Alberta jury trials suspended amid coronavirus concerns

Judges bench at the Edmonton Law Courts building, in Edmonton on June 28, 2019. The Canadian Press

All jury trials in Alberta have been suspended until at least the end of May as the coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen.

In a notice on the Court of Queen’s Bench website, the court said the suspension is “effective immediately” and goes until May 31, “or until further notice.”

It covers both trials and jury selections that haven’t yet started.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 29 confirmed cases in Alberta; school closures not recommended at this time

The move comes a day after Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health advised against any public gatherings of 250 people or more.

Anyone who received a jury summons to go for jury selection between Friday, March 13 and March 31, who isn’t already sitting on a case, doesn’t have to answer the summons, the court said.

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Those already sitting on a jury as part of an ongoing trial are required to report to court as usual.

“Any counsel or juror exhibiting signs of fever, cough or flu-like symptoms should contact the court immediately to seek further instructions from the judge presiding over their case,” the court said.

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The court also encouraged anyone visiting a courthouse anywhere in Alberta to practice social distancing and the hand-washing and touching hygiene guidelines provided by health authorities.

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Jordan Stuffco, vice-president of Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association, said the decision is “wise” considering when jury selection is happening, hundreds of people are brought together in court rooms as part of the process. Jurors are often in close quarters with one another during the trial process as well.

“When a jury, who is already given a very hefty task or deciding somebody’s fate, they have a lot to think about,” Stuffco said. “The last thing we want them to be thinking about is, who’s in the room with them. Who could have possibly been exposed to this virus? We want them to be thinking clearly.”

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Using Alberta’s online self-assessment tool

Stuffco said the association is concerned about delays, but said given the current public health crisis, the decision to suspend the jury trials is needed. He added they also don’t want to put those in custody at risk by bringing them into contact with the public at this time.

Damian Rogers, president of the Alberta Crown Attorney’s Association, said Jordan Applications are a concern after this decision, but said he doesn’t see one holding up if a case is delayed because of the suspension.

“It is likely that if an accused’s trial is delayed as a result of this decision, and they were to bring a Jordan Application, that Crown prosecutors would likely argue that this was an exceptional circumstance and that a delay resulting from it ought not to be considered in the Jordan calculations,” he said.

“And I strongly suspect that that would be a successful argument for the Crown.”

Lawyers for clients who had elected a jury trial can apply to have the trial changed to judge-alone proceedings.

Those looking for information on re-election and re-scheduling for jury trials are asked to call the Resolution and Court Administration Services Contact Centre at 1-855-738-4747.

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Jury trials in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were also suspended on Friday and on Thursday, Ontario suspended juries for any upcoming trials.

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