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Nova Scotia court to hold pre-trial, resolution conferences by phone

Thursday, April 16, 2020 @ 11:21 AM | By Terry Davidson

In a further bid to clear its docket of non-urgent criminal matters during the COVID-19 crisis, Nova Scotia’s provincial court is allowing pre-trial and resolution conferences to be held by telephone.

An April 15 news release details the new processes involved in staging those conferences.

For pre-trial conferences done over the telephone and “not held on the record,” it is required that counsel involved be those who are actually scheduled to conduct the trial, and that they be “fully prepared” and have “adequate instructions to deal with all issues likely to arise” during the conference.

They must complete an online request form.

If it is a complex case, they must do a Complex Case Pre-trial Conference Report, which, along with the request form, must be sent electronically to the provincial court supervisor.  

If the case is not complex, they complete and send the request form and a Pre-trial Conference Report.

Links to these forms can be found in the news release.

“The Provincial Court Supervisor/Judicial Assistant (JA) will consult with the Judiciary to arrange a pre-trial telephone conference date and time,” it states. “The Supervisor/JA will confirm the date and time with counsel and provide the teleconference ID number…The judge will prepare a memo to the file outlining the issues and efficiencies arrived at during the pre-trial conference and provide it to the Supervisor/JA to attach to the Information(s) and share with counsel.”

As for telephone resolution conferences, similar demands are being made of counsel in terms of preparedness.

“Resolution conferences in criminal cases provide an opportunity to obtain judicial input and assistance for counsel’s efforts at resolution,” states the release. “These conferences are intended to facilitate the resolution of cases in a timely and fair manner, without having to go to trial. To be effective, counsel must be familiar with the issues that will likely arise in a trial; they must understand the context in which the issues will arise; and they must understand the possible outcomes of the trial.”

Instructions for scheduling a resolution conference can be found in the release, as can the process by which the defence lawyers and prosecutors provide details of the resolution and their respective positions to the judge.

After the parties reach a resolution “by joint recommendation on either a specific sentence or range of sentence, the plea may be entered on the record in the courtroom immediately following the conference, unless the exigencies of the case require the plea or sentencing to be set over to another day.”

However, it is stressed that any delay “should be the least amount of time possible.”

It also notes the importance of privacy.

“A resolution conference is private. All communications within it are confidential and must be treated in the same fashion as without prejudice communications. Any material resulting from a resolution conference shall not be placed in the court file, unless it becomes material which is part of the final disposition of the matter which is presented in open court.”

On April 9, the provincial court announced that it would attempt to lighten its docket by remotely hearing non-urgent criminal matters where counsel on both sides agree on a resolution.