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Nova Scotia courts allowing media remote access to ‘urgent and essential’ matters

Wednesday, April 08, 2020 @ 2:48 PM | By Terry Davidson

To deal with an “unprecedented situation,” Nova Scotia’s courts are taking the unprecedented step of allowing the news media to attend urgent and essential matters by telephone.

The temporary move comes after Nova Scotia’s chief judge and chief justices received “expert advice” from health officials, including the province’s chief medical officer of health, states the Nova Scotia Judiciary in an April 8 news release.  

It is the latest effort to increase social distancing and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Like courts across the Canada, those in Nova Scotia have barred the public. 

“This is an unprecedented situation,” states the release. “To help reduce the spread of the virus, courts across the country have restricted public access. That means it is more important than ever to uphold the open courts principle by ensuring journalists can safely cover the urgent and essential matters that are being heard during the pandemic.”

“Members of the media are permitted to attend urgent and essential matters in person,” states the release. “However, most of those matters are being heard by video or teleconference, with only the judge and court staff appearing in the courtroom.”

Judiciary communications director Jennifer Stairs confirmed that all levels of court continue to hear these pressing matters, which can include bail hearings, some sentencing and youth criminal sentence reviews, peace bond applications and hearings and child and adult protection matters.  

To “reduce in-person contact,” states the release, media will be allowed to participate “remotely by telephone.”

But conditions apply: They must have their cellphone on mute or be in a quiet room if they are using a landline; any recording of the proceedings must be for note-taking purposes only and not for broadcast; and they must call in at the set time in order to be connected, as proceedings will not be interrupted.

They will also not be reconnected if the call drops.

Reporters wanting to participate must contact Stairs, who will work with court staff to provide them with call-in information. They will be provided with a number to call and will be required to punch in a conference ID before in order to be connected.

Stairs confirmed that all non-essential matters are still on hold at all levels of court.

“We are basing these decisions on the advice of public health officials who advised that courthouse staffing levels had to be reduced to an absolute minimum. Our goal is for the courts to return to normal operations as soon as possible. However, that will depend on when public health officials advise it is safe to do so.”