There is no denying the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many industries operate.  With respect to the legal profession, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in face-to-face contact with clients becoming less common or unavailable due to isolation requirements.

In an attempt to work around these challenges, many legal practitioners shifted to video conferencing platforms to meet with clients.  Despite the evolution of technology allowing the wheels of justice to continue turning, the legislation did not facilitate such a smooth transition.

In order for the justice system to function effectively, it is necessary for parties to be able to provide information and documents which are truthful.  One of the ways in which the legal system enforces this is by requiring claimants to declare the truth of the subject matter in accordance with the Oaths Act 1867 (“the Oaths Act”).

The Oaths Act requires declarants to sign the statutory declaration in the presence of a witness who must also sign the document.  A witness of a statutory declaration can typically only be any one of the following:

    1. A justice, commissioner for declarations or notary public under the law of the State, the Commonwealth or another State; or
    2. A lawyer; or
    3. A conveyancer, or another person authorised to administer an oath, under the law of the State, the Commonwealth or another State.

With respect to personal injury claims, one example of a document which must be declared is the initial claim form for motor vehicle accidents, called a Notice of Accident Claim Form.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oaths Act required a statutory declaration to be witnessed in person, however, this requirement was complicated by the various lockdowns, isolations, and social distancing protocols that COVID-19 introduced.

In response to these challenges, a number of temporary measures were introduced in the Justice Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response – Documents and Oaths) Regulation 2020.  One of the measures that was introduced allowed a special cohort of witnesses, which includes Australian legal practitioners, to witness statutory declarations via audio-visual link.  It became clear quite quickly that these changes significantly improved access to justice for many claimants and allowed injured claimants to commence or progress their personal injury claims despite the challenges of the pandemic.

More recently, the Queensland Parliament passed the Justice Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response— Permanency) Amendment Bill 2021 which sought to amend the Oaths Act to permanently include some of the provisions temporarily introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the witnessing requirements for statutory declarations discussed above.

The permanent amendments to the Oaths Act came into effect after the temporary measures had ceased on 30 April 2022.  To address the new permanent amendments, the Motor Accident Insurance Commission introduced an updated version of the Notice of Accident Claim Forms and supporting documents.

The introduction of the permanent amendments to the Oaths Act is a positive step for the justice system and injured claimants alike.  The amendments will significantly assist a wide range of injured claimants who are not only restricted by COVID-19 isolation requirements, but also from restrictions imposed by their location or injuries.

Daniel Macpherson Solicitor

This blog was written by Daniel Macpherson, Solicitor

Phone:  (07) 3003 4444 or Toll Free 1800 316 716

Email: daniel@vbrlaw.com.au

 

Greg Black Compensation Lawyer Brisbane

This blog was approved by Greg Black, Director

Phone: (07) 3003 4444 or Toll Free 1800 316 716

Email: greg@vbrlaw.com.au