B.C.’s courtrooms are being checked for health and safety as well as physical-distancing and hygiene requirements prior to re-opening the courts for increased in-person hearings.
A limited number of courtrooms will be available in the next few weeks, the attorney general’s office said.
"COVID-19 has brought unprecedented challenges for court users and justice sector partners," Attorney General David Eby said. "Working with the judiciary, we are assessing courthouses to determine the best approach to protect the health of court users.
“Each courthouse is different, but this might mean measures such as marking floors to indicate distances in lines at registry, elevators, washrooms and inside courtrooms and disinfecting courtrooms after use."
The guidelines being used for the assessments are ones produced by the provincial health officer and WorkSafeBC.
Some of that work includes:
- reconfiguring and removing furniture to open space in courtrooms and allow for distancing;
- adjusting maximum occupant levels for distancing;
- marking floors to indicate the directional flow of movement and places to stand at registries, in elevators and washrooms, and inside courtrooms and courthouses;
- posting clear and visible signage to ensure court personnel and users are aware of and are able to follow health and safety protocols;
- verbally screening court personnel and users for COVID-19 symptoms or exposure prior to entering court environments;
- establishing protocols for handling documents and evidence;
- installing hand sanitizer stations in multiple places in courtrooms, at courthouse entrances, outside courtrooms and in elevator lobbies;
- disinfecting courtrooms after use, and;
- frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces.
The ministry has also been working to increase technology enhancements outlined in the Court Digital Transformation Strategy. This includes continued expansion of technology for virtual hearings in cases where it is deemed appropriate.
Eby earlier acknowledged governments have not done well in keeping up with technological advances for courts.
Those comments came after B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said April 30 that the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on court activities have highlighted the B.C. courts’ deficient technological capabilities.
Hinkson said May 14 B.C.'s top courts would resume partial operations with work phased in over the next few weeks for some trials set to take place in June.
- More to come