Online Magistrates' Court - frequently asked questions
Practitioners' OMC questions answered
About the Online Magistrates' Court (OMC)
- Does the OMC apply to all jurisdictions?
Yes. Matters are heard and finalised in the criminal (summary and indictable), civil, and Specialist Courts and Programs jurisdictions.
- What is the three-day rule?
The three-day rule facilitates listing certainty.
It requires practitioners to provide to the court information relevant to a hearing no later than three working days before a hearing is listed.
If the court is provided with all necessary information to list a case, no later than three working days before hearing, it ensures the registry adequate time to process and coordinate its lists, and also incorporate requests by the profession for preferred hearing times.
The court accepts there will be occasions where practitioners are unable to obtain relevant information from a client three days in advance of the hearing date. In such circumstances, hearings will continue to be listed, but requests for preferred hearing times are less likely to be accommodated.
- Does the OMC include online assessments for corrections orders/CISP or will matters need to be adjourned for these assessments?
Yes, the court’s support services are using the Webex online platform along with more conventional platforms to interview and liaise in readiness for hearings.
- How are matters being set up for first mentions/summary case conferences? Is it expected that the summary case conference be conducted by phone or video conference prior to the court date?
It is expected that summary case conferences are conducted either by phone or via email well in advance of any listing. The court expects that all cases that are listed in the OMC are prepared and ready to proceed when called.
- Do the regional courts use the OMC? Who do we speak to, regional coordinators or OMC registry directly?
The OMC is a statewide service, available at all courts. For criminal matters, you should first make contact with the local coordinators via the EFAS portal. The court will then confirm a listing date and refer the matter to the OMC. If unsure, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Is specific information available online for practitioners in regional courts?
All headquarter courts have court user group meetings for the OMC, which representatives of court participants attend. The running of the OMC is no different to regional and metropolitan courts.
If there is an issue as to suitability for a hearing of any type in the OMC, the matter will be listed for special mention in the OMC before a magistrate for directions. If you are unsure, please email email@example.com.
- How will the OMC impact self-represented people?
The OMC is available for self-represented people, who can engage with the OMC registry directly via our website. The OMC has listed and finalised many matters involving self-represented persons.
- Can the OMC hear matters with the need for an interpreter?
Interpreters can appear in the OMC, as confirmed with Language Loop. It is a more complex process for lengthier matters as a telephone maybe required between interpreter and client..
- How will the OMC comply with record keeping? Will hearings be recorded by voice only or by video as well?
All OMC cases are recorded and stored. All matters are recorded in audio only.
- Are hearings on the papers to continue?
The practice directions regarding hearings on the papers remain, until revoked by the Chief Magistrate.
- What is the difference between EFAS and eDocs?
EFAS allows for practitioners to communicate with the court regarding their cases, much like email. For example, practitioners are expected to use EFAS to contact the court in respect of all criminal matters to:
- request a matter is listed in the OMC
- the estimated duration of the hearing
- preferred hearing times
- indicate a matter is unsuitable for an online hearing.
The eDocs portal is how materials relevant to a hearing, for example, expert reports, prescribed forms, applications, letters of reference are filed with the court.
You can view demonstrations of eDocs here: https://www.edocsportal.courts.vic.gov.au/.
- What's the difference between Webex and MS Teams?
Webex has greater advantages in conducting a court hearing than Teams. An ability to record, place people in the lobby and control the running of the hearing is far more advanced on Webex.
- What has worked with submissions/documents being provided in advance?
Filing of all documents has greatly enhanced the OMC. Magistrates are being afforded time to read material and prepare for cases, enhancing the hearing quality greatly. This is certainly encouraged.
- Are we able to obtain a recording of the hearing per the usual application?
The usual process is in place for obtaining a recording of the online hearing.
Listing of hearings in the OMC
- Is it possible to choose the time of an online hearing?
If you have communicated with the court and confirmed appearances for the hearing at least three days out from the hearing, then the court will be in a better position to accommodate your time preferences.
Most court locations have time certainty options. When dealing with prisons, due to the high volumes, most times are not so flexible. However the court has a specialist unit coordinating these listings to ensure the best time certainty available, subject to resources.
- Are the guidelines for selecting cases appropriate to be heard online publicly available?
Specific guidelines for listing types have not been developed. We are guided by you, who know the ins and outs of the case. In some cases, we may seek judicial guidance before listing. If you are unsure, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
- If a matter is listed for a future date who do we contact to have the matter listed now in the OMC?
We are abridging as many cases as possible. Contact us via the EFAS portal pursuant to Practice Direction No. 17 of 2020.
- Can matters be listed before the OMC if the accused is not sure whether they want to plead or seek a sentencing indication, but they want the matter abridged?
If parties agree to the matter being abridged, despite no plea confirmed and a sentence indication or contest mention is sought to be conducted on the day, then it can be heard in the OMC.
Participating in an online hearing
- When should I expect to receive a Webex link?
In most instances, the court will send Webex links the day before a hearing is listed. The Webex link will be sent to the email address that was nominated by the practitioner when registering via EFAS.
Where a legal firm or practice has registered one email address via EFAS, they are expected to coordinate and forward the link to the correct practitioner with carriage of the case, within their firm.
- How do clients participate in an online hearing? Is it expected that they be in the office with their lawyer?
Clients can participate in any way that is safe and secure. Some lawyers have set up facilities in their office, some have had clients appear from home. To ensure easier client management, the court can provide you with time certainty to avoid clients being required to wait in your offices unnecessarily.
- What is the step-by-step process of conducting an online hearing, starting with how we connect to Webex, who initiates the hearing, who provides the links, who controls the microphones etc?
All hearings are conducted by the magistrate presiding over the court setting, as is the case in any open court setting. The OMC team sets up all hearings and then court registrars are allocated locally who open and manage the hearing. The bench clerk oversees the smooth running of the court including control of the microphone, the recordings and any technical functions.
- What should I do if I can’t see the magistrate?
The bench clerk can control the view of the magistrate. If you or your client cannot see the magistrate clearly, please alert the bench clerk.
- How will parties know if others, like journalists, are watching during an online hearing?
As in open court, all parties should assume members of the public and/or media may be present.
All parties will be seen on screen. If a party does not have the camera turned on, an icon will still appear to indicate a party is present. The magistrate is made aware of all parties present via a notice of appearance. Magistrates may also ask or confirm who is appearing on screen or via audio only.
- What’s the court’s expectation as to a Webex background, especially if we are working from home?
A background that participants can download and use in Webex is available on our website.
It uses a greater amount of bandwidth and therefore may not be suitable, but generally it works well.
- Is the expectation that we stand when the magistrate enters the online hearing but then are permitted remain seated for the duration?
It is not expected that parties stand at the commencement or conclusion of the online hearing, unless directed to do so.
- How is the court handling the need for parties at the bar table to liaise with each other during the course of a proceeding?
The clerk, as host, has the ability to place parties including the magistrate into the lobby if conversations need to occur. If this conversation is needed on the run, we suggest using the private chat function.
- Can participants connect via other videoconferencing platforms such as Zoom?
No, the OMC videoconferencing platform is Webex.