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Maritime court to start hearing in-person trials, preliminary hearings

Friday, May 15, 2020 @ 9:37 AM | By Terry Davidson

Nova Scotia’s provincial and youth justice criminal courts will begin allowing some in-custody trials and preliminary hearings to be done in person starting June 1 — provided rules in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 can be followed.

According to a May 14 news release, the province’s chief justices and chief judge met once again with health officials “to discuss when it may be safe for the courts to start returning to normal operations.”

But social distancing, proper cleaning and good “hand hygiene” will be paramount.

“Any expansion of court services will be gradual and must consider the ongoing public health directives related to social distancing, disinfecting procedures, good hand hygiene and other precautions to protect the health and safety of those working in and attending the courthouses,” states the release. “When rescheduling matters, the provincial court will give priority to in-custody trials and preliminary inquiries. New matters and matters previously adjourned for appearances in June and July will be heard by telephone.”

For in-custody trials and preliminary inquiries, the judge will hold a pretrial hearing with lawyers involved to determine whether the necessary safeguards can be put in place to go ahead safely.

But getting the green light depends on “several factors, including its urgency, its complexity, the number of people involved, the size and layout of the courtroom where the matter will be heard, and staffing.”

To arrange a pretrial meeting, counsel must use e-mail to contact the Judicial Support Supervisor at the relevant courthouse (a link to e-mail addresses is included in the news release). The supervisor will deliver the request to the presiding judge.

Bail and peace bond hearings will continue to be heard via telephone and videoconferencing.  

“All trials and preliminary hearings where the accused individual is not in custody will be adjourned to a later date,” states the release. “The resolution of non-urgent matters remains a priority for the provincial court. Counsel are encouraged to continue reviewing their matters to see what can be resolved without an in-person hearing.”

A link to the process for holding virtual pretrial and resolution conferences can be found in the release, as can a link to the process involved if counsel agree on a resolution.