In-person, public criminal trials and preliminary inquires will resume in Owen Sound Monday in the Ontario Court of Justice after months of audio appearances and adjournments due to COVID-19.
There will Plexiglas barriers, more cleaning and signs to help avoid spreading the coronavirus, which forced the closure of most workplaces and public buildings, including the courts, in mid-March.
Public counter hours will be limited to between 10 a.m. and noon and 2 and 4 p.m.
Audio and video appearances will continue to be used for most bail appearances, for resolutions including guilty pleas, as well as for remands and to set next court appearance dates.
Family court settlement conferences, trial management conferences and certain trials will also be done in-person in Owen Sound again. The rest of family court business will be done remotely, including urgent motions, subject to judicial determination. The times of cases will be staggered too.
In the case of family court, the Ontario Court of Justice website advises people to arrive early and that only those essential family members or supporters should come with people who have scheduled appearances, due to COVID-related limits.
Lawyers and the public shouldn’t attend family court in person unless scheduled or if emailing family court documents wasn’t possible, the online notice said.
Incrementally reopening courts is part of a recovery plan based on health and safety assessments, the Ontario Court of Justice website said.
A limited number of courts have been given the green light to reopen in this first phase of reopenings. But many others must wait, including the Ontario Court of Justice in Walkerton. The target is to reopen all of them by Nov. 1.
Trials and preliminary hearings won’t take place in locations unless they’ve reopened, according to the Ministry of the Attorney General plan.
Criminal trials and preliminary hearings that had been scheduled between March 16 and July 3 will be rescheduled first.
Health and safety measures will limit the number of open courtrooms and the number of people allowed in them.
“Public access to courtrooms may be restricted because of health and safety concerns,” the attorney general’s website also said. “In those cases, remote viewing will be provided, if available.”
People with signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or who have been advised to self-isolate, shouldn’t go to the courthouse.
Specific Owen Sound COVID measures were unavailable Friday. Court staff said they’re following the ministry website guidance.
The website says this includes extra disinfection of high-touch surfaces like doors, faucets and chairs and provision of hand-sanitizer stations.
There will be Plexiglas barriers at public counters, in interview rooms and intake offices and in courtrooms where the judge sits, at the witness stand, where court staff work stations and at Crown and defence tables.
There will be signs reminding people to maintain two-metre physical distancing, including floor stickers indicating where to stand when in line to enter the courthouse, waiting areas and washrooms, where every other urinal will be closed. Arrows will show which direction to walk and signs will show where to sit.
People who come to the courthouse will be asked about why they’re there and will be informed of alternatives such as online filings or emails. They’ll be asked health questions and may have to have their belongings screened.
A sign outside public washrooms will say how many people may be inside at once.