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Nova Scotia Supreme Court taking ‘first step towards our new normal’

Tuesday, June 09, 2020 @ 3:29 PM | By Terry Davidson

Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court will move away from its essential services model put in place during the COVID-19 crisis and will begin allowing in-person hearings for non-urgent matters.   

In a June 8 notice, the court states that as of June 15 it will move to a “safe services model” and that “counsel and parties will no longer have to establish that a matter is urgent or essential to proceed in-person.”

“Non-urgent in-person hearings will be permitted, provided they can be conducted safely and in accordance with established protocols to protect against the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” it states.

But Supreme Court Chief Justice Deborah Smith acknowledged in the notice that some matters will still need to proceed virtually or be adjourned where there are safety concerns.

“This is the first step towards our new normal,” said Chief Justice Smith. “Although in-person hearings will once again be available in all types of Supreme Court matters, some matters will still need to proceed virtually or be adjourned until such time that the proper safety protocols are in place. Counsel, parties and everyone involved can rest assured that in-person hearings will only take place if we are confident that they can be done safely.”

Counsel who have cases slotted for the latter part of June will hear from the trial judge to discuss whether the cases can safely be carried out in person.  

However, some courtrooms will not be appropriate for in-person hearings due to their size and that “only so many courtrooms will be in use at once in a courthouse, due to the limits imposed by social distancing requirement.”

“Accordingly, virtual court options will continue be an important part of the Supreme Court’s pandemic recovery plan in the coming months. … Counsel who have a matter that meets the eligibility criteria listed in the May 7, 2020, directive, and that they feel would be appropriate for virtual court, should contact their local scheduler.”

But the notice is careful to state that entry into courthouses will still be limited to those who are participating in a proceeding or who have an appointment. The media will continue to be allowed in but are encouraged to participate remotely to promote social distancing.

Public access to files will also resume June 15, provided individuals make an appointment and there “is space available at the courthouse to view the files, while respecting social distancing.”

Earlier this month, it was announced the court’s General Division will return to its normal processes for filing court documents — also effective June 15.