Nova Scotia

TV allows inmates to appear in court from jail

The way inmates appear in courtrooms around the province is about to change with the advent of in-house court TV, already being used in Halifax.

The way inmates appear in courtrooms around the province is about to change with the advent of in-house court TV, already being used in Halifax.

Every year sheriffs in Nova Scotia log 1.6 million kilometres and transport 20,000 inmates to courts across the province.

Some of those court appointments are formalities required by law that have an inmate stand before a judge for as little as a minute. That's one reason the courts are now wired for closed circuit TV.

Court administrator Tanya Pellow said the system has already proven itself.

Halifax provincial court administrator Tanya Pellow said court TV has worked well. (CBC)

"We did court-to-court video where the accused, the Crown, defence were in Sydney and the judge was here, and we had a bail hearing here," she said Tuesday.

The plan is to use the system when inmates at provincial jails have brief court appearances scheduled.

The system uses a remote camera to allow the inmate to see the courtroom, and everyone in court can see the accused on a screen.

Veteran defence lawyer Joel Pink said he logged hundreds of kilometres himself this week representing clients in Kentville and Pictou. He likes the idea of the closed circuit system.

"All that is necessary to do is to bring the prisoner before the camera, let’s say, at the Yarmouth correctional centre and he will appear and it will appear in court," Pink said.

"That will save the transportation for all of a 30-second or a two minute arraignment in a provincial court, let’s say, in Bridgewater."

Gerald Beaton, a correctional worker at the Central Nova Correctional Centre in Dartmouth, tried the system out Tuesday from the jail.

Nova Scotia correctional worker, Gerald Beaton, tries the court TV system. (CBC)

"We did do a couple here where offenders were to be transported to other parts of Canada and we did a quick on camera interview with the judges of the day and it worked quite well," Beaton said.

He said using the video is also more secure because offenders never leave the jail.

There have been numerous problems with inmates escaping while being taken to court.

Thomas Arnold Jones, 48, escaped from a sheriff’s van in February while being transported to Dartmouth provincial court. He was able to kick out the rear window of the van. 

An investigation found that Jones was not handcuffed. The Department of Justice blamed two deputy sheriffs who were responsible for the transfer.

The court-tocourt TV technology is now in place and ready to go in almost every courthouse in the province.

But the system has to be approved by the judges who will have the final say in how and when it will be used in their courtrooms.

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