As we enter 2021, we are becoming all too familiar with COVID-19 restrictions and how society has changed. Adherence to public health requirements in order to keep all of us safe from the pandemic has affected the legal world and the operation of court proceedings. As someone charged with a crime or who has to appear in court during a family law proceeding, you need to understand these new restrictions and how they could affect your case.
New Courtroom Policies in Alberta
COVID-19 restrictions and policies vary from court to court and are regularly updated. Mainly the regulations are focused on keeping visitors out of court to reduce the number of people in the courtroom. These restrictions can mean that you may not have to appear in court, depending on what your case is regarding.
You can check each court’s policies through their dedicated web pages. Here are the COVID-19 policies for The Provincial Court Of Alberta, Court Of Queen’s Bench Of Alberta, and the Court Of Appeal Of Alberta. Your lawyer will also be able to advise you on what type of legal restrictions there currently are and whether you need to prepare to appear in-person.
Can I Still Meet With My Lawyer?
Whether or not your lawyer is still taking in-person meetings will depend on their law firm and current policies. If they are currently not taking in-person meetings or consultations, you will be able to contact them through email or over the phone. Some law firms may also be taking secure video conference calls. Many law firms have closed their offices to the public as their staff work remotely or at a reduced in-person capacity. They also see fit to reduce contact with clients as a safety measure.
West Legal is currently operating with a rotating and reduced staff and is now only taking consultations and legal advice through email or phone. This is to keep their clients and all members of their staff safe during the pandemic by reducing contact with others.
Some legal associations and law firms have always offered virtual meetings and can accommodate consultations and client meetings online through emails, video calls, or over the phone. For example, Ross Lutz Barristers is a virtual law association and does not have one central in-person office. Instead, we take consultations virtually, with the capabilities to schedule in-person meetings if necessary.
Contact your lawyer to see what specific policies they have regarding in-person meetings during the pandemic.
How Does COVID-19 Affect Legal Proceedings?
The restrictions placed on legal proceedings largely depend on what type of case it is, along with which court you will have to attend. All of the restrictions currently placed on the court system are to reduce the number of people in the court’s buildings, so many cases are being dealt with remotely. As the public health measures are continually changing to reflect the evolving pandemic situation, it is best to check the court’s website for the latest updates on information. You can also ask your lawyer to help you understand what the newest restrictions are, along with how they will affect your case.
You can expect that minor cases, such as traffic court or low complexity cases, will not be dealt with or will be dealt with remotely. The courts will only be taking on cases that require in-person attendance and are higher priority, such as bail hearings and certain family court matters. Make sure that you’re in touch with your lawyer, as the location of your family court case may be moved or rescheduled due to new restrictions.
If you are asked to appear in-person for your case, please note that you will have to abide by any mandatory mask mandates enforced by local law. There is currently a mandatory mask mandate for all indoor spaces for the province of Alberta. When you go to court, you will be required to wear an appropriate cloth or medical mask while in the building.
How Does Remote Court Work in Alberta?
As a remote court appearance is a relatively new concept for most people, it can be confusing and even overwhelming to prepare for a remote court date. If you have any specific questions, you can contact your lawyer. They will walk you through the process and let you know how to conduct yourself during your remote court date. However, there are a few things you can keep in mind in terms of remote court etiquette. The Superior Court of Justice, in Ontario, has put together an exhaustive list of what to be mindful of to prepare yourself for your remote court date. We will summarize some of the top points below.
Where possible, you should choose a space that is private and quiet. This may be difficult if you are currently living in a shared environment but do your best to make sure your court hearing will not be disturbed by others walking in or background noise. Sitting in a space with good natural lighting and a neutral background, like a solid coloured wall, will make it easier for everyone to see you.
Dress appropriately, just like you would appear in-person for your court case. Unless your case is a teleconference, you will need to appear on video and be dressed accordingly. For a video conference, consider getting an external microphone as they are typically clearer than the built-in mics on most computers. Familiarize yourself with the video conferencing platform, microphone, webcam, and computer before the hearing to avoid technical difficulties.
Make sure to silence your notifications on your computer and phone as they can be disruptive to the hearing. Additionally, when you aren’t speaking, muting your microphone can help to cut down on background noise and feedback. If you are muting your microphone, make sure to unmute it when you are answering any questions.
Understanding remote court etiquette will help you make a better impression during your case to ensure it goes smoothly. If you have any questions about remote court or what restrictions will affect your specific case, make sure to ask your lawyer in advance of your hearing.
Ross Lutz Barristers has partnered with West Legal to provide a criminal defence perspective to their legal blog. Contact us today if you are in need of a criminal defence lawyer. Let us find the best possible outcome for your case.