Saskatchewan courts are easing some restrictions on access starting June 1 that have been in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In late March the courts reduced services. Court cases for non-custody accused and docket proceedings at circuit court locations were adjourned until after May 31. Bail hearings and sentencing for in-custody accused continued by telephone and video-conferencing at the 13 permanent court locations that have remained open.
“The court remains mindful of the need to protect the health and safety of all court users and help contain the spread of COVID-19, while maintaining meaningful access to the court,” said Saskatchewan Chief Judge J.A. Plemel in a statement on May 22.
Access to courthouses across the province will continue to be restricted to only those necessary for the proceedings including counsel, litigants, accused, witnesses, support workers, immediate family and support persons, as well as members of the media.
But depending on how many people want access to a courthouse, entry may still be restricted or delayed.
In April, the Saskatchewan Trial Lawyers Association (STLA) expressed concern over a potential backlog of cases due to the pandemic.
Christine Hansen-Chad, a Partner at OWZW Lawyers and president of the STLA, said the backlog was a concern.
In 2016 the Supreme Court ruled that cases must be heard within a certain time frame. A ruling called Jordan’s Decision stipulates provincial cases must be heard within 18 months after charges are laid.
“I know the court is aware of that and it has been discussed and foremost in their mind from the very beginning so I have nothing but faith they will take that into consideration as matters proceed going forward,” said Hansen-Chad, adding that many criminal matters are still proceeding during the pandemic.
Public Prosecutions is working on a plan to address the potential impact of the restrictions COVID-19 has placed on its operations.
When restrictions ease June 1, Chief Judge Plemel said defendants with legal counsel still shouldn’t be present on their court date if there isn’t a substantive purpose to attend.
Anyone with COVID-19 related symptoms, or who has been advised to self-isolate, shouldn’t come to the courthouse. Anyone with a scheduled court appearance should call the appropriate court office or the local provincial prosecutions office for instruction.
The chief judge also encourages crown and defense counsel to appear by telephone on all matters except trials and preliminary inquiries.
Some circuit courts may open in June. For in-custody accused, the scheduling of trials, preliminary inquiries, sentencing hearings and bail hearings will go ahead by telephone or video.
For non-custody accused, their matters will be spoken to on the scheduled date and time.
In addition, the court will adjust the number of people appearing in court on a specific day to ensure public health guidelines are followed.
All non-custody trials and preliminary inquiries that were adjourned since March 23 due to COVID-19 can now be rescheduled.