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East Coast Wellness Court to resume telephone hearings

Tuesday, May 19, 2020 @ 11:32 AM | By Terry Davidson

A specialized court in Nova Scotia that uses co-operative justice to handle offenders with mental illness and addiction will restart the hearing of scheduled matters through teleconferencing.

According to a May 15 news release, the Dartmouth Wellness Court “will resume telephone hearings only for scheduled matters in the Mental Health Program, the Opioid Court Program and the Alcohol Court Program,” effective June 4.

This is the latest effort by the province’s courts to restart some operations after widespread pullbacks and shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

New referrals, the release states, “will be held in the order they are filed with the court and screening will be put off until health-care staff can safely meet with the applicants in person.”

Those screenings already in the works before the pandemic will be completed — provided public health directives can be followed.

“Applicants who complete the screening phase will have their files referred to the court team for final review and approval; however, any formal admissions into the Dartmouth Wellness Court will be adjourned until the court resumes in-person appearances.”

The plan is to have the “court team” meet Thursday mornings by telephone to discuss the docket. Following that, the judge, court clerk and the lawyers involved “will go on the record to deal with that day’s matters as a recorded teleconference.”

“Participants in the program will not be required to call in to the court proceedings,” the release goes on to state. “Counsel will adjourn those appearances in their absence. Individuals who have completed their program requirements will be permitted to call into the court at a specified time to complete their graduation.”

As far as counsel wanting to refer a new matter to the court during the health crisis, they are to contact the Wellness Court’s designated Crown to determine whether the Public Prosecution Service will approve the application. Acceptance to the court would still require screening and approval from the court team.

The Dartmouth Wellness Court opened its doors in 2009, first as the Nova Scotia Mental Health Court, and has expanded over the years to add the programs for addictions to alcohol and opioids.

Normally, offenders are referred to the Wellness Court by the provincial court. If admitted, they are handed over to a support team in attempts to address their condition.

A key requirement is that the offender’s condition can be linked to the crime committed.

To be taken in by the Wellness Court, offenders must take responsibility for the offence and submit to various conditions in order to stay in the program, lest they be sent back to provincial court.