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Nova Scotia courts turning to widespread use of Microsoft Teams

Thursday, April 29, 2021 @ 2:38 PM | By Terry Davidson

Last Updated: Friday, April 30, 2021 @ 12:28 PM

Having suspended most in-person proceedings due to rising numbers of COVID-19, Nova Scotia’s courts will soon begin universal use of a popular videoconferencing platform for matters deemed fit to be carried out virtually.

According to an April 29 notice, matters where a judge has given approval to proceed will be conducted using telephone or Microsoft Teams, an online communication platform that allows for group chat and videoconferencing.

Skype, another form of remote communications, may also be used in some instances. But after July 31, it will be discontinued and Teams will become the courts’ go-to virtual platform.  

“With that in mind, counsel, self-represented individuals and others who anticipate being involved with virtual court proceedings in the coming months are encouraged to prepare accordingly,” the notice states. “That includes installing the free Microsoft Teams software on your desktop and mobile devices.”

It also notes that training judges and court staff on how to use Teams is continuing across the province and that lawyers should also become familiar with the technology. Training materials are available online, via a link in the notice.

A spokesperson confirmed Teams will be made available to all levels of court in the province and noted it is already being used for some matters.

They also said Nova Scotia’s Court of Appeal plans to use Teams for remote hearings when its next term starts on May 11.

And while Teams has been used for trials in Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court family division, the technology is not currently being considered for criminal and civil trials. Once the suspension of in-person appearances is lifted, trials are more than likely to be done in person, with Teams being used for out-of-province witness testimony.

This latest development is part of a whirlwind of moves by Nova Scotia’s courts to batten down the hatches against climbing numbers of COVID-19 in the province.

On April 28, Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court, general division, announced that it would put in place an “essential services model” for at all its locations in the province, making it so proceedings will be limited to those deemed urgent or essential. It was noted judges will consider whether alternative means of communication, such as telephone or video, may be used for these matters. Also, in-person proceedings in the family division were suspended and any matters requiring in-person attendance would be adjourned and rescheduled.

That same day, Nova Scotia’s provincial court suspended in-person proceedings throughout the province.

On April 29, Nova Scotia’s government reported 70 new cases of COVID-19. As of then, there were 548 active cases; 14 people were in hospital, including four being treated in Intensive Care Units.

As of April 28, 304,187 doses of vaccine had been administered to the province’s residents. Of those, 35,994 had received their second shot.

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