Law firm says courts need to reopen now
EDMONTON An Edmonton law firm is calling for Alberta’s courts to reopen, citing an “untenable” backlog of cases and arguing the risk of COVID-19 transmission in courthouses can be managed.
Courts in Alberta have been hearing only emergency and urgent cases since the start of the pandemic in late March — restrictions which, depending on the court, are scheduled to be in place for at least another month.
On Tuesday, Edmonton-based Liberty Law sent a letter calling on Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer to work with the judiciary to reopen the courts in accordance with Alberta Health guidelines.
“We were deemed an essential service right at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Bob Aloneissi, a partner at Liberty Law. “And yet we’ve essentially shut down and (have) not operated as an essential service.”
While they are allowing some cases to go forward via video conferencing, courts remain largely closed. The Court of Queen’s Bench last week extended its prohibition on non-emergency and urgent cases to June 26, with no jury trials or jury selections until September.
In its letter, Liberty Law said it is “incongruous” that Albertans are able to go shopping and eat at restaurants while the courts remain in limbo.
Liberty Law’s letter suggested courts could operate within Alberta Health guidelines, including having no more than 15 people in the same space, maintaining physical distancing of at least two metres, following hygiene protocols and requiring masks and gloves.
The letter said people attending court would be expected to “self screen,” adding clerks or other personnel could conduct “secondary screening” at the entrance.
Many Alberta courtrooms could easily operate under physical distancing protocols, Aloneissi said.
With months worth of postponed cases plus new files during the pandemic piled onto the already considerable backlog, Aloneissi said any level of court operation is preferable to the status quo.