COVID-19 slowed the criminal justice system, but it never shut down prosecutors say;
It’s intact and will gear up again when BC’s courthouses increase operations
VANCOUVER, B.C. (May 28, 2020): The COVID-19 pandemic has not caused the criminal justice system to cease operating. Although Courts in British Columbia have temporarily suspended regular operations, criminal matters are still being dealt with by the Courts and public safety is being addressed.
In person court hearings have been temporarily put on hold, but the Association that represents BC’s Crown Counsel says the criminal justice system remains intact and is working to make preparations to continue with in person hearings as courthouses begin to increase their capacity to hear cases starting in June.
A number of criminal matters have been adjourned as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, the BC Crown Counsel Association (BCCCA) says its members are making substantial efforts to review each of the matters that are currently before the courts and determine which cases still have a substantial likelihood of a conviction and still are in the public interest to prosecute.
“The BC Crown Counsel Association feels the British Columbia Courts have shown remarkable leadership in its ability to respond to this pandemic” says Kevin Marks, the Association’s president. “We fully agree with Attorney General David Eby who commented in an interview this week that the courts haven’t stopped, but are operating at reduced capacity much like restaurants and other businesses, with urgent matters still being handled as everyone tries to ‘get back online’.”
“When the courthouses closed two months ago, everyone in the justice system took great steps to quickly overcome new procedures and technological challenges so that criminal matters could continue to be addressed through telephone and video appearances,” Marks adds. “While our in-court operations may have been restricted, our members and the support staff in our offices are still diligently working long hours to keep the system moving. Our members are committed to maintaining public safety and the rule of law, despite the challenges of the pandemic.”
The BCCCA also notes many members of the public who attend court are from vulnerable populations and may be at a heightened risk of serious injury due to COVID-19. Before increased operational capacity can safely resume in BC’s courtrooms, it says a methodical plan based on public health directives needs to be implemented, taking into account the specific environment of each courthouse, to fully protect the public along with court staff, lawyers, judges and sheriffs.