From the Ministry of Attorney General
Working with the judiciary and other justice and public safety-sector stakeholders, government is moving to safely support increased in-person hearings.
“COVID-19 has brought unprecedented challenges for court users and justice sector partners,” said David Eby, Attorney General. “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.”
Courthouses and courtrooms throughout the province are being assessed to ensure they meet the health and safety requirements established by the provincial health officer and WorkSafeBC. Assessments will also determine what additional physical distancing and hygiene measures will be required to stop the transmission of COVID-19, prior to resuming in-person appearances. Plans may differ by location and courthouse configuration.
As part of these assessments, additional health and safety measures being considered include, but are not limited to:
- reconfiguring and removing furniture to open space in courtrooms and to keep people physically distant from one another;
- adjusting maximum occupant levels to account for physical distancing requirements;
- marking floors to indicate the directional flow of movement and places to stand while maintaining appropriate physical distancing at the registry, in elevators and washrooms, and inside courtrooms and courthouses;
- posting clear and visible signage throughout the courthouse and courtrooms 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 at courthouse entrances, outside courtrooms and in elevator lobbies;
- placing hand sanitizer bottles in courtrooms at the dais, counsel desks, the witness stand and the clerk's desk;
- disinfecting courtrooms after use; and
- frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces in courtrooms and in public areas throughout the courthouses.
The ministry is in the process of meeting with stakeholders, including judges, counsel, court managers and others, to make recommendations and implement changes necessary to keep the public safe when attending court.
This work is occurring now, with the expectation that within the next few weeks, a limited number of courtrooms will be available throughout the province for in-person hearings
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.
In addition, the Province has also established two advisory groups to help government support courts and tribunals in delivering services as effectively as possible during the pandemic, and in minimizing its impact on the justice system.