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If you're too sick to attend court you need to ensure that you get an appropriate certificate otherwise the court may convict you in your absence.

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Too sick to attend court

What if I’m too sick to go to court?

If you’ve been given a court attendance notice or charged with a criminal offence you are required to attend court. While there are some exceptions, if you don’t attend court and don’t fall into one of the exceptions, the court may deal with the matter in your absence. Even during a pandemic, being too sick to go to court may not be a good enough reason.

You are required to attend court in the following circumstances:

  • If you are on bail and the court has not excused you from attending; or
  • If it is the first court date and you have not emailed/written to the court; or
  • If the matter is listed for sentence; or
  • If the matter is listed for hearing.

What can happen if you miss a court attendance?

In some circumstances missing a court attendance can result in the court issuing a warrant for your arrest but in other cases, matters simply get adjourned so that you have another opportunity to attend. Sometimes, courts will even just finalise matters in your absence.

Having a matter finalised in your absence, or having a warrant issued for your arrest are significant courses of action with serious consequences. If a warrant is issued for your arrest, then police will have the power to arrest you in order to ensure you appear before the court next time and they can choose to refuse you bail.

If a matter is finalised in your absence, you are extremely unlikely to receive leniency, and you will also be unaware of the penalty being imposed (e.g a licence disqualification or cancellation).

Getting a medical certificate

Many people attend their GP and then email or fax a medical certificate to the court. These certificates often say things like “unfit to attend court” or “suffering a medical condition”. Unfortunately, this is not sufficient. In Magjarraj v Asteron Life Limited, Barrett J dealt with such a medical certificate. He remarked;

“People with medical conditions attend court every day… Doctors probably do not realise that they are engaging in an exercise in futility when they issue such certificates and expect courts to treat them as evidence.”

A medical certificate should state the nature of the condition, how it is being treated, why you cannot attend court, and when you will be fit to attend. If you are too sick to attend court you need to ensure that a medical certificate covers these basic details.

Doctors certificate

Attending court during the Covid-19 pandemic

On 24th March the Chief Magistrate of the NSW Local Court issued a memorandum to address how the court should deal with matters in these unique times. Where a person is legally represented that lawyer can satisfy the requirements of ‘appearing’ before the court by way of email. This highlights the importance of using a lawyer during the pandemic. Where a matter is listed and the defendant does not have a lawyer and then fails to attend court, the court might adjourn the matter. In these circumstances the Court will notify the defendant in writing that they are required to respond or attend. If the person fails to attend again, then the court may be dealt with in their absence.  

There have been 14 memorandums since 24 March and court procedures, much like the pandemic, are changing every day. If you aren’t sure what to do, you should contact a lawyer.

Can I be refused entry to a court?

Yes, NSW Sheriff officers are refusing entry to the court to people who:

  • Do not have a court matter;
  • Display COVID-19 related symptoms;
  • Have been to a COVID hotspot area;
  • Have been to or returned from Victoria in the last 14 days;
  • Are awaiting COVID-19 test results.

If you are awaiting a COVID-19 test result or you have cold and flu symptoms or you are too sick to go to court – you should not attend court.

What if I don’t attend court and am convicted?

If you have been convicted in your absence you should contact a lawyer to discuss an application to annul those proceedings. In circumstances where you can prove that you were:

  • Not aware of the proceedings, or
  • Hindered from attending by accident, illness or misadventure, or
  • That having regard to the circumstances of the case it is in the interests of justice

Then the court may annul the conviction recorded in your absence.

The best thing you can do to avoid this however is contact a lawyer before your court date and have them assist you.

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