The BC Government has announced that they are working alongside judiciary and other justice stakeholders in an effort 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.”
The government suggests that courthouses and courtrooms throughout the province are being assessed to ensure they meet all health and safety requirements established by provincial health officials, as well as WorkSafeBC.
During these assessments, officials are trying to determine what additional physical distancing and hygiene measures will be required at in-person hearings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The government added that plans may differ depending on the courtroom setup.
Other measures that the government is considering during these assessments include:
- 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;
- placing hand sanitizer bottles in courtrooms at the dais, counsel desks, the witness stand and the clerk’s desk
- disinfecting courtrooms after use
According to the government, they will also be looking at screening court personnel and users for COVID-19 prior to entering court environments and they are considering implementing new protocols for handling documents and evidence.
The ministry said it is in the process of meeting with stakeholders, such as judges and counsel, to make recommendations and implement the necessary changes.
The BC Government is hopeful that a small number of courtrooms will be ready for in-person hearings within the next few weeks.
Further efforts are also being explored in order to increase technology enhancements to expand virtual hearings in cases where it is deemed appropriate.
In addition, the Province has also established two advisory groups to help the government support courts and tribunals in delivering services as effectively as possible during the pandemic.