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Nova Scotia provincial court to resume in-person hearings

Tuesday, June 08, 2021 @ 1:42 PM | By Terry Davidson

Nova Scotia’s provincial court will start allowing in-person proceedings but hang onto virtual technology for some matters to deal with backlog caused by the ongoing health crisis.

The court announced in a recent notice that, starting June 14, it will allow in-person appearances as long as it can be done in accordance with public heath measures currently in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The notice states that “preliminary inquiries and trials scheduled on June 14 or later will be able to go ahead, unless otherwise ordered by the presiding judge.”

However, in a bid to ease backlog caused by a scaling back of operations, the court will continue to deal with “many matters” — including bail hearings — by telephone or Microsoft Teams videoconferencing.

Currently, summary offence matters in Sydney and Halifax night court are being heard by telephone and video. This includes trials if all participants are willing to proceed virtually. Starting June 14, night court matters that require in-person attendance will resume.

“The provincial court appreciates that counsel and parties may have family obligations that make it difficult to participate in a virtual court proceeding,” the notice goes on to state. “Counsel are nevertheless encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to move their matters forward. We must all be flexible when it comes to technical difficulties or other challenges that participants may experience during virtual court proceedings.”

The court’s provincewide suspension of in-person hearings began April 26 and was initially supposed to last until May 21. It was extended to May 31 and extended again until June 11.

Public access to all of the province’s courthouses continues to be limited to those working in the buildings and local counsel needing to attend in person for a contested bail hearing.

According to a separate notice, the provincial court is continuing to run a pilot project that allows law enforcement to submit informations to the Halifax and Dartmouth courts by fax.

As for people in police custody, the Justice of the Peace Centre in Dartmouth continues to deal with all new matters by telephone — unless the presiding judge decides otherwise.

Counsel are still being encouraged to keep reviewing the resolution of non-urgent matters in provincial court and the Youth Justice Court to see what can be dealt with without having an in-person hearing.

Until further notice, the provincial court will hold all pretrial and resolution conferences by phone.

Also, it is noted the provincial and youth courts have “adopted procedures and fillable PDF forms for individuals to apply to vary an undertaking, a release order or probation conditions without having to go to court in person.”

The Dartmouth Wellness Court, which deals with matters involving mental health and opioid drug issues, is continuing to operate by telephone and video.

Nova Scotia reported 14 new cases of COVID-19 on June 7. As of then, there were 182 active cases and 22 people in hospital, including seven in intensive care units.

There had been 36 recoveries.

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