‘Addressing delays of court matters and providing for the ongoing safety of those who use our courts continues to be a top priority’
Trials at the first criminal jury courthouse in Atlantic Canada built to be COVID-19 compliant began on Wednesday, March 31, in Dartmouth in Nova Scotia, according to the government.
The facility, located on Mellor Avenue, has two courtrooms with partitioned jury boxes and space for lawyers, defendants, witnesses and court staff to physically distance. It also accommodates onsite jury selection and juror deliberations, and is equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual systems, including digital recording and evidence presentation systems.
“We have been able to adapt and transform many of our court operations in response to COVID-19,” said Randy Delorey, attorney general and minister of justice. “Addressing delays of court matters and providing for the ongoing safety of those who use our courts continues to be a top priority. With the addition of these two satellite courtrooms, we are now able to safely resume criminal jury trials in the Halifax area.”
The government noted that the four criminal jury courtrooms at the Law Courts in Halifax were not large enough to accommodate criminal jury trials in compliance with COVID restrictions. Now, all spaces in the new courthouse allow for required physical distancing and are accessible for those using mobility aids.
In July 2020, Ontario announced it will begin resuming in-person proceedings on July 6, and strict health and safety protocols to protect staff will be in place.
The total cost of renovations for the COVID-19 compliant satellite courts is forecast to be more than $4.2 million, according to the Nova Scotia government. A joint task force, led by the province and the judiciary, is exploring more ways to use technology to improve access to justice and increase efficiencies.
This is a welcome development, according to two provincial supreme court justices.
“We are fortunate in Nova Scotia to have a positive working relationship between the judiciary and the province, which has helped us work through the many challenges presented by the pandemic,” said Chief Justice Deborah K. Smith, of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. “Suspending jury trials last March was not an easy decision. Knowing that we now have an appropriate space that can safely accommodate these matters should be welcome news for all Nova Scotians.”
“The pressures on the criminal justice system are constant and growing, especially in the Halifax region. The pandemic magnified many of these issues, but it also spurred creative solutions and much-needed improvements to technology,” said Associate Chief Justice Patrick J. Duncan, of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. “These new state-of-the-art courtrooms are an example of what we can achieve through collaboration and we thank the department for their responsiveness and support.”
COVID-19 health protocols prompted the government to assess all courtrooms and courthouses across the province for their capacity to accommodate in-person matters. When public health protocols have not allowed in-person proceedings, matters have been heard by courts virtually, using telephone, video and other online platforms.
As of March 30, there were 44 jury trials pending in the Halifax region, including trials that were scheduled and had to be adjourned during the early months of the pandemic