Introductory decree to deal with the current corona pandemic (SARS-CoV-2)

I. Basics

1. In the last few days, the Federal Government has decided on numerous far-reaching measures to curb or at least slow down the further rapid spread of the novel corona virus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease COVID-19 caused by it, in order to overload the health system to prevent an excessive number of patients to be treated at the same time. The aim of all these measures is to largely limit the physical contact between people and thus reduce the transmission of the virus.

2. Against this background, the amendment of court office law is intended to regulate party traffic until the end of April 13, 2020, and also to make it explicitly clear that the day in office can be better controlled and regulated by using pre-registration systems.

3. Regardless of this, in order to maintain the rule of law, internal order and legal peace in Austria, it is essential that the judicial system is maintained to the extent necessary for the parties to exercise their subjective rights and enforce their legal rights.

II. Court operations

1. Basically, only those employees should be employed in the office whose presence is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the judicial operation. This also applies to judges and prosecutors. There is no objection to ordering journal service and on-call duty as far as possible. Approval by the central office is not required.

2. Opening hours:

a. The appearance of parties is limited to the elementary procedural and party rights guaranteed by the procedural rights. These include in particular inspection of files and the possibility of submitting applications and other submissions to the court on time.

b. The official acts required for the granting of procedural and party rights can only be made by prior appointment and should be done by telephone or email if possible. In principle, this also applies to the granting of access to files, provided that the person requesting access to the file agrees.

c. The “office day”[1] must also take place without exception by telephone and must limit itself to urgent matters if possible.

d. These regulations do not affect Section 37 (3) Geo.[2], which stipulates that the entry point must be kept open during the court's official hours. This measure is necessary to ensure that written submissions are made on time. The detailed organizational structure is, of course, also left to the head of the service here.

3. The following applies to hearings:

a. In criminal matters, ex officio hearings with the exception of detention and other procedures that cannot be postponed in accordance with Section 226 (1) (2) or (4) StPO can be cancelled. As far as hearings nevertheless take place, the public can be excluded in accordance with Section 229 (1) (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, because to restrict further dissemination of SARS-CoV-2 human gatherings should be avoided as far as possible and it can therefore be assumed, that public order within the meaning of Section 229 (1) 1 Z 1 StPO would be at risk, if hearings continue to be conducted in public.

b. The same applies to interrogations before courts and public prosecution offices with the exception of an interrogation according to § 174 StPO or a custody hearing according to § 176 StPO as well as mandatory hearings according to § 152a StVG (see also the possibilities of a video conference).[3]

c. Even in civil matters, oral hearings should only be held to the extent, which is absolutely necessary to maintain orderly administration of justice. It should also be checked, whether already scheduled hearings can be cancelled. The judicial organ responsible for each individual case must assess, whether a hearing is held and which accompanying measures are taken (e.g. exclusion from the public). The same applies to ad-hoc claims given to protocol. Likewise, only urgent enforcement orders should be executed.

4. As far as hearings and appearance of parties have to take place in the specially defined exceptional cases above, structural measures are to be taken to ensure that the risk of infection is minimized in tight spatial situations. This can be done, for example, by using plexiglass.

5. The following regulations apply to the area of judicial enforcement:

a. In order to avoid infections, those actions are to be avoided, in which particularly close personal contacts (e.g. detention to bring someone on front of the court) with the parties cannot be avoided.

b. In any case, money transfers should be given preference over cash handling.

6. Justice administration:

a. The service authorities must define the key personnel, that is essential for the maintenance of the judicial administration and the operation of the court.

b. For all other employees see point III.1.

7. The personnel of security companies carrying out the security checks (Section 3 Paragraph 1 GOG[4]) must check all persons who intend to enter the courthouse for the presence of the following criteria:

a. obvious acute respiratory symptoms of any severity: e.g. dry cough, shortness of breath;

b. Apparent non-specific general symptoms; e.g. sneezing, runny nose; if possible also fever (37.5 degrees);

If a person exhibits any of these symptoms, the control organs must refuse access to the courthouse and issue a confirmation of the refusal to enter. In addition, the temperature can be measured with non-contact thermometers and access can be refused in the event of a fever.

If the person is a party of a proceeding or otherwise involved (such as witnesses, private parties, etc.) or access to the courthouse for legal prosecution or legal defense is absolutely necessary for them

a. record the generalities (name, birthday, address, telephone number) and

b. inform the court management of the refusal of access as soon as possible.

III. Employment law requirements

1. All employees whose presence is not necessary for the maintenance of the judiciary in the strictly necessary minimum described in point II. must work from home. The following applies:

a. The existing regulations on teleworking, in particular any approval requirements, will be overridden. This also removes the restriction to a maximum of two teleworking days.

b. All employees who have been granted teleworking up to now have to work from home for the duration of this order, in accordance with their other official duties.

c. All other employees who have a work place that is suitable for teleworking must be enabled to work tele-technically, depending on the technical possibilities, whereby those employees who belong to a risk group or who have childcare responsibilities, particularly those of school-age children who are affected by temporary school closings, are given preferential treatment.

d. Incidentally, efforts should be made to define or prefer work that is suitable for being carried out from home regardless of the use of special technical aids for the purpose of fulfilling official tasks (e.g. by being reachable by telephone, preparing and reviewing documents).

e. All employees who work from home must ensure that they can be reached by telephone.

f. These regulations also apply to all persons in training and working for the courts and public prosecutors, in particular legal interns, apprentices and administrative interns.

2. For those key employees who have to provide on-site service, the core or block time regulation that is applied as part of the flextime is abolished.

3. Business trips:

a. Business trips have to be stopped until further notice.

b. Frustrated travel expenses are reimbursed in the way of travel fees as well as cancellation costs, whereby, in the sense of a duty to mitigate damage, the employee must at least attempt to avert already incurred or impending costs, for example by referring to the loss of the business basis.

4. Training and further education events:

a. All training and further education events have been canceled until further notice.

b. The Federal Ministry of Justice will take the necessary steps to ensure that missed training parts (in whatever form) can be made up in time so that basic training can be completed on time.

IV. General rules of conduct

To avoid the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace as best as possible, the following rules of conduct must be observed:

1. Currently, refraining from shaking hands is not a sign of unfriendliness, regardless of the positive culture in the department. Officials are instructed to refrain from shaking hands as this is considered a major cause of transmission of the SARS-CoV-2.

2. In addition, all persons should wash their hands regularly and extensively with soap or use the available disinfectant.

3. If possible, a minimum distance of one meter from other people should be kept, especially if they cough or sneeze.

4. All workplaces - especially keyboards and mobile phones - should be cleaned or disinfected regularly; this also applies to the cleaning of common areas, door handles etc.

5. In addition, workplaces should be aired as often as possible.

[1] „Amtstag“ is the option in Austria to go to court to address minor legal questions or to file minor claims.

[2] Geo = „Geschäftsordnung der Gerichte I. und II. Instanz“ = Austrian office law of the courts in 1. and 2. Instance.

[3] These norms refer to hearings in regard of detentions

[4] GOG = Gerichtsorganisationsgesetz = Court organisation law