Courts in Quebec reopen June 1, but virtual trials will become more common
Even after the pandemic, virtual and semi-virtual trials will help reduce backlog, justice minister says
Quebec's courts and other tribunals will reopen on June 1, but virtual trials will also become more common in the coming months, said Justice Minister Sonia Lebel at the provincial government's daily news conference Thursday.
Courthouses will be regularly disinfected and physical-distancing measures will be in place, said Lebel.
There will also be 136 virtual courtrooms across the province, with 90 operating on any given day.
Lebel spoke alongside Premier François Legault, who urged Quebecers to continue to respect public health directives to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, even while various sectors reopen.
All non-urgent legal cases in Quebec have been postponed since the start of the pandemic. Urgent matters have continued in person at the courthouses, after increased health and security measures were put in place.
The province's first totally virtual trial took place in Trois-Rivières in March. The judge, lawyers and witnesses all connected remotely to a virtual courtroom in a child custody case.
The move was praised at the time by Paul-Matthieu Grondin, the bâtonnier of the Quebec Bar.
"Obviously, in the days of COVID-19, the advantage is immense," Grondin said. "It could be more efficient and cheaper for the taxpayer."
Virtual courtrooms here to stay, even after pandemic
Moving toward virtual trials like the Trois-Rivières one is a question of maintaining the justice system's activity during the pandemic, Lebel said.
"I'm not talking about a sexual assault case, but maybe civil court — something that is less of a human interaction," she said.
But virtual courtrooms will be used in some sense even after the pandemic ends, and physical distancing is no longer required, Lebel said. That will help reduce the number of accumulated cases in the justice system by, for example, extending the hours its employees can work in a day.
Different types of arrangements will be possible, Lebel said, such as semi-virtual courtrooms in which certain parties are in the physical courtroom and others are present virtually.
"It's not adapted yet for any type of case. The main game is access," Lebel said.
With files from Radio-Canada