Focus On

Saskatchewan courts trim down, turn to phone, video to curb COVID-19

Monday, March 23, 2020 @ 12:37 PM | By Terry Davidson

In efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, Saskatchewan’s provincial and superior courts have made sweeping operational changes in the name of social distancing.

It was announced March 22 that Saskatchewan’s provincial court will be “restricted to only those persons necessary to the proceedings before the court,” such as lawyers, accused, litigants, witnesses, support workers, treatment court workers and members of the news media.  

Court managers and deputy sheriffs, states the announcement, “will exercise discretion to admit other members of the public whose entry is deemed crucial.”

As well, Crown and defence lawyers now have “blanket permission” to appear via telephone on all matters save for trials and preliminary hearings.

All circuit courts remain closed until May 31, but if counsel feel a trial matter or preliminary hearing must proceed, they must arrange this in advance. Applications will be heard by phone.

Bail hearings and sentencing for in-custody accused will proceed by phone and video conference at the local “permanent court point.”

Effective March 23, all matters before the province’s Court of Appeal will be heard by teleconference or video — if the latter is available.

If a party feels an in-person appearance is necessary, they must provide reasons to the court registrar. They can also consent to having an appeal or application decided on the basis of written materials, or consent to an indefinite adjournment.

As of March 20, the Court of Queen’s Bench had indefinitely suspended all regular operations, save for urgent and emergency matters, the majority of which would be heard via phone or video.

“In rare cases, the court may hear matters where participants appear in person at the courthouse,” states the announcement from the Court of Queen’s Bench.

As of March 22, there were 52 reported cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan, 33 confirmed and 19 presumptive.