No in-home visits for family justice matters while court system adapts to COVID-19 - InfoNews

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No in-home visits for family justice matters while court system adapts to COVID-19

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March 26, 2020 - 10:00 PM

Here’s what you need to know about the changes in the court system.

The Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Provincial Court and Family Justice Services have all made significant operational changes because of COVID-19.

Earlier this week, the Family Justice Services released a statement about how they would move forward and handle protection orders, family disputes and child welfare matters.

All in-person family and home visits will be suspended indefinitely. Families have been notified that visits will resume when it is deemed safe to do so, although an expected date was not posted on the notice. A spokesperson for the Family Justices Services has not yet responded to iNFOnews.ca about if there are alternate methods put in place, such as video or telephone meetings.

Another service suspension across the province means there will be no in-person visits allowed into Family Justice centres and Justice Access centres, which includes use of the self-help resource rooms and other services provided by justice partners.

This change is to protect the health of staff and the families being served.

Clients with scheduled appoints with family justice counsellors or child support officers will be contacted and figure out an alternate option to proceed.

It is stated in the notice that future changes may be made depending on how the situation around COVID-19 evolves. Superior Courts communications officer Bruce Cohen explains how some family matters, such as protection orders, conduct orders and exclusive possession of a home will be deemed as urgent, and says the court system is working out the kinks in hopes to serve those who may be harder to reach.

“Orders relating to the safety of a child or parent due to risk of violence or immediate harm... are considered essential and urgent family matters. The Court will continue to hear such matters while regular operations are suspended, and has instituted a new procedure to facilitate the hearing of these matters, including online Request for Urgent Hearing Form. The Court is also exploring ways to ensure that those without internet access can make a request for an urgent hearing,” Cohen says in an email to iNFOnews.ca.

The Supreme Court justice system announced decreased operations one week ago. Cohen says he can’t offer insight as to how many justices, if any, have been affected by this, but says alternate arrangements will be made available in such a scenario.

“In the event that a judge is unable to attend at a particular courthouse to hear a matter, the hearing may be able to proceed by telephone or video before a judge at a different courthouse,” Cohen says.

Most of the appearances are now done by video or telephone conference, and the appearances are now operated out of a handful of ‘hub’ locations across the province.

“All the courthouses but five or six have shut down, and they're now hub locations, so any matter for Kamloops is now heard in Kelowna,” says Lisa Scruton, criminal defence lawyer in Kamloops. “Everyone but the judge and court clerk are either by telephone or video.”

Scruton says urgent matters are quickly decided wether or not to go to a hearing, and hopes the new use of technology remains long after the pandemic dissipates.

“This has made that push happen," Scruton says. “Before, we would have had to go to the Crown counsel office to pick up Crown circumstances, and the defence bar thought, 'Well that's silly, why can't they just email it to us?' Now they're emailing it to us. In the past when it's been like, ‘Oh, I don't want to have to come in person to hand a book of documents to my client,’ well now they are letting us email those things in advance. So they are actually receiving documents and doing transmission of documents which hasn't happened in criminal law very often in the past.”

Moving forward, Scruton, Cohen and the various courts systems expect alterations to continue as the COVID-19 situation unfolds.


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