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Nova Scotia courts release recovery plan

Thursday, June 25, 2020 @ 4:40 PM | By Terry Davidson

The Nova Scotia Judiciary has released a “living” recovery plan outlining safety strategies and protocols for its ongoing expansion of court services — including in-person hearings — during the COVID-19 health crisis.

The plan, released by the judiciary’s Court Recovery Committee and supported by Nova Scotia’s Department of Labour and Advanced Education, the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Division and its chief medical officer, “outlines the basic safety strategies and new protocols that the Nova Scotia Courts have put in place since some in-person hearings resumed on June 1, 2020.”

Justice Darlene Jamieson, chair of the committee, called the plan a “living document.”

“In a relatively short period, we have developed what I believe to be a comprehensive and carefully considered plan that balances the need for the Courts to remain open, with the need to ensure that the public and our staff are safe,” said Justice Jamieson in a June 25 news release. “This plan is very much a living document that will be reviewed and revised as the situation with the pandemic evolves. I want to thank the many groups involved with the justice system who have shared their perspectives and feedback, and we look forward to continuing to work with them as this plan moves ahead.”

According to the release, physical distancing is the “foundation” of the plan, which includes strategies to “minimize or eliminate the risk of exposure.”

Organizing the physical layout of workspaces, regular cleaning, proper hygiene, recognizing COVID-19 symptoms and good communications are central elements.

In developing the plan, the committee did a detailed assessment of the province’s courthouses and courtrooms to identify any modifications needed so that courtrooms were fit for the new reality.  

Phase 1 was identifying courtrooms needing little or no action in order to have successful social distancing. Phase 2 involved determining courtrooms requiring minimal intervention. Phase 3 involves officials identifying both courtrooms requiring major work and those unusable during the ongoing health crisis.

According to the release, Phase 1 is now complete and the committee has now started in on Phase 2. As of June 25, it had deemed that 42 of the province’s 77 courtrooms as being ready for the scheduling of in-person hearings.

However, public access to courthouses will continue to be limited to those involved in a proceeding, those who have an appointment and those who work in the buildings.

Procedures are also now in place for the “enhanced cleaning,” including the sanitizing of witness boxes and bathrooms “between users” and regular attention given to “high-touch areas.”

Also, as in-person hearings increase, it is likely hearing times will be staggered as a way of cutting down on the number of people “in public spaces.”

Masks will not be required inside courthouses, but staff and visitors are encouraged to use “a non-medical mask in situations where exposure to crowded public spaces is unavoidable and consistent physical distancing is not possible.”

The plan also covers virtual court, which involves the use of telephone or video. Twenty-two virtual courtrooms are available and counsel are being encouraged to use them whenever possible.

“On their own, the guidelines and protocols included in the Recovery Plan are effective and important,” said Justice Jamieson. “However, they are most effective as part of a complete plan, which, if adhered to, will ensure court staff, court users and the broader public can feel confident and safe entering a courthouse. This will require ongoing support, co-operation and commitment at all levels of the justice system, and from everyone attending courthouses.”

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