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The global COVID-19 pandemic is affecting court proceedings across the globe. If you are currently involved in a criminal case, you may have questions about how the pandemic will affect court proceedings and potential sentencing. In this post, we’ll discuss the most recent court recommendations and talk through your options for a trial during COVID-19.

How has COVID-19 affected court proceedings in Ontario?

The initial lockdown in 2020 shut down court proceedings from mid-March until mid-July. This shutdown caused extreme delays in an already delayed system. Many lawyers worried that additional delays due to the pandemic would constitute an infringement of constitutional rights that states the people accused of crimes must “be tried within a reasonable time.”

According to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, those accused of serious offences who have to wait longer than 30 months for a trial date could have their charges stayed unless extended by “exceptional circumstances.” While a pandemic is undoubtedly an exceptional circumstance, many lawyers argue that the courts must do everything they can to mitigate the delay.

With the most recent lockdown, most court proceedings have resumed but with modified operations that continue to evolve as the pandemic evolves. The Chief Justice of The Superior Court of Justice has advised that effective December 29, 2020, all non-jury matters should proceed virtually unless an in-person hearing is absolutely necessary.  All jury trials are suspended until May 3, 2021, at the earliest.

If you become sick due to COVID-19, will it delay your trial?

If you are sick due to COVID-19, talk to your lawyer immediately. In most cases, you are required to attend remotely, and you need to have representation at all mandated court dates. Your defence counsel can appear remotely on your behalf unless your attendance is specifically necessary. Your defence lawyer can talk you through the procedure to help you understand which appearances you must make.

There are different procedural requirements for every level of court, and these are updated regularly as the pandemic continues to evolve. The Ontario Courts Website advises: “As of Monday, November 30, 2020, accused persons are required to attend for their scheduled appearance in criminal case management court – either by having counsel appear on their behalf or by appearing by telephone or video.”

A judge can also allow an exception to the rule where an accused needs to be present during trial proceedings. According to Section 650(2)(b) of the Code, “A judge has the discretion to permit an accused’s absence on “such conditions as the court considers proper.” COVID-19 could certainly be considered one of these circumstances.

Can the Impact of COVID-19 reduce my sentence?

The pandemic has had a significant impact on those facing a criminal trial. Your lawyer may be able to argue that the considerable delays from the COVID-19 lockdown have affected your well-being. Some people facing criminal charges have had their sentences reduced due to long criminal trial delays and time served.

Judges are also aware of the impact of the pandemic on those convicted of crimes. One example of a reduction in sentencing was the matter of R. v. Kandhai.

In the words of Justice Harris, who presided over the sentencing: “The entire country is being told to avoid congregations of people. A jail is exactly that, a state-mandated congregation of people, excluded from the rest of the population by reason of their crimes or alleged crimes. The situation, which has led to drastic measures in society at large, is bound to increase day to day hardship in prison and the general risk to the welfare of prison inmates.”

If you face criminal charges, you need a criminal defence lawyer with experience handling remote trials and expertise in navigating the justice system. William Jaksa has over a decade of experience defending clients and can help you avoid complications in these changing times. Contact William Jaksa today to arrange a consultation.

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