Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, the Nova Scotia Courts have introduced a wide range of preventative measures meant to help minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus, while keeping the Courts open and continuing to hear matters. These measures followed the advice of Public Health officials, including directives on physical distancing, masks and good hand hygiene.
The Nova Scotia Courts started lifting some COVID-19 restrictions in courthouses back in June 2022, with the exception of masking. At the time, the All Courts COVID-19 Recovery Committee recommended that mandatory masking remain in place, in part because court proceedings, particularly criminal matters involving individuals in custody, may include vulnerable segments of the population.
As of April 19, 2023, masks are no longer required in public areas of courthouses. Judges still retain discretion on what happens in their courtroom and may require masking and other preventative measures based on the circumstances of the matter before them.
Nova Scotia Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal has implemented new practice directives that deal with the filing of court documents and the expectations for appearances in the Court of Appeal. These new practice directives replace the Practice Directive for Appeal Proceedings during the COVID-19 Pandemic, which was first implemented in June 2020.
Supreme Court of Nova Scotia
At the beginning of the pandemic, and during subsequent waves of the COVID-19 virus, the Supreme Court was operating under an essential services model. That meant only urgent or essential matters, as determined by a judge, were permitted to proceed. When it was safe to do so, the Supreme Court expanded the services available to the public by transitioning to a safe services model. Today, most COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted in the Supreme Court.
Provincial Court of Nova Scotia
At various stages throughout the pandemic, the Provincial Court and Youth Justice Court restricted in-person appearances in those Courts and implemented a number of policies to help reduce the number of people who needed to visit courthouses to pay fines, file documents or complete other tasks. Those measures are outlined in the consolidated notices below.
Media Access during the COVID-19 Pandemic
In the spring of 2020, the Nova Scotia Courts introduced temporary processes to ensure members of the media continue to have access to court documents and court proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic, while protecting the health and safety of everyone involved. In most proceedings, those processes are no longer required; however, members of the media still have the option to participate remotely by telephone. Call-in details for the various courts are available by contacting the Judiciary's Communications Director, Jennifer Stairs, at email@example.com.
All Courts COVID-19 Recovery Committee
Established in May 2020, the All Courts COVID-19 Recovery Committee is made up of a judge from each level of court, as well as representatives from the Nova Scotia Department of Justice - Court Services Division, which includes Sheriff Services, and the Facilities Manager of the Department of Justice. The Committee’s mandate was to identify, assess and mitigate potential risks associated with the coronavirus as they relate to court proceedings.
On June 25, 2020, the Recovery Committee released its Recovery Plan to support the expansion of court services during the pandemic. The plan outlined the basic safety strategies and new protocols that the Nova Scotia Courts put in place since the resumption of in-person proceedings.
As part of its work to develop that plan, the Recovery Committee undertook a detailed assessment of all courthouses and courtrooms in the province to determine what modifications were necessary to safely hold in-person proceedings. The resulting courtroom inventory has been updated as the situation with the pandemic and public health restrictions evolves.
Physical distancing is the foundation of the Courts' Recovery Plan. It also incorporates several basic safety strategies recognized by the Nova Scotia Public Service Commission as effective ways to minimize or eliminate the risk of exposure, including organizing the physical layout of workspaces, proper hygiene, regular cleaning, communication, and recognizing the symptoms of COVID-19.
Protocols were implemented for enhanced cleaning of courthouses and courtrooms. These included measures such as sanitizing witness boxes and bathrooms between uses, as well as regular cleaning of high-touch areas. Hand sanitizer and wipes are available throughout courthouses, including at counsel tables, witness boxes, and judges’ and clerks’ desks in the courtrooms. Protocols were also been developed for situations where disinfecting is not a viable option, such as the handling of paper documents and the transfer of documents between individuals in a court proceeding.
The Recovery Plan is a living document that is reviewed and updated, as the situation with the pandemic and public health restrictions evolves.
Recovery Committee Notices
The All Courts COVID-19 Recovery Committee has issued a series of notices throughout the pandemic as the situation with the virus and Public Health restrictions has evolved.