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Widespread cancellations in N.W.T. territorial court expected in response to COVID-19

The Department of Justice anticipates all sittings of territorial court in Yellowknife will be cancelled until mid-November and that court circuits outside of Yellowknife will be cancelled until the new year.

Court circuits outside of Yellowknife are anticipated to be cancelled until the new year

Territorial court sittings in Yellowknife are expected to be cancelled until mid-November and court circuits outside of the city could be cancelled until the new year. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The Northwest Territories territorial court is expected to issue a revised schedule of court sittings later this week — including widespread cancellations.

The Department of Justice anticipates all sittings of territorial court in Yellowknife will be cancelled until mid-November, and that court circuits outside of Yellowknife will be cancelled until the new year, Ngan Trinh, a spokesperson for the department, said in an emailed statement.

The cancellations would be in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Yellowknife.

According to Trinh, the impact of the suspension is difficult to measure as parties involved and their counsel often have options to bring matters forward.

"The decision not to proceed with criminal matters is within the discretion of the Crown," said Trinh.

Supreme Court proceedings are not part of this suspension.

"As for the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories, decisions as to whether to postpone hearings are being made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with counsel," she said.

Continually reviewing files

In an emailed response, Sabrina Nemis, a spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC), said when reviewing all files, it considers whether there is a "reasonable prospect of conviction and whether the matter is in the public interest to proceed."

"With some matters being delayed, we will continually review all of our files to confirm that we continue to meet those tests and then act accordingly should we fail to meet them," Nemis said.

When it comes to alternative means of prosecution, the PPSC said it is looking into the use of technology in the N.W.T. that would "increase efficiencies and access to justice" for everyone within the justice system.

"We continue to work with the N.W.T. courts as well as the other justice system stakeholders to ensure that the justice system functions as effectively as possible during these unprecedented times," said Nemis.

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