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Coronavirus: B.C. courts ask lawyers to consider adjourning cases until end of May

The B.C. Supreme Court shown in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday June 2, 2015.
The B.C. Supreme Court shown in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday June 2, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

British Columbia’s highest courts are modifying its operations as the province’s legal system continues to adjust to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The B.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeal are both asking lawyers and their clients to consider adjourning all matters scheduled between now and May 31 “that do not urgently need to proceed.”

For cases already in progress, the Supreme Court says the presiding judge will consider whether the trial should continue, or be stood down “for a period of time.”

READ MORE: B.C. courthouses remain open amid growing concerns around coronavirus

Jury selections for Supreme Court trials will also be cancelled until the end of May across the province. Trials that wish to proceed with juries will be given priority for rescheduling once operations resume.

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A notice posted to the court’s website says arrangements can be made for criminal and civil cases to proceed without juries and with judges alone, which will allow the trials to go ahead during the affected time period.

No changes to operations or schedules have been announced for B.C.’s provincial courts, which remain open to the public.

B.C. health officials confirm 11 new coronavirus cases, 3 linked to North Vancouver hospital
B.C. health officials confirm 11 new coronavirus cases, 3 linked to North Vancouver hospital

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

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“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.

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

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.

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‘Let’s be reasonable people’: B.C. premier on bulk-buying and hoarding during coronavirus

“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.

Courts in Ontario and Alberta have also announced measures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected nearly 200 Canadians.

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B.C. is home to 64 confirmed cases as of Friday.

—With files from Richard Zussman