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Alberta courts adjourn some trials due to surging COVID-19 cases


Concern over the fast-spreading Omicron variant is cited by the Provincial Court of Alberta as the reason for adjournments and tightened health measures

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Certain court proceedings are being postponed or shifted to virtual trial by the Provincial Court of Alberta and Court of Queen’s Bench due to the surge in COVID-19 cases across the province.

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The provincial court said in an announcement Saturday that it would adjourn all adult and youth criminal non-urgent out-of-custody trials, preliminary inquiries and other hearings that require in-person evidence between Tuesday and Jan. 21. Virtual trials will be used in specific cases, including some traffic court hearings and adult criminal proceedings such as docket applications and pretrials.

The Queen’s Bench also announced changes, which include postponing civil, commercial, surrogate and family matters between Jan. 4 and Jan. 21.

Concern over the fast-spreading Omicron variant is cited by the Provincial Court of Alberta as the reason for adjournments and tightened health measures.

The provincial court said that for adult criminal non-urgent out-of-custody trials, preliminary inquiries and other hearings that require in-person evidence is adjourned from Jan. 4 to Jan. 21, but there are no presumptive adjournments.

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According to the announcement, counsel will receive new dates remotely. Docket applications and pretrials will be moved to virtual court, though in-custody trials and preliminary hearings scheduled at circuit point locations will proceed there.

Those who want to continue with their out of custody criminal trial can write the assistant chief judge in charge of the region or division to request it. The same process to proceed with trial despite the new measures is required for those involved in youth criminal matters.

All civil hearings will be adjourned from Jan. 4 to Jan. 21.

Family and child protection cases will proceed virtually, including family docket appearances, judicial dispute resolutions and pretrial conferences. Non-urgent interim hearings and trials will be adjourned; however, urgent interim hearings and trials will proceed in person.

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The Provincial Court of Alberta is defining an urgent family hearing as a situation where there is a risk of immediate harm to parties or children, imminent risk of removal of children from Alberta, demonstrable severe financial hardship or demonstrable risk to the children, or if the hearing has already been adjourned due to COVID-19.

Initial custody applications will proceed as scheduled.

“For all family and child protection matters, if the parties do not agree, the determination of whether an interim hearing or trial is urgent shall be made by a judge, in accordance with urgency criteria,” the Provincial Court of Alberta said in the announcement.

Traffic court is closed for in-person appearances, though some traffic court cases had already been scheduled virtually in Medicine Hat, Brooks, Lethbridge and Fort Macleod, which the provincial courts said will proceed as scheduled.

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People involved in traffic trials in other locations between Jan. 4 and Jan. 21 are asked to contact the base court office for the location the trial is scheduled for further information.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had major effects on the court system before. In early 2020, court cases were postponed as the novel coronavirus first spread to Alberta and strict public health measures were implemented. Additional restrictions were reintroduced in December 2020 when the province grappled with its second wave of infections.

With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, Alberta has logged record-high numbers of COVID-19.

When data was last updated by Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, last week, there were more than 21,000 confirmed active cases provincewide, and the number is expected to be higher when the province provides an update this week.

sbabych@postmedia.com
Twitter: @BabychStephanie

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