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Supreme Court in Halifax moves back to ‘essential services model’, provincial court stops in-person hearings

Monday, April 26, 2021 @ 4:13 PM | By Terry Davidson

Nova Scotia’s provincial court has suspended in-person proceedings across the province due to new cases of COVID-19, while its Supreme Court general division in Halifax has returned to an essential services model after some staff were told to self-isolate.

According to an April 26 notice, the suspension of provincial court in-person hearings would be effective immediately and be in place until at least May 21, at which point the situation will be re-evaluated. 

The notice goes on to state that during the suspension period, provincial court judges in certain locations may require in-person attendance of local counsel for contested bail hearings. Other than that, all in-person proceedings currently scheduled from April 26 to May 21 will be adjourned and rescheduled. 

This directive, however, does not impact scheduled or new provincial court matters that can be done through telephone or videoconferencing. 

This builds on an earlier announcement that all in-person proceedings at the provincial courts in Halifax and Dartmouth would be suspended for four weeks.

As for Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court, its Halifax courthouse handling general division matters has returned to an essential services model, meaning that proceedings that have not yet commenced will be limited to those a judge has deemed to be urgent or essential. This separate directive applies only to matters at the Supreme Court located on the city’s Upper Water Street and does not include general division matters in other parts of the province.

(The notice goes on to state that any trials currently underway at the Law Courts or Mellor Avenue in Dartmouth will continue until they conclude.)

“To help reduce the number of people appearing in-person, judges will consider whether alternative measures, such as telephone or videoconferencing, may be used to hear urgent and essential matters or matters currently underway,” states an April 24 notice. “Mandatory masking and physical distancing measures will be in effect for all court matters that proceed in person.”

This is the second time the court has moved to an essential services model. Its first time was when the pandemic initially hit in early 2020. A court spokesperson confirmed the court “transitioned to a safe services model” in June of that year and has stayed that way until now.

The decision to return to an essential services model, they said, was made because a group of administration staff were told by public health officials to self-isolate, thus resulting in significantly fewer staff at the courthouse.

The release notes that lawyers and those who  are self-represented should not file documents at the Halifax law courts unless the case is “related to an urgent or essential matter.” In those cases, documents should be filed electronically along with a cover letter detailing why they consider the matter urgent or essential. For those unable to file electronically, a drop box will be provided at the main entrance of the Law Courts.

Counsel are not required to subsequently file original paper copies of the electronically filed documents. Original paper copies are required only for sworn documents, such as affidavits. The court will provide further direction on this when it returns once again to a safe services model.

Also, filing deadlines for civil matters at the general division courthouse in Halifax are suspended until further notice. This does not apply to criminal matters, proceedings in the family division, matters in the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court general division outside Halifax.

The Supreme Court’s family division, which operates out of a different building, will continue to run under a safe services model.

Early on April 26, Nova Scotia reported 66 new cases of COVID-19 in the province.

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