By Shurtz, Delon on March 17, 2020.
It was a quiet day at the Lethbridge Courthouse Monday. The normally bustling hallways were ominously silent and bare of people, but whether it was just an unusually slow day – those are rare but occur once in awhile – or the result of COVID-19, is hard to say.
Such days will soon be the norm, however, as Alberta Justice has instructed courts to limit and even postpone many hearings. Only emergency or urgent matters will be held in Court of Queen’s Bench, for example, as officials try to reduce the spread of the virus among employees and visitors to courthouses around the province.
Alberta Justice has come out with a “Master Order,” for Queen’s Bench which limits hearings to emergency or urgent matters only. Emergency matters are those in which serious consequences to persons or harm to property may arise if the hearing does not proceed, or if there is a risk of loss of jurisdiction or expiration of an existing protection or restraining order.
Urgent matters are those that do not rise to the level of the first priority, but still need to be addressed in a timely manner, such as arraignments, urgent adult guardianship and trusteeship orders, receivership/CCAA stay extensions, urgent surrogate orders, freezing orders and certain injunctions.
Civil and family proceedings previously scheduled between March 16 and March 27 are adjourned and will have to be rescheduled, and although jury trials currently in progress will continue, criminal matters set for continuation between March 16 and 27 will be spoken to by the presiding Justice to determine when they will proceed.
According to the Provincial Court of Alberta website, anyone who is not in custody but has a criminal court appearance in provincial court between today and May 22, does not need to attend court. The court website will be updated regularly to provide information regarding rescheduling, which will be at least 10 weeks from the date of the scheduled court appearance.
The court will hear urgent out-of-custody criminal matters with leave of a judge, and it will be available to process urgent warrants and judicial authorizations. And all in-custody matters, including bail hearings, sentencings, preliminary inquiries, trials and youth criminal sentence reviews, will proceed as scheduled.
People are not to enter a courthouse if they have been advised to self-isolate by public health officials, a doctor or the Alberta Health Services website, or if they are self-isolating as a result of travel or contact with individuals with COVID-19.
Erin Olsen, Lethbridge’s chief Crown prosecutor, says her office is working at full capacity to adhere to the health recommendations and directives from the federal and provincial governments, and deal with the exceptional circumstances resulting from the pandemic.
“At this time it is important for us to take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of persons working in or attending court,” Olsen says.
She says anyone with questions about their own charges, whether criminal or traffic related, should contact their lawyer or agent immediately. And anyone who is ill should make similar arrangements.
“Individuals facing charges are still responsible for appearing in court or arranging for someone to appear for them,” Olsen stresses.
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