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Nova Scotia court doing virtual peace bonds

Tuesday, May 05, 2020 @ 4:14 PM | By Terry Davidson

In what is yet another push to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Nova Scotia’s provincial court is launching a virtual peace bond process.

According to a May 5 notice, the new process will ensure “full disclosure, due process and trial fairness” and involve the participation of presiding justices of the peace.

“Under … the Criminal Code, an individual can apply for a peace bond if they have reasonable grounds to believe that someone will cause personal injury to them, their intimate partner or child, or will damage their property, or will commit an offence under Sec. 162.1 of the Criminal Code,” it states.

Under normal circumstances, those applying for a peace bond would have to appear in person at the courthouse. But in response to the ongoing pandemic, the provincial court has been restricting visitors to courthouses and hearing matters deemed “urgent and essential” mostly by telephone and videoconference.

According to the notice, justices of the peace “will triage peace bond applications by telephone to determine whether an agreement can be reached, and if not, whether hearings can be conducted.”

“Hearings that proceed during the pandemic will be conducted using technology to link the parties with the Court,” it states. “Some litigants, including those representing themselves, may not have access to the same types of technology, so each case will need to be considered on an individual basis to determine the type of technology required for each hearing.”

At a minimum, those involved must have access to a telephone. Where possible, other types of technology — videoconferencing and e-mail, for example — will be looked at.

But the notice acknowledges that “there will be cases where it is not possible to conduct the hearing during the pandemic,” and that, in such cases, the matter will be adjourned until regular operations are resumed.

The province’s legal aid office is committing to assist people applying for peace bonds, which the notice stresses “can be a difficult process.”

The virtual process involves court staff e-mailing the peace bond application to the applicant and the applicant sending it back via “designated email addresses.” A justice of the peace will then phone the applicant to assess their situation. If their complaint is deemed reasonable, additional information will be gathered from them.

If it is possible, this communication could take place using Skype or Microsoft Teams, depending on the applicant’s access to a smartphone or computer.

The applicant will then be told when the first telephone hearing will happen.

If the applicant does not have access to e-mail, court staff will leave the application form in an envelope at the front desk of Court Administration for pickup. If the required technology is not available, they will be given a date and time to come to the courthouse to swear and affirm their information.

After the serving of the summons, the initial hearing will be done through telephone. Any additional hearings held to sort out any disputes over the bond will be done through whatever technology is available to the parties involved.

Full details can be found in the notice.