ACT Corrective Services

Suspension of face-to-face visits at the AMC: Face to face visits at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) will be suspended during the lockdown period and AVL visits will be maximised. All legal and professional in person visits will also be suspended and will be conducted electronically. Detainees have been notified of these changes and will be provided updates as the situation develops. 


Courts updates

ACT Courts and Tribunal

The ACT Courts have advised a pathway for the resumption of operations following the lifting of the COVID-19 lockdown on Friday 15 October 2021. Practitioners should note the dates provided are indicative only and are subject to the advice and directions made by the Chief Health Officer of the ACT. 

For the most up to date information about court operations, please visit their respective news pages:

Court-specific Practice Directions and special COVID-19 measures are set out below.

High Court of Australia

The Canberra Registry staff are currently working remotely. Contact Canberra.Registry@hcourt.gov.au.

Federal Court of Australia

The ACT Registry and Court Building for the Federal Court and the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia will remain closed to the public until Monday 1 November 2021. For enquiries call 1300 720 980.

Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia

The ACT Registry and Court Building for the Federal Court and the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia will remain closed to the public until Monday 1 November 2021. The Court remains open electronically, and urgent applications and other hearings will be conducted electronically as appropriate. This includes through the COVID-19 List, which can accommodate any urgent or priority family law applications connected to COVID-19. Enquiries relating to the Court should be directed to 1300 352 000.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

The AAT has updated the special measures Practice Directions which were put in place last year to facilitate operations during COVID-19. Following changes in circumstances and Government advice, the AAT is now able to provide some in-person services. As of 8 March 2021, special measures Practice Directions have been updated to reflect this.

Webinars
Guidelines