N.S. court docket backlog ‘worse than ever’ just after pandemic shutdown

A pile of lawful support applications, persons lining up outdoors of courthouses and a persistent backlog are just some of the troubles experiencing Nova Scotia’s justice method in the months following the very first wave of COVID-19.

Months worth of upcoming issues in Nova Scotia courts ended up adjourned in the spring as the justice method ramped up actions to gradual the spread of the virus.

As the courthouses reopened, those people matters desired to be rescheduled along with a constant stream of new scenarios.

“Backlog has often been an issue in provincial court docket,” said Pam Williams, main judge of the provincial and spouse and children courts for Nova Scotia. “It is really a quite busy spot.

“With the pandemic, it halted court docket proceedings pretty much absolutely concerning March and May well with confined opening of the court in June and July. So the backlogs are worse than ever now.”

Megan Longley, CEO of the Nova Scotia Authorized Assist Fee, stated this was not surprising, as the adjourned matters would have to be rescheduled sooner or later. 

There is an expanding hold out listing for company inside of legal aid, which can vary from no hold out to as significantly as 8 weeks, dependent on unique places of the province and whether a person is implementing for legal or household law.

“Various months well worth of individuals with authorized issues are coming to us all at the identical time,” Longley stated, including that sure issues are prioritized, this sort of as all those involving domestic violence, or a felony subject wherever a person is in custody.

“The data files usually are not closing at a rate fast enough to necessarily accommodate all of the folks making use of for services.”

Megan Longley is the CEO of Nova Scotia Legal Help. (Submitted by Megan Longley)

A COVID doing the job team was founded within the legal process to consider to address the backlog and other concerns cropping up due to the fact of the pandemic.

The team, chaired by Williams, brings together associates from the justice technique as nicely as neighborhood groups, other federal government departments and an infectious ailment professional.

“It involves a large amount far more collaboration among the stakeholders to come jointly, do problem solving and arrive up with solutions for superior ways of accomplishing small business,” Williams explained.

For the backlog precisely, Williams mentioned the group has been evaluating how to try out to resolve issues before in the approach, no matter whether that is using a restorative justice strategy or coming to a plea agreement.

There are also discussions all over making confident that only vital witnesses require to be named at a trial. That would support decrease the time needed in court.

There could be a shift to consider particular issues out of provincial courtroom completely, these as motor vehicle or bylaw matters that could be dealt with by justices of the peace.

Williams reported the hope is to generate far better communication in between the Crown and defence on which matters are continuing and which ones have to have a lot more time.

Minimized figures in courthouses

Courthouses in the province are continuing to limit the number of people inside of in purchase to be certain physical distancing.

For selected issues, counsel can appear on behalf of consumers to decrease the figures, but Longley mentioned some folks are unaware of this — especially if they never have a law firm.

For the reason that of this, courthouses have expert people lining up outdoors of the making ready for a chance to get in. Longley mentioned that can lead to delays and “some hardship for individuals” if they have experienced to get childcare or just take time off work to show up.

She said there are solutions obtainable specially in Halifax and Dartmouth for people to have a lawful help attorney show up on their behalf.

Pamela Williams is chief judge of Nova Scotia’s provincial and household courts. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

But Williams mentioned there is at the very least one good factor to occur out of the pandemic: the technological innovation needs necessary to reopen for the duration of the community health disaster intended that the authorized procedure was pressured to begin modernizing.

“We’ve obtained an analog program in a digitized world — and which is how the courts have been working,” she reported.

“We need to make investments in IT alternatives which will support create efficiencies and move factors along more efficiently. We’re not there but.”

She mentioned all those variations, this sort of as e-submitting court docket documents, make her believe that the procedure could far better take care of a probable next wave.

Continued delays

Williams mentioned a single of the motives it’s so crucial to locate solutions to the backlog issue is the time-delays have “human-centred implications.”

“You’ve bought victims and accused persons, and household users, and neighborhood customers who want the make any difference to be brought to a summary, just one way or the other. And from time to time issues remain excellent for months and months and months.”

But Longley said one particular thing on everyone’s minds is what implications the Supreme Courtroom of Canada’s 2016 Jordan decision will have in phrases of the delays brought about by the pandemic.

That final decision now demands that persons to be attempted within just a sensible time body. Ahead of the pandemic hit, hundreds of scenarios across the state were becoming thrown out if they breached the Jordan deadlines.

But there is a reference in the Jordan determination about how violating the deadlines could be justified beneath “exceptional conditions” outside of the Crown’s command. Longley claimed the pandemic could match this conditions, but at this place, it has not been evidently litigated.

“At what level does the clock commence functioning as per typical, or as for every pre-pandemic common once more?” Longley reported.

“Everyone, I can say for specific, is knowledgeable and retaining an eye on deadlines.”