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B.C. courthouses remain open amid growing concerns around coronavirus

The Law Courts building in Vancouver, which houses the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.
The Law Courts building in Vancouver, which houses the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons/CC Attribution\-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence

The Ministry of the Attorney General has developed a plan to deal with COVID-19 in the province’s court system, but for now, they are keeping courtrooms open.

The province says it’s not currently aware of any confirmed cases amongst any staff or courthouse users.

“All employees have been asked to continue maintaining good hygiene, including regular hand-washing, avoiding touching face, coughing or sneezing into elbow or sleeve and disposing of tissues appropriately, as the best way to avoid contracting or spreading respiratory illnesses,” reads a statement from the ministry on Friday.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: B.C. urges end to large gatherings, international travel, including to U.S.

Lawyers, parties and witnesses who are ill, in self-isolation as recommended by a health professional, or in quarantine should take steps to notify others and the court as soon as possible.

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Parties with lawyers and witnesses whose testimony has been arranged by a lawyer should contact the lawyer.

For a criminal proceeding, people without lawyers should contact the Crown prosecutor assigned to their case.

People without lawyers for other types of proceedings should contact the court registry where their appearance is scheduled.

Major events cancelled because of COVID-19
Major events cancelled because of COVID-19

“We are committed to taking the steps necessary to safeguard the health of everyone in our courtrooms and court facilities while ensuring access to justice, upholding the rule of law, and continuing court operations as effectively and efficiently as possible,” reads a statement from the provincial court.

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The courtrooms will also remain open to the public. But the province is advising people with symptoms or who have been in contact with someone who has symptoms to follow the BC Centre for Disease Control’s advice and not come to court to watch.

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In some cases, a judge may permit a lawyer or party who is unable to attend in person to appear by telephone. But if you are scheduled to be in court and fail to attend without notifying someone, an order can be made in your absence.

Coronavirus: B.C.’s top doctor warns against non-essential international travel, bans large gatherings
Coronavirus: B.C.’s top doctor warns against non-essential international travel, bans large gatherings

“Our contingency planning includes preparing for a variety of challenges that could arise should the court have to alter its normal operation – including those involving bail hearings; urgent applications; ongoing and scheduled trials; courthouse closures, and more,” the court said.

READ MORE: Ontario superior court suspending juries for upcoming trials amid coronavirus outbreak

Meanwhile, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice is suspending juries for upcoming trials amid increasing cases of COVID-19 in that province.

The Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench is preparing to handle a potential disruption to their operations.

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B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix was asked about next steps associated with the legal system, and he pointed to the confidence he has in people to self-isolate if they are sick.

“We’ve been dealing with issues, for example, around self-isolation for a number of weeks now. I would say … we’ve received nothing but co-operation from people,” he said.

“Obviously, if you look at the Public Health Act, there’s significant powers in that act to constrain people, should that be required. The reason it hasn’t been used is it hasn’t been required because people have been very co-operative. We hope they continue to be that way.”