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Manitoba court shelving out-of-custody trials

Wednesday, May 26, 2021 @ 1:12 PM | By Terry Davidson


Manitoba’s provincial court is suspending out-of-custody trials, save for those deemed appropriate to proceed virtually.

According to a recent notice, the “proactive” measure is “to protect the health and safety of all court users” and to “help contain the spread of COVID-19.”

The suspension commenced May 25 and will stay in place until June 11 or “until a further Notice is issued.”

Counsel are advised to “discuss resetting these matters for trial and advise the Court of the new trial date on the date currently set for trial (by e-mail preferably) or as arranged with the appropriate trial co-ordinator.”

It goes on to reiterate that out-of-custody trial matters where a judge is in place will not proceed unless it can be carried out remotely.

“Counsel will have to make an application before the presiding judge,” it goes on to state. “Out of custody trials and preliminary hearings may proceed, if approved and all parties can appear remotely. If an out of custody hearing cannot continue remotely and in person appearances are required, these matters will have to be adjourned.”

As for in-custody trials scheduled in Winnipeg, Brandon, Portage la Prairie, The Pas, Dauphin and Thompson, they will proceed and “counsel are reminded to e-mail the Virtual Assignment Court as soon as possible to let the presiding judge know whether the matter is proceeding so it can be assigned to a trial courtroom.”

“This helps promote physical distancing,” the notice states. “This e-mail box is monitored starting at 9:15 a.m. every day. We remind counsel (and your witnesses) not to gather outside Courtroom 302 while awaiting assignment of a courtroom for your trial. For all other court centres, we remind counsel and witnesses who are attending to adhere strictly to the COVID protocols and to maintain social distancing at all times.”

All in-custody and out-of-custody dispositions will proceed “on the presumption all parties appear remotely, including support people.” Videoconferencing is preferred and counsel are being asked to contact a disposition or trial co-ordinator to request such a platform. Telephone is an option where videoconferencing is unavailable.

The presiding judge will decide if it is appropriate for any given matter to proceed remotely.

All bail applications will go ahead by telephone or video, and counsel are to make sure to use a phone line that allows them to communicate clearly with the court.

However, the provincial court will continue to hear applications of urgent matters by counsel seeking an exemption to the current protocols.

This stripping down of court operations comes as Manitoba struggles with rising cases of COVID-19 and a resulting strain on the province’s health system.  

On May 25, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government was preparing to send a range of resources to help Manitoba with its situation.

That day, the province reported 259 new cases, bringing the total number of those confirmed to 49,046. Seventy-nine patients were in intensive care units, and as many as 18 had reportedly been transferred to Ontario due to a shortage of beds.

As of then, total deaths sat at 1,035.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily, please contact Terry Davidson at t.davidson@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5899.