COVID prevention measures continue in BC Provincial Court

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Note: NP 22 In-Person Proceedings and Attendance During COVID-19: Health and Safety Protocols was rescinded on April 11, 2022.

On July 1, the BC government moved to Step 3 of its Restart Plan, lifting some restrictions as the province shifts from COVID-19 infection prevention and exposure control to more general communicable disease prevention measures. Will this shift affect procedures in BC Provincial Court facilities?

Although the Restart Plan sets dates and criteria for each step, the Provincial Health Officer’s Statement for Employers on Transitioning from COVID-19 Safety Plans to Communicable Disease Plans (June 17, 2021) recognizes that some workplaces may maintain current COVID-19 Safety Plan protocols for a longer period to allow for a transitional period and progression from COVID-19 Safety Plans to communicable disease plans.

Court proceedings are crucial services for British Columbians. Courthouses are places where people access justice in a variety of public and private legal matters, often involving public safety and individual rights. People rely on the right to access courts to resolve legal disputes in a fair and just hearing, where the rule of law applies. And many people who attend our courthouses don’t choose to be there – they’re compelled to attend by subpoena or other court processes. So, people must have confidence that the courts are safe and accessible.

In the last year, the safety measures recommended by public health experts and implemented in BC courthouses have included:

• enhanced inspection, cleaning and disinfecting of all public spaces
• installation of plexiglass barriers, hand wash stations, and hand sanitizers
• increased signage to promote physical distancing
• reconfiguring some courtrooms and furniture to accommodate physical distancing
• health screening by sheriffs for people attending the courthouse
• court registries accepting some filings through Court Services Online, mail, email or fax and using virtual hearings for some proceedings to reduce the need for some people to physically attend the courthouse
• requiring masks in courthouses and in courtrooms, unless directed otherwise by a judicial officer

We have seen the benefit of these measures. In-person Provincial Court trials have proceeded since last summer with no COVID closures at BC’s courthouses.

To allow for a transitional period, the BC Provincial Court will continue its current COVID safety protocols at this time, with one exception: wearing masks in common areas of courthouses such as hallways and elevators will now be recommended. However, people will still be required to wear a mask or protective face covering in a courtroom unless exempted by the presiding judicial officer (judge, judicial justice, or judicial case manager). The judicial officer may also direct other health and safety measures depending on the circumstances of a particular court proceeding.

All other existing infection prevention and exposure control measures will remain in place, including health screenings at courthouse entrances and capacity limits for courtrooms. The Court will reassess the situation in September, or sooner if there are changes to the COVID-19 situation in the province.

Updated Notice NP 22 (Notice NP 22 was rescinded on April 11, 2022)

Anyone appearing for an in-person court appearance must be in full compliance with the Court’s Notice NP 22, In-Person Proceedings During Covid-19: Health and Safety Protocols.

Effective July 2, 2021, the Court has updated Notice NP 22 to read:

"4. Public Health recommends masks in public indoor settings (like courthouses). Individuals entering or present in a courtroom will be required to wear a face mask or face covering, unless exempted from doing so by the presiding judicial officer. The presiding judicial officer may also direct other health and safety measures depending on the circumstances of a particular court proceeding.

Any concerns on the part of counsel, parties or witnesses regarding the use of face masks or face coverings in the courtroom should be raised with the Court at the earliest opportunity for consideration by the presiding judicial officer."