Nova Scotia

COVID-19 creates further complications for jury trials in Halifax

Efforts to restart jury trials in the Halifax area have hit major snags that throws the timing of nearly two dozen trials into question.

2 courtrooms designed to meet public health regulations won't be ready until March

There are more delays ahead for jury trials in Halifax. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Efforts to restart jury trials in the Halifax area have hit major snags that throw the timing of nearly two dozen trials into question.

The trials were postponed because of COVID-19.

As courts across Nova Scotia started to reopen, it was determined that the Law Courts in downtown Halifax could not safely accommodate jury trials under pandemic restrictions.

The province's Department of Justice announced earlier this month it had a space in the Burnside Industrial Park in Dartmouth that was being converted into two courtrooms. The courtrooms would meet public health regulations.

But Associate Chief Justice Patrick Duncan announced Friday that the courtrooms will not be ready in January as hoped.

Some trials already postponed

Duncan said he's been told they won't be ready until March. That's already forced the postponement of some trials that had been set for February.

In addition, the Crown is objecting to the process Duncan has developed for rescheduling trials.

Paul Carver, the chief Crown attorney for the Halifax region, appeared before Duncan on Friday morning to say the schedule for new trials should be based on the age of the case to ensure they meet required timelines under the Jordan decision.

Jordan is the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that established time limits for the completion of criminal trials. In superior courts, like the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, trials must be completed within 30 months of charges being laid.

Deadline exceeded for some cases

Because of COVID-19 and other complications, some of the trials awaiting new dates have already exceeded the deadline.

Carver cited a couple of older cases, including the murder trial of Markel Jason Downey and the sexual assault trial of Michael Raymond Kobylanski, as matters that should be moved to the top of the list.

But Duncan said that moving those cases up would necessitate bumping other trials that have already been scheduled, setting off a domino effect for lawyers, judges and accused.

Duncan had hoped to deal with 22 cases during Friday's hearing.

He was able to assign case management judges to eight of the more difficult or complicated cases. Those judges will meet with both sides to help sort out issues before trial dates are set.

The outstanding cases will return to court in December. Duncan said he hopes at that time to be able to set dates for those trials to proceed.