THE COURTS AND COVID-19
Since the beginning of this global pandemic, the courts have had to adapt their operations. The courts were closed in the early stages of the pandemic and have now moved to primarily remote court appearances. Many features such as the Case Management Office and Traffic Counter have been closed to the public. It has been a period of change and transition for everyone involved; including the courts, crown, defence, and accused persons. While the courts have done their best to sort out issues and make this a smooth process, there are inevitable issues, and the courts have become backlogged. Court staff are working long hours to try and keep up with the changes and sheer volume of cases.
ARE REMOTE COURT APPEARANCES POSSIBLE?
The majority of appearances have moved to a remote capacity either through an application called WebEx or via telephone. While there are some advantages to this method and it helps keep all participants safe and in the comfort of their offices or home; technical difficulties do occur, and this new virtual system can be difficult to navigate.
It can be hard for accused persons to find the appropriate emails, phone numbers, and WebEx addresses for remote appearances. Courts occasionally updates what are known as Practice Guides or Practice Notes which includes information on each courtroom, however, finding the most up to date one or for the right court room can be a challenge. Changes in how counsel checks-in to court and files documents has changed as well as rules around what can occur in certain courtrooms, on what days, and how to book matters in court. Such changes are continually evolving and difficult for even experienced lawyers to keep track of.
Each courtroom and region have their own practices and procedures and lawyers must keep track of how to access the court remotely and how clients can appear, if required. The courts have also come out with a remote appearance guide to help direct participants on virtual courtroom etiquette which can be helpful if you must appear virtually.
HOW ARE THE COURTS ENSURING ACCESS TO JUSTICE?
Given such changes and procedural and technical difficulties, it has arguably caused some access to justice issues when information is not clear or readily available for accused persons to know how to appear and deal with their matters. Duty Counsel are also now appearing remote and there is a lack of clear information for accused persons in how to navigate this new virtual system. Despite that, all of the justice participants are working to try to ensure that everyone is as informed as possible.
While there is potential for virtual courts to increase access to justice, information needs to be clear and widespread, and processes between courts and regions needs to be uniform and standardized. While the courts are working out such issues and adapting to the ever changing pandemic, retaining a lawyer will be helpful and advantageous to you in navigating this new virtual system and ensuring all your court appearances are taken care of. Do not hesitate to contact me to discuss how I may be able to assist you and if you are concerned or confused about remote appearances.