B.J. Marriott bail hearing to proceed under tight COVID-19 restrictions
'There may be awkwardness to some of the elements of this,' N.S. judge acknowledges
A notorious crime figure charged in connection with a vicious beating in a Nova Scotia jail is making a bid to be released from custody.
But like almost everything else in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the bail hearing for Brian James (B.J.) Marriott is anything but ordinary.
Marriott, 37, is one of 15 men charged in connection with an attack on another inmate in the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth on Dec. 2.
The union representing jail guards has said that up to five men participated in the actual beating and others formed a human wall to prevent guards from intervening. The 46-year-old victim suffered life-threatening injuries.
Each of the 15 accused are facing six charges, including attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and aggravated assault.
Marriott has been held in custody on the charges since February. Before that, he was in custody on other offences. Because of the logistics of conducting a trial with 15 defendants and the uncertainties created by COVID-19, the trial has been tentatively scheduled for January 2021.
In a written decision released this week, Justice Denise Boudreau said she is agreeing to hear Marriott's application for bail as it qualifies as an urgent matter, one of the criteria courts are using to decide whether to hear matters during the pandemic.
Boudreau also cited the length of time before trial and an undisclosed medical complaint voiced by Marriott as reasons for scheduling the hearing for next week.
Marriott will not attend in person. He will appear by video from jail.
The Crowns assigned to the case have indicated they will be appearing by phone.
Defence lawyer Stan MacDonald has not yet indicated whether he will attend in person, but Boudreau said the hearing will be held in one of the largest courtrooms in the Law Courts building in downtown Halifax.
They will abide by the COVID-19 limits of no more than five people in the courtroom at one time, to ensure physical distancing can be maintained.
"We all acknowledge that this is going to be imperfect; for example, cross-examination is not particularly easy to do when you are doing it over the phone, or you are doing it with people in different rooms," Boudreau wrote. "There may be awkwardness to some of the elements of this."
The judge is asking lawyers to limit the number of witnesses they plan to call as much as possible. She said they will be escorted into a separate room one at a time and the room will be cleaned after each witness is finished.
The judge said it is Marriott's choice to proceed with the hearing at this time under these conditions and he must accept the consequences.
"I want to put people on notice that during this hearing, there is a possibility that I may put an end to it, at any time, and adjourn it to another date, if certain difficulties arise that cannot be addressed in any other way," the judge wrote.
The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday morning. Typically, a publication ban is imposed on evidence and arguments made at bail hearings until after the trial is complete.