2020 has been a disruptive year in the BC court system. Alongside the regular workings of the court, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many legal proceedings online. In the months since, the BC Government has worked to re-open the courts in a safe manner. Judge alone trials have been taking place in all court locations since early June, and criminal jury trials resumed in most court locations in September.
As we head towards winter and the potential of a second wave, we wanted to give an update on how court proceedings are likely to look in the coming months.
The Province of BC has retained the services of a private consultant to assist in identifying the necessary steps to modify courtrooms and courthouses to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission. All persons attending courtrooms will be required to participate and cooperate to attain the recommended COVID-19 health and safety protocols. These include steps we’ve all become accustomed to in recent months: physical distancing, sanitizing hands upon entry to the premises, and adhering to all other directions.
Addressing Instances of COVID-19 Symptoms
In a physical court setting, counsel and self-represented parties must confirm at the opening of a proceeding, and at the start of each day of the proceeding, that to their knowledge, no one involved on either side (counsel, both parties, or witnesses) has any symptoms of illness that may be related to COVID-19.
Counsel and all parties must also be in a position to confirm that no one involved has traveled outside Canada within 14 days of their anticipated in-person appearance in a courtroom.
Witnesses and COVID-19
If any witnesses are reluctant to attend court due to concerns over COVID-19, it is up to counsel (or involved parties) to make necessary inquiries with Court Services Branch to ensure there are sufficient resources at the location for their testimony to be delivered remotely via video or audio conference. It is also up to counsel to ensure witnesses have the necessary technology to appear remotely.
The physical layout of the courtroom will be altered (where possible) to maintain a safe physical distance between all participants. In areas where physical distancing cannot be maintained, plexiglass barriers will be installed. The ability to move within the courtroom, such as by approaching a witness, will be restricted for physical distancing purposes.
Face Masks and Coverings
Any participant in a court proceeding is encouraged and permitted to wear a mask or protective face covering in the courtroom if they wish to do so. The mask can be removed, if necessary, in order for the participant’s evidence or submissions to be heard and understood. The Judicial Officer and court clerk can wear facial coverings at their own discretion.
Find the latest BC Courts News Release on steps being taken to ensure safety at provincial courts.
Here to Help
Need any advice on navigating family law during COVID-19? Our family law experts at Westside Family Law are standing by to assist. Get in touch and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.